Zydeco is a widely popular musical genre that traces its name from the Louisiana Creole French transformation of les haricots (sweet snap peas) to zarico, after the oppression of Africans during slavery in the American south. The advancement continued with the aid of Cajun culture and through the Great Migration in which millions of African Americans relocated to find more opportunistic economic conditions and to escape segregation and extreme racism.
The Zydeska Players will be bringing the vibrant style of zydeco to the Latin’Go Party Friday (Jan. 28), 7 p.m., at the Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership, 20 ABC Mesa Road, off U.S. 64 west.
The band will be opening up for Sol Connection, a local cumbia and ska quartet, and be followed by the popular Afro-Cuban seven-piece outfit, Baracutanga, out of Albuquerque.
Zydeska’s guitarist John Pepe and drummer Ricky Carlini heavily emphasize how the music is rooted in the African culture and how it still influences the genre. “They were stepping out of regional music and stepping into world music,” said Pepe with a southern drawl emitting from under his patterned newsboy cap.
“Black slaves of the American South are in my consciousness,” Pepe said while discussing the zydeco origins. “They found happiness when there was sorrow. It has its own spirit.”
“The music comes from oppressed people, Afro-beat. It was the only way they had to be happy, to make sound,” added Carlini with a pronounced Argentinian dialect.
During the 1950s, Clifton Chenier, considered the king of zydeco, reached the radio. Evolving from the European influence, the focus of the genre has surrounded the accordion and the washboard. The music further progressed through gospel, blues and reggae.
However, the Zydeska Players will be bringing a more exotic blend of the music. “We do sort of this rhythmic driven zydeco world beat fusion,” said Pepe. “It’s sort of ska, a little bit reggae, a little bit zydeco.”
As a child, he watched his parents depart on evening outings to go zydeco dancing. But he is surprised he is now playing the music frequently for Roots and Wires productions at the Mothership. Previously the Zydeska Players have opened up for reputable zydeco acts such as Dikki Du and the Zydeco Krewe, along with Nathan Williams.
Wyoming’s Sam Burke-Favreo, accordion player and vocalist; Pepe, second vocalist and guitarist; Argentinian drummer Ricky Carlini; Texan Timmy Teague on bass; and Russian keyboardist Aygul Ahmetova will be bringing the more progressive candombe and Afro-beat rendition for their Friday performance, styles that are rooted in Africa but come from South America.
“The style of music we’re playing has some Afro-beat and the Afro-music is really close to slower Latin music, even from music of the roots — New Orleans,” Carlini said. “A lot of people of color went to Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, all those places, so all the music developed in South America has those African roots.”
As well as the South American influence, there is an even greater international presence. Vocalist Burke-Favreo dabbles in language. “Sam sings in Portuguese. He sings in Spanish. He sings in several different languages,” Pepe said. “There’s a song he sings in an African language. He is all over this place with this world beat sound.”
As far as the sound, the Zydeska Players are truly unique because of the ethnic prominence zydeco offers along with their own contributions from their individual musical backgrounds. It’s a bit of Gogol Bordello, Irish folk, salsa, samba and soul. “That’s why it’s [their style of zydeco music] the world’s beat. It’s a mix. Everyone has something to bring to the table, yet its reminiscent of something else,” Pepe said.
Rhythmic Latin dance instrumentals, spiritual and uplifting messages create their sound. Original songs, such as “Take Every Thought,” are about transforming pain into something more useful while the track “Light Up Your Santo” is a reggae-style composition about calling on the saints and spirits for guidance.
Along with the originals the band also plays tailored covers of classic zydeco hits and plays popular folk songs. “Liberte” in 6/8 time is about the struggle and fight for freedom modified from an old folk song.
“We’re taking an original music genre and sort of making it our own, taking the old and making it new, sort of the folk tradition no matter which country you come from,” Pepe said.
Even more unique than the genre is the style of dance. Zydeco dancing is a hybrid of the jitterbug, cumbia, and some footwork reminiscent of the steps from the movie, “Footloose.”
Cover charge for the show is $7 at the door. For more information, call (575) 758-1900 or visit taosmesabrewing.com.