Traditional Cajun and zydeco music have a timeless quality, where both the relationship-themed words (primarily sung in French) and beat-happy rhythms seem somewhat immune to the current social and political landscape. Zydeco, in particular, has a party-hearty vibe that is more concerned with filling the dance floor than tapping into deep-seeded emotions or sending a message.
C.J. Chenier, who performs Sunday at the annual Long Beach Bayou Festival, certainly knows how to fire up a crowd with his lively mix of zydeco, funky R&B, and modern jazz. But if C.J., the son of zydeco legend Clifton Chenier, focuses much on his latest release—the ambitious, reflective The Desperate Kingdom of Love—the mood will likely turn mournful—though still soothing. Much of C.J.'s hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, was decimated by Hurricane Katrina, and this recording touches on the Gulf Coast tragedy in songs such as "Black Snake Blues," the P.J. Harvey-penned title track and Van Morrison's elegiac, disc-closing "Comfort You," among others.
Of course, the Bayou Fest is also about sharing the good times (and scrumptious Cajun and Creole cuisine!) of the Louisiana culture, as well as raising funds for Long Beach Comprehensive Child Development Inc., a nonprofit organization servicing low-income families in Long Beach and the surrounding areas. Other not-to-miss acts appearing this year include zydeco ace and fellow famous offspring Geno Delafose (with his French Rockin' Boogie); the youthful yet accomplished Cajun band Kevin Naquin & the Ossun Playboys; and the wonderfully joyous, soulful Cajun band Lee Benoit & the Bayou Stompers, whose 2005 self-released Ma Petite Femme (My Little Woman) is worth seeking out.
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Long Beach Bayou Festival at the Rainbow Lagoon, 400 Shoreline Village Dr., Long Beach, (562) 427-8834; www.longbeachfestival.com . Fri., 6-10 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. $12-$30; children under 9, free. All ages.