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Jeffery Broussard - Keeping the Zydeco Tradition Alive

04/22/2015 12:30PM ● By Phil Reser

The Key of Z

May 2015
By Phil Reser

Jeffery Broussard & The Creole Cowboys perform Zydeco, a dance music created by Creole French-speaking people of African descent who historically lived on the prairies of Southwest Louisiana. who historically lived on the prairies of Southwest Louisiana.

Zydeco was built by musicians with little or no formal training who improvised the music of their generation out of the ones that came before them.

It’s a hybrid blend of cultural elements based on the music of western France, brought to what is now the Canadian province of Nova Scotia by early settlers.

As it traveled to the deep south of the United States, it met and incorporated singing styles learned from the Native Americans, syncopation and percussion from Africans, reels and square dances from the Anglo-Americans, Spanish folk tunes and guitar music, and accordion music traditions from Jewish- German merchants.

At present, an informal circuit of devotees to the Zydeco culture resides in New Orleans, Lake Charles, Houston, Port Arthur, Beaumont and Los Angeles, and they are helping to keep this music tradition alive.

Zydeco bands are characterized by the use of the frottoir (metal washboard) played with thimbles, spoons or bottle openers; the accordion; and the singing of rhythm, blues and soul in Creole French.

Born in Lafayette, La., accordion master and vocalist Jeff ery Broussard is the youngest of 11 children.

The son of sharecropper and accordionist Delton Broussard, Jeffery began his musical journey on the drums in his father’s legendary band, the Lawtell Playboys.

During this time, he was exposed to some of the great Creole fiddle players, including the king of the Zydeco fiddle, Calvin Carriere.

“I quit school aft er the seventh grade,” says Broussard. “All I did was farming and play music. I did this to help try to make ends meet because I came from a big family and I’m not ashamed to say it, but we needed the money. I grew up playing drums in my father’s band. Over time I learned to play all of the other instruments, and by my teenage years, I settled on the accordion as my favorite. All of my brothers play instruments and all of my sisters sing and some play instruments, too. I learned French from my parents, and I sing the majority of my music in that language.”

From his father’s band, Jeffery moved to playing drums in his oldest brother’s band, Clinton Broussard & Th e Zydeco Machines. In this band, he played the accordion in public for the first time.

Zydeco is played on a variety of accordions, but most commonly the triple-row and single-row diatonic button ones. The fiddle is also essential to authentic Zydeco, and Jeffery has become one of a handful of Creole fiddlers still working with this style of music.

He plays his own fiddle style, using only two fingers on the strings, sometimes a third, but never a fourth. He plays by sliding into and out of the notes.

During the 1980s, Jeffery became more noteworthy, as a leading member of Zydeco Force, an influential band at the forefront of the contemporary nouveau Zydeco movement, a form of Zydeco that fused traditional sounds with hip-hop, reggae and R&B.

They became a regional hit across Louisiana and East Texas and were featured in the award-winning German film, “Schultze Gets the Blues,” filmed in the former East Germany and in Texas and Louisiana.

After his time with Zydeco Force, Jeffery organized his current band, The Creole Cowboys, which is dedicated to preserving and promoting the Creole culture and traditional Zydeco.

“I don’t just play music to play, I play from my heart. Half of the time when I’m playing, it’s like my hands leave my body; I don’t even know what I am playing. Any songs that I play, I add what I think will make the melody more beautiful. There is a lot of me that goes into the music that I play. I guess you could say it’s all about creativity.”

Jeffery and his band also perform for schools and groups of children. They provide interactive presentations about Louisiana music and culture, play songs, and teach Zydeco dance lessons, including basic steps of the waltz and two-step.

Jeffery Broussard and The Creole Cowboys
Tuesday, May 26
Sierra Nevada Big Room in Chico