Take the accordion out of Cajun or zydeco music, and what's left is another musical style completely.
"Without an accordion, you don't have a Cajun band," claims Junior Martin, an accordion builder from Lafayette, Louisiana. "It's going to be something else. Maybe a country band or a bluegrass band."
It's no coincidence that the accordion lies at the hearts of both styles of music. Over the centuries Cajun and zydeco have evolved side by side amid the mishmash of cultures coexisting in the bayou regions of southern Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Both styles features lyrics in French and English, but Cajun is a bit more French, zydeco a bit more English, according to Michael Tisserand, who writes a zydeco column for Living Blues magazine.
Their roots go back to the 1700s, Tisserand notes, and the cross-pollination began in the mid-1800s, when the Cajuns and black Creoles of southwestern Louisiana worked together as sharecroppers and sometimes played music together. Eventually, Cajun music -- characterized by the combination of accordion and fiddle -- moved toward a country sound. The Creoles' zydeco -- showcasing accordion and washboard -- took on more of a rhythm-and-blues flavor.
Tisserand, Martin, and other experts will speak during panel discussions, seminars, and workshops at the sixth annual Cajun/Zydeco Crawfish Festival in Fort Lauderdale, which begins May 8. New to the event is the History and Culture Area, a dressed-up stage that will serve as the setting for the speakers.
"We make it look like the living room from a shack on the bayou. We used furniture to decorate, and a potbellied stove," explains Judy Prisk of the Fort Lauderdale Parks and Recreation department. "We make it very cozy and very inviting."
Those words also describe the Cajun style, according to festival volunteer Drew Broussard, who lived in Louisiana before moving to Florida.
"It's a loving people," he says. "They enjoy having a good time with people. If you make a friend with a Cajun, you've got a friend for life. Their home is your home. There's no such thing as a stranger to a Cajun."
The Cajun/Zydeco Crawfish Festival takes place May 8-10 at Mills Pond Park, 2201 Powerline Road, Fort Lauderdale. Advance tickets cost $7 (one day), $12 (two days), or $17 (3 days), and $10, $15, or $25, respectively, at the gate. Parking costs $3. Festival hours are 5 to 11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. See "Concerts for the Week" for a listing of performers. Call 954-761-5934.