Featuring BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet and Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience
For the past 40 years, BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet has been making some of the most potent and popular Cajun music on the planet. Born out of the rich Acadian ancestry of its members, and created and driven by bandleader Michael Doucet’s spellbinding fiddle playing and soulful vocals, BeauSoleil is notorious for bringing even the most staid audience to its feet. BeauSoleil’s distinctive sound derives from the distilled spirits of New Orleands jazz, blues rock, folk, swamp pop, Zydeco, country and bluegrass, captivating listeners from the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, to Carnegie Hall, then all the way across the pond to Richard Thompson’s Meltdown Festival in England.
For their first studio release in four years, and the 25th in their 37-year career, BeauSoleil teamed up with Nashville- based roots music label Compass Records. The band named the new album From Bamako to Carencro, a title that alludes to the cultural and migratory connection between Bamako, in Mali, West Africa, and Louisiana (symbolized in name by the Lafayette, LA. suburb of Carencro), a connection that draws a sonic bloodline back to BeauSoleil’s roots. On the album’s 11 tracks, the band performs with a resounding authenticity all the while bringing a refreshed playfulness to the genre—the fiddle, flat-picked guitar and accordion carry driving melodies over the two-step and waltz dance beats characteristic of their Cajun and Zydeco music, but not without the country, jazz and blues leanings that informed the genre in the 1920s. They channel the godfathers of other music as well by including a Cajun/La La- style reimagining of James Brown’s classic 1962 Live at the Apollo version of “I’ll Go Crazy” and a swing version of John Coltrane’s tune-de-force “Bessie’s Blues.” Guitarist David Doucet even tucks an occasional Lester Flatt-style bluegrass G-run into his highly melodic guitar solos.
Since becoming the first Cajun band to win a GRAMMY with L’amour Ou La Folie (Traditional Folk Album – 1998) and then a second Grammy in 2010, Live at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, BeauSoleil has garnered many accolades, including twelve GRAMMY nominations, the latest being their 2009 release Alligator Purse. They are regular guests on Garrison Keillor’s National Public Radio show A Prairie Home Companion, where Keillor has dubbed them as “the best Cajun band in the world,” and their music is so integral to the Cajun culture that they have been featured on the New Orleans–based hit HBO program Treme. (Look for an on-camera performance from the band this year during the final season of the show). Critics unanimously agree that it is “bon temps, every time they play,” (New York Times).
For 38 years, two- time GRAMMY award winning artist Terrance Simien and 8th generation Louisiana Creole has been shattering the myths about what his indigenous Zydeco roots music is – and is not. Leading his Zydeco Experience bandmates – long time members Danny Williams, keyboards and Stan Chambers, bass, horn players, Lance Ellis, sax and Curtis Watson, trumpet, and newest member (2019), drummer Ian Molinaro – Thompson – Simien has become one of the most respected and accomplished artists in American roots music today. He and his band mates have performed over 9000 concerts, toured millions of miles to over 45 countries during their eventful career.
2019 marked Simien’s 34th consecutive New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival – the gold standard for diversity in American roots music. 2014 proved to be another memorable year when Simien & his collaborators from the Zydeco Experience band were honored with their second GRAMMY award in Los Angeles on January 26, 2014 at the Nokia Theatre.
2012 found Simien & his band mates seen performing their original song “Dance Everyday” in the Warner Brothers film “The Lucky One” starring Zac Efron and Blythe Danner, and directed by Oscar nominated director Scott Hicks. Simien’s version of zydeco standard “Uncle Bud” was also used in the film.
2009 signaled the release of Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog”, set in the city of New Orleans and featured their first black princess. Alas, history was made. Simien is the featured guest artist on “Gonna Take You There”, a zydeco flavored song penned by Randy Newman. Simien recorded the song with Newman in Los Angeles in late 2007 and it has became a favorite track for children everywhere! Simien’s student audiences all over the country sing along with him when he & his band mates perform it during their school time concerts. History was also made in a very big way for this genre – as it was the first time Disney featured zydeco music in a film! As if that was not enough – the word zydeco was also spoken in the movie by one of the characters and has introduced generations of young children and families to an indigenous American roots music that because of this film, many heard for the very first time! We are forever grateful to John Lasseter and the team at Disney for this rare opportunity to have this genre immortalized in a Disney film.
In 2005 Simien led HBO producers deep into Creole country for another high visible opportunity for the genre and he introduced them to the prodigious 5 year old zydeco talent, Guyland Leday. This gifted young musician was featured in the HBO doc “The Music in Me: Children’s Recitals from Classical to Latin, Jazz to Zydeco. This was a huge victory for his state, genre and Creole culture. It was also this year that they became the first zydeco artists to perform in Cuba for the U.S, State Department. In 2006, Carnegie Hall presented them in Mali, West Africa as part of their unique Global Encounters program. There have been multiple U.S. State Department tours to North Africa, Ukraine, Russia, Dominican Republic, Paraguay – all as part of the U.S Cultural Diplomacy efforts around the globe that began in 1955.
However, it was 2008 that proved to be one of the most memorable years of their eventful career when they were honored with their first GRAMMY™ award and the first in zydeco since Rockin Sidney Simien received his in 1985. They also performed that day at The 50th GRAMMY™ Awards pre-Tel ceremony. This was also the culmination of 7 years of hard work to establish a new Grammy category for best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album that Simien and his wife/business partner, Cynthia led to success. They effectively changed the vocabulary of the Recording Academy and the trajectory of the history for both genres. Because of their efforts that began in 2001, to connect their region with the GRAMMY awards after decades with little or no recognition in the awards, since 2008 over 100 Cajun & zydeco artists have garnered Grammy noms and awards. Their hard work embodies an inclusive leadership style and artist advocacy for the greater good of their broader music community, city (Lafayette & Opelousas) and state of Louisiana. This is also now an important part of Southern roots music history, African American music history and the Americana Music Triangle.