Jeffery Broussard & The Creole Cowboys
Johnny D's Uptown Restaurant & Music Club
17 Holland Street, Somerville, MA 02144
August 17, 2013
A genuine piece of Opelousas, Louisiana's, dynamic music scene just swooped down and served a ration of Creole dance hall music to a zydeco-starved crowd of dancers from New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and several counties in Massachusetts. Local devotees had to drive anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours. Jeffery Broussard and The Creole Cowboys drove all the way up here from Louisiana, More on that later.
After dancing through two smoking sets of French and English versions of Creole two steps, waltzes and slow drags, I could imagine the come-hither aromas of crawfish étoufée, jambalaya, and fried catfish cooking up in a food truck or a fired up charcoal grill outside the door. In Opelousas, Carencro, Eunice, Crowley and maybe Lafayette, they'd be there as sure as sugar cane and rice grow on the prairies around them. In Somerville, bless its heart, in my dreams. The pub food is good but you have to rely on The Creole Cowboys to transport your imagination sans your tummy to Louisiana tonight.
Jeffery Broussard and his band mates were literally born into the music. The first sounds they likely heard as they lay in their cribs were fiddles, accordions, rub boards, guitars and drums being played joyously in their living rooms, front porches or a low-wattage local radio station. Tonight we heard the music they heard so long ago as they subtlety transformed it into their own. They honor it and are not afraid to stretch it a little but not so much as to defile the centuries old African and Caribbean Creole traditions from which it sprang, capturing dreams, aspirations, harsh realities, and the indomitable will to survive it using music as a salve and a salvation.
I know the photos are fuzzy but damn, these guys were playing as if they were back home in Opelousas. Fuzzy and all, this gives you the idea.
Daniel Sanda, guitar, cheerfully calls out to his dad, who's in the audience. Jeffery belts it out. In the middle of the second set, Broussard holds bracelet in his hand. "Anytime you lose your jewelry, you know you're really doing zydeco," he laughs and sets it on the stage for a woman to retrieve it.
Jeffery with ever-present toothpick set in teeth; Paul Levan on drums.
Band: Jeffery Broussard, accordion, fiddle; Paul Levan, percussion; D'Jalma Garnier, bass; Bernard Johnson, washboard; Daniel Sanda, guitar.
Jeffery shrugs his accordion from his broad shoulders and picks up a Creole fiddle!
D'Jalma Garnier switches from bass to Creole fiddle. The man is as learned a musician as you'll ever hear or talk to - more on that later.
"My name is Paul Levan," he says and tells me his cell phone number. It's happened before when I've chatted with other Louisiana musicians with my notebook in hand. "My grandfather is Leo Thomas, my uncle is Leroy Thomas and my first cousin is Keith Frank." This family tree has serious talent sprouting from every branch.
I tell Paul that at the Café des Amis in Breaux Bridge, LA, I heard Leroy introduce his father Leo as one of the three living legends of zydeco. Paul tells me he played for four years with Willis Prudhomme, another of those living legends."I've been playing drums since I could hold the sticks in my hands was 5 years old," he says with pride.
Paul isn't surprised that the rousing reception here tonight. "Everywhere we go, people love it. Sometimes these out-of-town dancers know the music better than people in our hometown." I can attest to that. Several of my dance partners sang the lyrics to songs in my ear as we danced. Even some of the songs in Creole French.
“I like to stick to the roots of the music," Paul says. "Some of the newer zydeco musicians sound more like rappers to me. I learned my zydeco from men like Boozoo Chavez, Geno Delafos’s father John, Roy Carrier, and Clifton Chenier." These happen to be some of the most influential accordion players in zydeco history.
Bass and fiddle player D'Jalma Garnier
After the show, I ask him a question and get into a mile a minute conversation with D'Jalma Garnier. He calls himself "an ethno-musicologist". After twenty minutes I call him a raconteur and professor. Standing in the warm summer night outside Johnny D’s he gives me a seminar in Creole music history and culture. I can’t write fast enough to keep up so I just stand and listen.
I google him as soon as I get home. Whoa! This is one deeply knowledgeable musician. No wonder he’s just pinballed stories around subjects as diverse as jazz, opera, Creole culture, Louisiana history, blues, swamp pop, legendary fiddler Canray Fontenot, and his teaching gigs at Dewey Balfa Cajun and Creole Heritage Week.
He talks about finding a recording of “Nobody But You” by Little Bob and the Lollipops http://fromthedarkendofthestreet.blogspot.com/2009/03/little-bob-and-lollipops-nobody-but-you.html
“Little Bob, born Camille Bob in Arnaudville in 1937, was (and still is) one of the great R&B and Swamp Pop singers of Southwest Louisiana. As quoted by Herman Fuselier, Lafayette music journalist, Little Bob came to our ears the honest way after trading a horse for his first set of drums: "My thing was to make a dollar.”
D'Jalma Garnier then tells about finding a version of Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father” which he’d been looking for. He says something about its provenance and he notes that tenor sax player Illinois Jacquet (Creole father, Sioux mother) came from Broussard, Louisiana and is virtually unknown.
He recalls Cookie and His Cupcakes, a swamp pop band from Lake Charles, Louisiana, virtually unknown outside Louisiana, that covered classic Fats Domino type songs with a seven-piece band. http://www.amazon.com/Kings-Swamp-Pop-Cookie-Cupcakes/dp/B000024SWF
D'Jalma hosts "Passport To Modern Jazz" on KRVS-FM.
He’s a music interpreter at Vermillionville Living History and Folk Life Park in Lafayette.
By the end of the conversation I feel I’ve audited a class in Louisiana roots music. And as I google the musicians he references I learn a ton about Louisiana music.
He says he has 32 cousins in his huge Creole Catholic family constellation in New Orleans.
Threads I remember: Creole music has been in Louisiana for centuries, its roots brought here by slaves from Africa or by slaves or free men of color from the Caribbean Islands. Even if a Cajun and zydeco/creole musician plays the same song, the counting and beat is different for the same song (he demonstrated, reminded me of the way Clifton Chenier played). Huge chunks of Creole music have been appropriated by white singers, Hank Williams appropriating “Big Texas” into “Jambalaya” for example. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtcGj_yb86k
(That point was reinforced by my visit to Unsung Heroes: The Secret History of Louisiana Rock ‘n Roll. Unsung Heroes: The Secret History of Louisiana Rock n'Roll)
As I leave, he writes the titles to two books in my notebook.
This comment from an Amazon reader reflects the points D’Jalma Garnier has been making.
“This book corrects the many lies that racist white Louisianians and their Creole of color sympathizers have been telling about the origins of all things Louisiana for decades. It reclaims Louisiana for the Africans, who were brought there as chattle property to build the buildings, cultivate the land, blacksmith the iron and ultimately create the culture.
As a descendant of Colonial Louisiana Africans, this book was the first to tell me that I am a descendant of the Bamana of Mali. It is one of the only books I have come across to describe in detail, the battles of Louisiana maroon leader Saint Juan Malo. It is one of the first to tell it like it is concerning the true relationship of the French and Africans of this bastard french colony & address the underlying factors of why it became an Afro-creole colony more so than anything else. Basically this book tells the unadulterated truth backed by facts. It doesn't, like so many other books about Louisiana, get caught up in the romance of the Creoles of color and there obsession with their white fathers. Instead it tells the story of their Senegambian mothers. And shows how the culture of these Africans is the foundation of what is now considered Louisiana Creole culture.
This book is a breath of fresh air to some one like myself who loathes the hundreds of books written about Louisiana that describes it as " a mixture of French, Spanish, and Indian cultures". Always omitting the fact of African influence due to the legacy of white supremacy inherent in the telling of US history. In most other books on the subject, Africans are merely slaves. In this book we are shown for what we are, the foundation of the culture. It will most definitely be a textbook in any course I teach on the subject.”
The second book is “Creoles of Color in the Bayou Country” Carl Brasseaux
An Amazon reader says, “This is a fine piece of scholarship, as well as one that sheds light on an all-but-forgotten aspect of Louisiana's Creole history. The authors provide a wonderfully detailed treatment of the Southwestern Louisiana Creoles of Color that adds to a growing body of scholarship on the topic.
This book stands as a good counter-point to studies of New Orleans's Creoles of Color, and further proves that the Colored Creole identity was not the same as the African American identity, and that the free black community of the state, not just that of New Orleans, was far from a monolithic group unified by racial oppression.
The authors describe a community dedicated to maintaining their shared social status above dark-skinned free blacks and slaves, and assuredly below the white community. However, the authors are sure to mention that the color line was not as established in the Bayou Country, or in Louisiana as a whole, as many people have previously believed. Rather, Colored Creoles and whites worked together, intermarried (most often common-law marriages), had children, and inherited property from each other.
The Creoles of Color of the Bayou Country provide yet another fine example of a mixed-race population recognizing and treating itself as different from both blacks and whites, inhabiting an ambiguous, complex position in the social hierarchy, and struggling to protect the few privileges (what we would call rights today) granted them by a white-dominated society.
This books goes well with the only other first-rate study of Creoles of Color outside of New Orleans, Gary B. Mills's "The Forgotten People" (LSU Press, 1977)."
Louisiana undoubtedly has the richest musical legacy in the America, if not the world.