When you hear the music," sings Lil' Brian, "it makes you want to jump/come on let's feel it/feel that zydeco funk."
With lyrics that swagger, grooves that thump, and a soul that's irresistibly Creole, Lil' Brian and the Zydeco Travelers may be one of the freshest amalgams around. And on Saturday, April 5 you'll get a chance to taste their flavor as they perform at Colorado College as part of Black History Celebration 2003.
The Encyclopedia of Cajun Culture notes that zydeco (from the French phrase les haricots sont pas sals or "the beans are unsalted"-- and if you say les haricots quickly it sounds like "zydeco") evolved from the music of Creoles -- Louisiana blacks who speak French.
After WWII, Creole music began to develop into zydeco when it started to incorporate influences including blues and rock 'n' roll. Zydeco music usually makes use of the accordion, electric guitar, bass, drums and sometimes other jazz instruments. But its most characteristic sound comes from a corrugated metal rubboard called a frottior.
By combining traditional zydeco instrumentation with the rhythms of old-school '70s funk, Lil' Brian and the Zydeco Travelers have crafted their own niche within the tradition: an innovative style known as "Z-Funk."
"We try to create music that is both musically and lyrically sophisticated -- and just plain unbelievably funky," notes Lil' Brian on the group's Web site (www.lilbrian.com). The group includes Lil' Brian on both the large piano note accordion and the old-style diatonic accordion, guitarist Patrick "Heavy P" Terry, bassist Emerson "Funky E" Jackson, rubboard player Mandrell Rideau and drummer Tony Stewart.
Hailing from the soggy bottom hamlet of Barrett Station, Texas, Lil' Brian and his band are ambassadors for a rich musical and cultural tradition that includes much more than jambalaya and washboards.
"Creole culture is really a kaleidoscope of black, white, French and Indian roots," said Randy Chambers, a Colorado College student of Creole descent whose father played in an earlier incarnation of the Zydeco Travelers. "We're a free-spirit people, and we want to share our unique traditions and music with the community."
For the second consecutive year, that desire has prompted CC to invite Lil' Brian and his group to perform on campus. "Zydeco is the funky folklore that unites the whole Creole family," Chambers said, "and Lil' Brian's music is really an expression of that message."
Lil' Brian Terry, the group's 27-year-old frontman, began playing accordion over a decade ago while growing up "smack dab in the middle of east Texas zydeco country." In 1995, he and his band released their debut album, Fresh, which was followed two years later, by Z-Funk. The group's unique fusion of traditional and innovative sounds got the attention of zydeco legend Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural, Jr., who signed the band to his Tomorrow Recordings label for the 2000 release, Funky Nation.
Never content to merely imitate the traditional Creole music he encountered growing up, Lil' Brian seeks to "energize, excite and unite the music world behind the amazing new concept of the power of zydeco." And in the process, he hopes to foster interest in the complex roots and vibrant culture embedded in the zydeco sound.