“Creole Soul: Zydeco Lives” by Burt Feintuch and edited by Jeannie Banks Thomas

I first encountered zydeco on a visit to New Orleans. I was enthralled by the banging beats of Buckwheat Zydeco. The Cajun music I had heard previously in NOLA was good enough, but I could take it sitting down. Zydeco demanded that I get up and dance.  Zydeco combines the energy of rock and roll with the passion of the blues and a raucous sound all its own. I thought I knew a little about zydeco. But Creole Soul: Zydeco Lives showed me I knew very little. (Other than that I liked it.)

Zydeco, Burt Feintuch writes, is a “word that can designate a musical genre, an event featuring that music, or the kind of dancing one does to that music.”

In Creole Soul: Zydeco Lives, prominent band leaders tell their own stories through a question/answer format led by Feintuch. Interviews include Ed Poullard, Lawrence “Black” Ardoin, Step Rideau, Brian Jack, Jerome Batiste, Ruben Moreno, Nathan Williams Jr., Leroy Thomas, Corey Ledet, Sean Ardoin, and Dwayne Dopsie.  Feintuch also explores the history of the music and its originators like Clifton Chenier.

The interviews are accompanied by a stunning collection of photographs by Gary Samson that showcase the bands, the fans, the clubs, and the African American trailrides. What is a trailride, you ask? I didn’t know either. A trailride is a campout festival with horses and wagons, spicy Creole food, zydeco and traditional line dancing, and all-night partying in the countryside. The festivals are a celebration of Black cowboys and Black Creole history.

I also didn’t know that Houston, Texas, is a big center for zydeco. Probably even bigger than Louisiana. In fact, Feintuch’s book is divided into two geographic parts: East Texas and Louisiana. And East Texas comes first. The Texas events are not marketed as widely to tourists, according to Feintuch.

In the interviews, the various band leaders discuss the different types of accordions they use. The author also provides a little history of the frottoir, otherwise known as a rubboard or scrubboard, employed by zydeco bands. Feintuch compares and contrasts different styles of zydeco: traditional versus contemporary. Many bands are a blend of styles, trying to balance “old rural ways with an urban existence.” But whether the band plays classical style zydeco or leans into more modern forms borrowing from hip-hop, all zydeco is known for “banging”: really, really, really loud bass sound waves that Feintuch claims made his pants legs flap. Bass he could feel thumping in his chest.

In any case, Feintuch says zydeco gives “young people an opportunity that’s increasingly rare in the United States—dancing to live music.” And to borrow lyrics from an old Fats Domino song, “ain’t that a shame.”

For the photographs alone, this book would make a great addition to any music lover’s bookshelf.

Burt Feintuch (1949-2018) directed the Center for the Humanities and was a professor of folklore for many years at the University of New Hampshire. He is author of Talking New Orleans Music: Crescent City Musicians Talk about Their Lives, Their Music, and Their City, published by University Press of Mississippi. Jeannie Banks Thomas is a fellow of the American Folklore Society and a professor in the Department of English and Folklore Program at Utah State University. She is author of several books on contemporary folklore, two of which won international awards. Gary Samson is an accomplished fine arts photographer and New Hampshire Artist Laureate whose work has been exhib­ited internationally. He is professor emeritus of photography at the Institute of Art and Design at New England College. He is photographer for Talking New Orleans Music: Crescent City Musicians Talk about Their Lives, Their Music, and Their City, published by University Press of Mississippi.


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