The Bayou City is famous for its rap music and blues, but did you know that it’s also the place that birthed the modern form of zydeco? Now, before you get salty about that — the Creole folk music known as la-la is universally acknowledged as having its roots in Lousiana, but it was in Houston that its fusion with urban blues saw it developing into what we now call zydeco.
In Houston, it’s not hard to see how that mix came about. Black Creoles coming to the city from Louisiana for work found themselves in a lot of the same neighborhoods in which the blues musicians were already living — Fifth Ward, Third Ward — not coincidentally the same neighborhoods that would later become known for their rappers. Once the cultures mixed, it wasn’t going to be long before the music mixed as well.
These days, zydeco is still alive and well in Houston, with zydeco groups bringing their accordions and rub boards into a lot of the same ballrooms and clubs as the blues groups, oftentimes sharing band members. They’ve even adapted to the times, as the use of French in a lot of the songs has faded somewhat and elements of rap and modern R&B are being incorporated.
At the top of this post is a video of the undisputed King of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier (1925-1987), showcasing a fusion of the blues and zydeco styles; and here, below, is a more traditional version of the King in action: