Yes, the title is a trick question. The labels “Cajun” and “Zydeco” are sometimes used interchangeably. In truth, Cajun music and Zydeco music are actually two different genres of music.
The sounds are related but different. Study the sub-genres of both Cajun and Zydeco. Each sub-genre has a truly distinct rhythm that identifies it as either Zydeco or Cajun music.
Unlike Cajun music, Zydeco has a definite constant returning rhythm. This genre of music was born somewhere in the southwestern area of the state of Louisiana in the USA. It was originally dominated by just one musical chord.
Zydeco musicians use a number of different musical instruments including the washboard and different wind instruments. It specifically includes non-diatonic piano accordion music. The genre is highly influenced by another music genre, the rhythm and blues (R&B) version of jazz and Black Creole music themes. In simpler terms, it is surprisingly similar to pop music.
In comparison, Cajun music is predominantly influenced by, most notably, country music from the 1930s and 1940s. It is a type of waltz music created by the Acadian heir apparent from the Canadian maritime province of Nova Scotia. The genre is high-spirited due in part to the repetition of numerous notes.
The musical instruments primarily used in this particular genre are the fiddle and the accordion. In this case, however, the accordion music is diatonic. Additionally, some Cajun compositions are written for little more than a pair of fiddles.
Specifically, one fiddler will perform the melody and the other will provide back-up. In fact, it was roughly 1930 when string instruments began to dominate the Cajun music scene. As the years passed the accordion would take center stage.
Indeed, by the 1940s the accordion had become the lead instrument in Cajun music. Today’s Cajun music has changed. It has grown into a type of music much more like country music. Drums are sometimes included to serve as a forceful and individualistic transitional force.
Electric guitars are also often employed in order to enhance and strengthen the traditional sound of the accordion. Cajun music is also even occasionally augmented with high metallic notes from the triangle.
The Bottom Line
Zydeco music has its roots in Southwestern Louisiana. Cajun music can be traced to Nova Scotia, Canada. Zydeco is similar to pop music. Cajun is more like jazz and waltz music.
Cajun music uses certain notes repeatedly to create a high-spirited sound whereas Zydeco music features a constant returning rhythm. Zydeco musicians use the accordion, wind instruments and the washboard. Cajun music uses the accordion, fiddle, and sometimes other instruments such as the triangle and the drums.
Even though both genres use the accordion, Cajun music includes diatonic music while Zydeco music uses accordion music that is generally not diatonic. In short, Zydeco and Cajun music are similar music genres, with a few significant differences.
Just a quick sample of Cajun music for your enjoyment!