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Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010 03:02 pm

Zydeco a-go-go

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Musicians playing a washboard and a accordion in front of store, near New Iberia, Louisiana in 1938.

Few types of American folk music are as full of zest and zing as the Louisiana-based sounds of Zydeco. Built around the accordion with often just a rub board or washboard accompaniment, the simple chordal arrangements are overlaid with complex rhythms and melodic stylings to form a type of music indigent to southern Louisiana and the New Orleans area. Compared to Cajun music, another folk style native to the region, Zydeco contains more of an African-American influence, fusing blues, R & B and gospel into the traditional Creole sounds.

Dwayne Dopsie, as the son of Rockin’ Dopsie (originally pronounced as Dupsee, but under public interpretation gained the short “o” sound), started playing the washboard at age 4 and the accordion at 7. He began his professional career soon after and now in his early 30s keeps up a regular touring and recording schedule. We are fortunate to have the world-renowned bandleader and accordionist perform this Saturday at the Prop Club on Lake Springfield along with several local acts as part of a benefit for Jimmy “the Meat Man” Weinheoft. Jimmy ran into some medical issues requiring emergency surgery and friends organized the event to help out with some fun music and good food for a $10 donation at the door.

But now back to the Zydeco thing since I’m sure some of you still have questions about what the heck it is. I did a little research and found a definition of at least where the odd-sounding name originated. This comes from an interview with none other than our featured artist, available at www.accordions.com hosted by Accordions Worldwide, conducted at Dwayne’s home in Metairie, La., on April 26, 1999, by New Zealand accordionists Kevin Friedrich and Wallace Liggett. When asked to define the term, Dopsie offers this explanation: “In French, ‘Les Haricots,’ means green beans, and when pronounced in French Creole, the ‘s’ is pronounced like a ‘z’, it misses the silent ‘H’ then is joined to the ‘a’, rolled ‘r’ and finishes with a silent ‘t’ so ‘Les Haricots’ sounded like ‘Lez-arico’ or with the French Creole accent, ‘Zydeco.’”

Now you may ask, “What do green beans have to do with naming a style of music?” and I wondered the same thing. It seems the folks down in those parts picked a lot of green beans and played music at the same time and the two seemingly separate tasks become inseparable by association cemented by the classic song of the genre, “Les Haricots Sont Pas Salés” (The Snap Beans Ain’t Salty). Now with the puzzling stylistic name somewhat solved let’s pursue more on the history of this provocative and entertaining music.

Zydeco burst onto the major music market scene for most Americans in the mid-80s when Rockin’ Sidney made “My Toot Toot” an international hit and Paul Simon featured our subject’s father, Rockin’ Dopsie, on his Grammy-winning Graceland album playing “That Was Your Mother.” Some 30 years earlier Boozoo Chavis and Clifton Chenier were creating the modern sounds of Zydeco, touring and recording to take the vibrant music to audiences everywhere. Nowadays most music people are somewhat familiar with artists like Buckwheat Zydeco, C. J. Chenier, Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr. (Dwayne’s older brother carries on the family tradition, too) and the Grammy-award winner and now octogenarian accordionist Queen Ida. From its origins in Cajun folk music and southern blues to contemporary infusions of rap, punk and hip-hop, Zydeco remains a growing and expanding art form and few are better at demonstrating the power of this music than Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com

Sat, Aug. 7, noon to 11:30pm, Jimmy “Meat Man” Weinheoft Benefit Day at the Lake Springfield Prop Club with Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers, Frank Parker, Mike Burnett, Sarah Schneider Band and the Irwinites. More information at www.meatsmack.com.

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