Old-style Creole: From the Deep South to the Last Frontier

Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2008

Chances are you've never heard a band quite like Les Amis Creole, according to its members.

Photo From Texas Zydeco By Roger Wood Courtesy Of Photographer James Fraher
Photo From Texas Zydeco By Roger Wood Courtesy Of Photographer James Fraher

"We're one of the few bands that still plays this old-style Creole music," said James "J.B." Adams. "It's kind of sort of a lost art cause there's not too many people that still play this stuff."

Old-style Creole music has its roots in Louisiana, where African and French cultures blended to create a unique sound specific to the region, he said.

"It's a very special sound that has been here since these old colonial days and it's original to Louisiana," said Cedric Watson. "We just think that it's something special and we love it from our hearts because whenever we play we fall into the feeling of it, you know. That's when you know you really like what you're doing."

Les Amis Creole has brought its unique sound from the Deep South to the Last Frontier as the guest artists of the 34th annual Alaska Folk Festival. The quartet consists of Adams, Watson, Ed Poullard and Corey Lede, and is scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. on Thursday, and at 9 p.m. on Sunday at Centennial Hall.

Adams said traditional Creole music differs from its contemporary musical cousin Zydeco. Les Amis Creole performs acoustically with guitars, accordions and fiddles, while present-day Zydeco may be infused with elements of rap or hip-hop music, he said.

"We emphasize that we play old-style music and we try and keep it as simple and pure as we can," Poullard said.

"Another thing that is unique about this group is it's a generational thing," Poullard said, adding that he and Adams are in their 50s, while Watson is in his early 20s. "For a long time there was no Creole fiddle players coming up through the younger ranks. In other words, when Cedric became interested in it and demonstrated how talented he was, it created a resurgence, I guess, with some of the other younger guys."

Watson said he knew of Poullard as a musician before he actually met him, and now has the opportunity to learn from him.

"He plays that old-style and there aren't too many people today that's doing that now," he said of Poullard. "That's why he is one of my heroes on the fiddle and the accordion."

The band is helping revive old-style Creole music, Watson said.

"The thing is it's still going on now and it's not dead because you still got people like us that are recording it and keeping it around," he said. "People are actually starting to look for Creole music again, you know, and that's something good to know because Creole music is what started the Cajun and Zydeco music."

Watson describes Les Amis Creole as a fun, laid-back band that takes its music seriously.

"We sit back and we lay back as if we're sitting on a porch and we have a good time with each other," he said about the band's performances. "That's all we do, we feel each other's rhythm and we jump around and have a good time."

Adams said playing traditional Creole music reminds the band of the struggles many of their ancestors endured during the colonial days.

"A lot of these songs, it reminds us of a lot of hard times," he said. "A lot of these songs, it reminds us of those people, our ancestors. The music is almost spiritual at times."

The music is still very relevant to the people of the region today, Watson said.

"The music is very special because the music is the image of the people of this area - southwest Louisiana and some parts of east Texas," Watson said.

Adams describes the old Creole style as a music that makes your heart happy when you start to hear it and feel it.

"There's been times when we've played on stage where we'll start to cry sometimes because the music, it's that emotional in some of the songs we play."

Poullard said he is excited about coming to the Alaska Folk Festival to share the flavor of old-style Creole music.

"As a performer I want to go there, as a group, and make our delivery and impress upon people's minds that there are other music styles in the world that the people in that area are not accustomed to hearing," he said. "In our delivery we hope to do that and have them enjoy it as well."

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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