Several years ago, as She Said was saving up the funds to get the heck out of Oklahoma, she took a second job waiting tables at a Cajun restaurant in Oklahoma City. Now, there aren't a lot of Cajuns in that sprawling metropolis, and ever since that experience she's been wary of eating seafood in a land-locked state. Her one positive takeaway from the place, not counting the ability to gracefully balance heavy loads on a serving tray with one hand while carrying several steins of beer in the other, was an exposure to two genres of music unique to this region of the country
The restaurant had exactly two CDs that were played nonstop in a constant loop: A Delta blues collection, and a zydeco album. It's how she first heard Koko Taylor's "Wang Dang Doodle," "St. James Infirmary Blues," and how she spent countless bored hours waiting for lunch guests to arrive while trying to translate the mangled French in songs like "Les Haricots Sont Pas Salé"
- ironic, considering it's a song about food.
The Clifton Chenier song was also how the genre got its name -- zydeco
is a bastardization of les haricots
, or "green beans" for Us English Speakers. It's a wonderful illustration of just how far the Cajuns and Creoles have come from their Acadian and Caribbean ancestors to create a blend of cultures unique to East Texas and Louisiana. Just look at how much fun this brother-sister duo
is having dancing to zydeco in their kitchen!
Since we're talking about food now's a good time to mention that the Texas Crawfish and Music Festival
starts this weekend. More than 70 bands will be performing, and if you can't eat your weight in crawfish there then there must be something wrong with you. Below, five of She Said's favorite cajun, creole and zydeco songs in honor of Texas Crawfish Fest.
Hank Williams, "Jambalaya":
Hank Williams wasn't even from Cajun country, and yet his song has become such a staple that many people don't even know who originally recorded it. She Said once saw a 5-year-old girl sing "Jambalaya" while tap dancing at the Texas Opry
. This song's been covered by everyone from Creedence to The Carpenters. Here's Brenda Lee's most excellent fast-paced version
Rockin' Sidney Simien, "My Toot Toot":
Cajun goes '80s, complete with innuendo. Watch as the guy introducing Rockin' Sidney's song barely stifles a laugh at the title. Three guesses as to what a "toot toot," and it's not
what Rockin' Sidney says it is.
Clifton Chenier, "Ay-Tete Fee":
Another example of the fluidity of language thanks to the Cajuns. Even She Said's French minor could't help her translate Tete Fee
into petite fille
, itself a derivation of the Professor Longhair hit "Little Girl"
. Both his jazz version and Chenier's zydeco version are boss.
The Dixie Cups, "Iko Iko":
He Said gave She Said grief for wanting to include this song on her list because, as she concedes, it's not technically Cajun or zydeco, but it is 100 pure New Orleans folklore, and the Dixie Cups' version is perfection in its simplicity. The many, many versions of the song (the original version
, Cyndi Lauper
) tell the story of two Mardi Gras krewes battling it out. Half the song is nonsense, though alternate explanations cite Indian chants and old Cajun slang for the terms "jockamo" and the "iko iko" phrases. The Dixie Cups claimed to have heard the song from their grandmothers, which is reflected in the opening lyrics of their version.
Elvis Presley, "Crawfish":
And here we are back to food. She Said has written about this song before, but mostly she loves it because it is so completely different from any other Elvis song. Like the Dixie Cups song, "Crawfish" is nothing more than two amazing voices with just enough instrumentation to make it feel like an incantation. Elvis loved the song too. He considered King Creole
, the movie the song was written for, the best of his acting work.
See more information on the Texas Crawfish & Music Festival here.