Goodbye Joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My Yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, we’ll have good fun on the bayou
— Jambalaya (On the bayou), Hank Williams
I love Louisiana Cajun music. Zydeco is high energy dancehall music, full of emotion and usually sung in the Creole French patois of the bayou. Like Blue Grass (another of my favorites), Zydeco is an original American creation; I think of Zydeco as Blue Grass soaked in Tabasco sauce — hot and inventive.
Now try to imagine Led Zeppelin doing a cover of Hank Williams’ Jambalaya, with a bass line so loud it would drown out a 747, a female vocalist who imitates Grace Slick, and an electric accordion playing the lead.
Is this the latest interrogation technique out of Gitmo? No, it’s just one of the new musical styles I’ve been hearing since arriving in Mexico. This Heavy Metal Ranchero music is rattling my windows from next door, where a three-day wedding celebration is taking place.
I’m writing from a small town in Oaxaca, Mexico where it seems there’s always music in the air. It’s one of the things I enjoy about Mexico. An hour earlier a brass band led a parade through the town while belting out traditional fare — La Cucaracha and such — loud enough to be heard a mile away.
At random intervals rockets explode overhead and firecrackers pop-pop-pop as the revelers get a party wound up that probably won’t end until a few hours before dawn.
It goes without saying that there are no noise ordinances here. Joy is supposed to be loud and raucous, and in Latin cultures it is. In a way, loud music is a sign of neighborliness: if you can hear the music from across town, you’re welcome to come on down and join the party.
By way of contrast, we Americans seem determined to civilize joy, to compress it and dehydrate it into a hard, dry little morsel that couldn’t possibly offend the neighbors — or make us look silly. We’re a bit uptight about expressing our emotions, except at football games. But joy, God’s joy, inevitably breaks our chains.
The Magi or “wise men” experienced joy when the star they had been tracking through the wilderness for two years finally came to rest in Bethlehem. Eugene Peterson gives the best sense of how emotional the language is in Matthew 2:10: “They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!”
You can almost see them tossing their hats into the air as they whooped and hollered.
Joy is supposed to be like that.
Matthew acknowledges joy again at the end of Jesus life, at a moment when all joy seemed to have been drained from the universe. The women go to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning and discover an angel who gives them incredible news.
The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. — Matthew 28:8, NLT
But joy has a quieter sense, as well. James is not alone in talking about a joy that comes in times of hardship, a joy rooted in our hope and assurance in Christ when there is nothing left to cling to.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. — James 1:2,3, NLT
When your job gets you down, when people betray you, when you feel so trapped by life that tears come to your eyes, there is still a promise of joy. Sometimes we mistakenly think Christians are supposed to talk themselves out of unhappiness, or buck themselves up with artificial positivism and happy talk. I don’t buy it.
Galatians 5:22 calls joy a fruit of the inner work of the Holy Spirit, which means it’s an external quality, a gift breathed into our spirits by the Spirit of the living God. Joy breaks through in spite of our pain, because it doesn’t come from us — it comes from the one who has endured the same pains we have “for the joy set before him.” (Hebrews 12:2)
A little Zydeco and a steaming plate of Jambalaya might be just the recipe for a gloomy day. But when our stomachs are empty again, it’s only the bread of God that will fill us with joy.
Photo: Joseph Mouton, aka Zydeco Joe