THE KINGDOM OF ZYDECO by Michael Tisserand


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A lengthy and conscientious dissection whose studious tone seems diametrically opposed to its subject, a Creole musical form known for playful, free-floating rhythms. Tisserand, a music writer in New Orleans, probes the origins, growth, and spread of Zydeco, the vivacious, accordion-based dance music native to the Creole communities of southwest Louisiana and eastern Texas. Calling on oral histories, contemporaneous accounts, and his own research and experiences to support his effort, the author capably opens the genre to the uninitiated. He explains the distinction between Cajun and Creole, one dependent as much on race as on culture. He gives a short etymological explanation of the word Zydeco, which likely stems from a corruption of les haricots, the French word for snap beans—a staple crop for black Creole farmers. And he offers profiles of such essential and seminal Zydeco legends as the 1920s—’30s recording artist and pioneer AmÇdÇ Ardoin and “King of Zydeco” Clifton Chenier, credited as the first to introduce R&B and rock ‘n— roll into Zydeco and as the inventor of the modern froittoir, or rubboard. Also sketched is Buckwheat Zydeco, the performer who in recent years has been instrumental (pun intended) in the music’s mainstream acceptance. Yet in depicting the music’s popularity, particularly today, the author does miss a step. By citing Zydeco’s presence in a 1980s-vintage movie, The Big Easy, and its other uses as backup music in recent TV advertisements, Tisserand overstates the impact of the form. This sort of hype, and the excessive detail of his work, suggest the author’s passion for his subject. While everyone can learn something from his book, a little passion will also help them to put up with it. (b&w photos)

Pub Date: Sept. 6th, 1998
ISBN: 1-55970-418-7
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Arcade
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1998


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