CULTURE- FRIDAYS UPDATE <i>Les bons temps</i>: <i>Roullez</i> at Fridays with Simien
"Zydeco music is some of the first music that was made in this country," says accordion player Terrance Simien. His voice is heavy with humility, because for someone performing in such an ancient tradition, he started pretty late in life: he didn't get into music until high school.
It's surprising, then, that he's turned into such a close second to Buckwheat, praised by Popmatters as "one of the best things you're ever going to hear" and by the All Music Guide as "one of zydeco's most soulful vocalists and fieriest accordionists."
After years on the Zydeco circuit in Louisiana, the turning point in Simien's career came at the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans. "I could not believe the response and the applause we got from those audiences," he says on his web site. "At home in the church halls and zydeco clubs, they don't really applaud, so when I experienced this for the first time, I knew this was the way it should be."
Out buried in the audience was Paul Simon, who turned into an enthusiastic supporter and reportedly even considered cutting Simien in on Graceland. Ultimately, that was not to be, but Simien and Simon did collaborate for a cover of Clifton Chenier's You Used to Call Me, which has been re-released on Simien's latest album, Across The Parish Line.
Chenier went on to win a Grammy Award the following year, and is one of only three Zydeco artists ever to do so. As a result, the campaign for the establishment of a Zydeco-Cajun category for the Grammys has become an important cause for Simien, who hopes to save his peers from being miscategorized and lumped in along with blues and folk.
"Almost every year you have someone nominated, but they end up in these categories with Bob Dylan or Buddy Guy," he sighs. Simien notes that Native American and Hawaiian music each have their own categories. "Those took over ten years apiece," he says. "We've been at it for six years, and we're going to keep on fighting."
The stodgy old farts at the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences aren't the only ones he seeks to inform. A children's educational package called Creole For Kidz was released in 2002– featuring a state senator as the voice of the Bald Cypress tree acting as narrator, no less– leading Simien to new venues and audiences: schools and schoolchildren, respectively.
"In the past seven years, we've reached over half a million kids from around the world," says Simien. "We get people from age 3 to 83 who get into what we're doing. Zydeco has always been a style of music where there's really no age limit."
If we're lucky, perhaps his Fridays performance will be similarly educational. In a town where Matty Metcalfe and the fries at Five Guys are each responsible for a significant part of the Cajun presence, we could certainly use it.
Terrance Simien plays Fridays after Five Friday, May 17, at the Pavilion at the east end of the Downtown Mall.