Zydeco in Houston: Black Cowboys, Trail Rides & Creole Roots
In Houston, Zydeco brings joy. In this episode, we explore Zydeco’s deep roots in Creole culture and music. Once known as La-la, it became Zydeco in Houston with Clifton Chenier’s rise, the ‘King of Zydeco’. Zydeco thrives in Houston, reaching a broader audience around trail-riding clubs who dance together. Zydeco has grown popular worldwide, but it still brings communities together in Houston.
- [Karina] Welcome to Houston, the land of zydeco.
Laissez les bons temps rouler [French for "Let the good times rool"]. Come on.
Zydeco is a feel-good music
that you can't help but to dance to.
- [Cedric] If you can two-step,
if you can move your feet,
you can zydeco.
(upbeat bass and drum music)
- [Karina] The people,
no matter if it's an older crowd
or a younger crowd,
everybody's dancing, everybody's into it.
For a while, I stopped coming.
Now I'm like, I need that.
I need that moment of feeling free,
letting my hair down.
You know, being around friends and family.
Something about when you hear that accordion
and that washboard, that you know
you've tuned into some Cajun, Creole zydeco music.
- [Cedric] If you can move two to the left,
two to the right, oh yeah,
you can zydeco.
My zydeco nickname is One Step.
I didn't know how to do a two-step.
Zydeco is two steps
and I was always doing one step.
But, as you can see,
I don't do that anymore.
I love the music.
My grandmother has always told me,
"Boy, that music is embedded in you.
That's your blood."
Zydeco was born in southwest Louisiana
and was brought here, to Houston.
It's bigger in Houston than it is in Louisiana.
- [Alexis] Houston is on top
of the zydeco world.
I grew up listening to my grandpa
and my uncle
playing in their own zydeco band.
My mom and dad met at a zydeco event.
When I'm dancing, I feel good, a relief.
So here we are at The Big Easy.
This building is important to my family
because here is where my grandfather,
Wilford Chevis, began his zydeco career.
Zydeco is basically Creole-French culture
but we have our own way to it.
Like a southern Louisiana roux.
- [Joseph] I was born outside of Opelousas, Louisiana.
Creole is a mixture
of African-American and French-Caucasian
and Native Indian.
I started dancing when I was 10 or 11 years old.
I love it.
In the beginning, we called it French la-la.
We're going to the la-la.
My grandfather would move everything
in the house out and bring a band in.
My mom and dad left there
when I was seven years old.
And we moved to Houston.
- [Alexis] Right now we are in the area
This area is important to the zydeco culture
because in the 1920s
there was a big flood in Louisiana,
so everyone moved here, to Houston,
and they lived right here, in Frenchtown.
- [Joseph] Fifth Ward, Frenchtown
area of Houston, it was just like
Louisiana had moved to Houston.
Clifton Chenier came along.
- [Clifton] We gonna play y'all the music
what's happenin' down home right now.
They call it zydeco.
- [Joseph] And he came up with this song called
"Zydeco Pas Salé".
- [Clifton] This is a little song they call
"Zydeco Et Pas Salé" that says "no salt
in your snap bean."
- [Joseph] Clifton recorded that in Houston.
That's when people started switching
from la-la to zydeco.
Some of the Creole people that started
trail rides, they brought their music with them.
Just the Creole culture.
- [Cedric] Trail riding clubs, and social clubs
host events year round,
with live zydeco music.
- [Alexis] Trail ride is what helps spread the culture.
Trail riding is riding the horses
during the day.
And the zydeco-ing at night.
♪ Turn it up.
Nowadays you'll see more
of the younger crowd.
The way the music's changing,
the crowd changes.
I mean we all still dance together, anyway.
- [Karina] With so much going on,
we need something that can bring people together
and, honestly to me, that's zydeco.
Dancing, feeling free, like hey, do your thing.
- Hey, I hope you loved learning
about zydeco here in Houston.
If you'd like to see more from "If Cities Could Dance",
click to the left.
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