At a dinner party the other night, somebody asked me where the term “zydeco” comes from. The word refers to a tasty Louisiana musical gumbo with ingredients such as cajun, rhythm and blues, and New Orleans funk. Some call it “swamp music.”
As for the word: “zydeco” is a corrupted elision of “les haricots ne sont pas salés” / the green beans aren’t salty. It can mean either you have the blues or that you’re so poor you can’t afford the salt to put on your green beans. Both meanings are acceptable.
The guy who coined the word was the great Clifton Chenier, who inaugurated the term with his button accordion on the song “Les Zydeco es Pas Salee”. He soon became known as the King of Zydeco.
On most zydeco music you hear an accordion and a washboard. Best known artists include Chenier, Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas, Boozoo Chavis, and Buckwheat Zydeco.
Chuck Taggart, who once had a New Orleans show on KCRW, curated and produced the ultimate box set of zydeco, cajun, and Louisana swamp music for Rhino Records a few years ago. It’s called “Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol’ Box of New Orleans, a 4 cd box set that gives you everything you need to know and hear.