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Cultures merge when Creole music comes to Lopez
By Cali Bagby
When Jeffery Broussard plays the accordion, he plays it with his whole body. And his toe tapping, hip shaking and exuberant shoulder shrugging is contagious. His numerous YouTube videos all have one thing in common - a room full of folks swaying and clapping their hands as zydeco and Creole melodies fill the air.
Broussard is easily recognized in any of his shows as the one with a joyful smile, cowboy hat, button up shirt, jeans and a toothpick dangling from the corner of his mouth, which he does not remove even when belting out tunes.
“You can sit and listen or dance your heart away,” said Janet Baltzer, director of the Lopez Center for Community and the Arts. “We are fortunate as a community to have someone like Broussard come and bring his art and talent and culture to us.”
You can see Broussard and the Creole Cowboys for their first performances ever on the island Sunday, March 25, 7 p.m. at the center and Leslie Faris, who lives on Lopez part time, will be teaching free beginner zydeco dance lessons, 5:30 - 6:30 p.m.
Zydeco, a uniquely American form of roots or folk music, evolved in southwest Louisiana in the early 19th century from forms of Creole music. Usually fast tempo and dominated by the button or piano accordion and a scrub-board, zydeco music was originally created at house dances, where families and friends gathered for socializing. The word zydeco comes from "Les haricots sont pas sales,” a French phrase meaning "the snap beans aren't salty" - referring to times of poverty, when people couldn’t afford meat to flavor their food. The term Creole has many meanings including native, homegrown, or a person of mixed European and black descent.
In a KPBS radio interview, Broussard said he plays Creole music because he doesn’t want to let the culture, which has been handed down through generations in his family, to pass away.
“Jeffrey is the real deal, his upbringing combined with his commitment to sharing zydeco and creole culture — it’s his life’s mission,” said Kara O’Toole, director of the Orcas Center, where Broussard will perform on Friday night. “He can take his music to any venue, it’s so innate within him.”
Broussard is known as the leading member in Zydeco Force, an influential band at the forefront of the “new” zydeco movement, black American dance music originally from southern Louisiana, typically featuring accordion and guitar. His accordion and vocals defined this new style of Creole music, incorporating the soulful sounds of R&B into contemporary zydeco music and dance.
He has range seldom seen in zydeco - from traditional songs from the old masters to originals, single-note and triple-note accordion to fiddle.
Broussard hit the stage at age 8, playing drums in his father’s band, the Delton Broussard and The Lawtell Playboys, where he was exposed to some of the great Creole fiddle players. When he wasn’t playing music he was on the family farm digging and sorting potatoes, and by the time he reached seventh grade he quit school to work and help make ends meet. During his teen years he played with his brother’s band, but was too shy to sing until he was older.
Now his resume includes tours around the world, numerous awards including “Best Zydeco Album” by offBEAT Magazine and when he’s not playing he’s giving accordion lessons.
O’Toole said that the accordion is not seen often in mainstream music, but it is a fascinating instrument - especially when Broussard plays.
“It will be an awesome show,” said O’Toole. “Maybe even bringing music that people have never heard before.”
Baltzer added that having such music on the island is really a merging of two cultures.
She added that even the instruments themselves offer a window into another world - like the scrub-board not heard often in the Pacific Northwest.
Clifton Broussard, Jeffrey's brother, plays the scrub-board, and does it with an interesting array of objects including spoons, drumsticks, or eggbeaters.
“I’m hoping that people will get that glimpse into an authentic part of that world through his performance, it’s a pure shot at what he does,” said O’Toole.
Tickets are $18 and $10 for youth. For more info, visit www.lopezcenter.org.