Wednesday Folk Traditions Presents:

Zydeco Connection on July 9th, 2014

HADLEY – The Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum continues its 33rd season of Wednesday Folk Traditions on July 9, 2014, with Zydeco Connection. Zydeco Connection performs the irresistible sounds and infectious driving rhythms of rural Louisiana Zydeco. Dominated by the button accordion and the rub board, they play a spicy mix of waltzes, two-steps, blues, and boogie-woogie that will get you dancing. This and all other performances are held Wednesday evenings at 6:30 pm in the Sunken Garden at the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum, 130 River Drive, Route 47, Hadley, MA 01035. General admission is $10, or $2 for children 16 and under. Picnickers are welcome on the museum grounds beginning at 5:00 pm. The Museum and grounds are a smoke free site.
Zydeco Connection’s inception had humble beginnings in New England. Ten years ago, Cynthia Rose, manager and founder of the ensemble, taught music at a Vermont school, where she played accordion and also taught international dance to students. One day, at the behest of one of her colleagues – a math teacher – she was introduced to a recording of Zydeco music, a style she had never heard before. “I was taken,” Rose remarks. The music spoke to her, and after rounding up a group of musicians who had previously worked together – including her husband – Zydeco Connection was born. “The sound was electrifying, uplifting…it had so much energy, I loved it,” Rose remembers. Her new passion consumed her, and she began to voraciously research the Zydeco tradition. 

Zydeco music is an outgrowth from both the Cajun and Creole cultures of southwest Louisiana. The Cajun culture was born of the descendants of Acadian exiles, who were forcibly expelled from the present-day Canadian Maritime provinces during the French and Indian War in the mid-eighteenth century. “Song gave them a way to preserve their language,” Rose remarks. In a place where the Americanization of their culture prevented children from learning their native language, music was a thread of preservation. Zydeco music in its current form, however, draws more heavily from the Black Creole tradition. There was a great deal of collaboration between the two populations, Cajun and Creole, despite the divide of segregation. “In music, the lines got smeared when it came to collaboration,” Rose notes. In the Cajun tradition, music was dominated by fiddle and triangle; in the Creole, by the jaw-harp, banjo, and drums. The Zydeco tradition draws upon both, the result being a synthesis dominated by the accordion and the rub board in addition to influences from rock, blues, and R&B. Over time, the instrumentation in Zydeco began to change and eventually incorporated electric guitar, drums, and bass.  
Zydeco’s historical roots have naturally influenced the group’s lineup: Mike Rose on drums, Dave LeBlanc on bass and vocals, Eileen Almeida on rub board and vocals, Cynthia Rose on piano and Cajun accordion, and Larry Oches on guitar. Zydeco Connection was fortunate enough to start with a group of musicians that had previously collaborated, although they did go through several bass and guitar players before reaching their present-day roster. All members, while dedicated to the group, also maintain day jobs, so logistics can be a challenge. “Our guitar player is from Hoboken, New Jersey.” Rose notes. Despite these logistical challenges, the group has been performing together for ten years. “We are all very dedicated to this music,” Rose impresses.

Adopting a musical tradition and making it one’s own also presents unique musical challenges. A long-time accordionist, Rose learned on the piano accordion, which has a keyboard on one side and a series of buttons or stops on the other. However, The Zydeco tradition draws from both the piano accordion and the button accordion, so she rose to the challenge and taught herself to play on the Cajun [button] accordion about a year and a half ago. The button accordion is similar to a piano accordion, except it has no keyboard and buttons on both sides, hence the name. The button accordion has created the form and structure of Zydeco music, Rose notes, and produces an audible “chink-a-chink” rhythm when played. It’s no surprise, then, that the Zydeco tradition is heavily tied to dance: Zydeco’s form and harmonic structure comes from the dance step of the same name. “There’s an expression,” Rose notes, “we’re going to the Zydeco!” In fact, Zydeco Connection took the initiative to start a monthly Zydeco dance at Dance Northampton. “We want to keep the culture alive out here,” Rose remarks.

Zydeco Connection’s performances highlight a combination of waltzes, two-steps, boogie-woogie, swing, and Zydeco. Most of the songs are vocal, and some are even sung in French – Dave LeBlanc, the bassist, is Canadian and speaks both French and Acadian. Although the group necessarily stays within the form of the standard repertoire, they always strive for interpretation. “We’re always reinventing,” Rose says. Within the traditional Zydeco form, there is certainly room for experimentation. “We love improv,” says Rose, “It makes the music ours.” The group hopes to write more of their own music in the future. Eileen Almeida, who plays the rub board as well as sings vocals, composes some of her own music and Rose is optimistic about a collaboration in the future. “I’m very proud of the musicians in this group,” Rose notes. “It’s for all ages, what we do…we hope to take you on a journey to South Louisiana, pay tribute to all the musicians that continue to define and contribute to the tradition, and encourage people to just move.”