If a crowd isn’t dancing at a zydeco dancehall, one of two things is usually happening: the band is terrible or something bigger is capturing their attention. On May 27 at the legendary Slim’s Y-Ki-Ki dancehall in Opelousas, the crowd stopped dancing because they were captured by the smallest guy in the place.
Guyland Leday, a seven-year-old accordionist with Zydeco Force, was holding court. Not only was Guyland playing the accordion with the skills of a musician ten times his age, he was spinning, sliding, laying on his back, holding the squeezebox above his head, doing James Brown splits, Michael Jackson’s moonwalk and Chuck Berry’s duck walk.
And that was just in the first ten minutes of the show.
The crowd, which had parted like the Red Sea to welcome him to the stage, squeezed in to take in every move. So did the cameras and mics from HBO.
Guyland was being filmed for Finding The Groove, a documentary tentatively scheduled to air in February 2006 on the HBO Family channel. The show will introduce 10-15 young musicians from around the country and Guyland is one of five who will be prominently featured.
Producers were looking for young marvels outside the usual pianists and other classical prodigies whose stories are told all the time. They found it in Guyland, a resident of Frilot Cove and student at Grand Prairie Elementary in St. Landry Parish.
He started playing zydeco on a toy accordion at the age of 2. By the age of 4, Guyland was on stage with Zydeco Force, a veteran band from Opelousas that features his great uncle Jeffery Broussard on accordion.
At Festival International 2003, Terrance Simien presented Guyland to a Lafayette audience, which was blown away by his skills. Simien and his wife and manager, Cynthia, run MusicMatters, a nonprofit artist education and advocacy group. At Festival International, MusicMatters presented Guyland with a special nine-button accordion created by renowned squeezebox maker Larry Miller of Iota. The nine-button box is smaller and lighter than the usual 10-button instruments played by many zydeco and Cajun musicians.
But Guyland, who is left-handed, plays these right-handed instruments upside-down, which has become his trademark style.
Guyland is even becoming a songwriter. At Slim’s, he played “Guyland’s Groove” and “Just a Little Boy,” two originals featured on Zydeco Force’s new CD, Louisiana Chicken Shack.
The HBO Family special will introduce Guyland to millions across the country, perhaps the world. New Guyland fans also mean more interest in zydeco music, Creole culture, local tourism and more.
Such good news comes at time of great irony in zydeco. The music has more bands than ever in its history. Even Cajun bands, who wouldn’t touch zydeco with a ten-foot drumstick, are playing zydeco. Yet many dancehalls and festivals aren’t seeing the huge crowds they enjoyed in the 1990s and ’80s. Perhaps Guyland will be the spark of a new revival.
Despite what the future holds, Guyland on HBO Family is definitely a high point in the music’s history. Such an achievement doesn’t happen by itself. Thanks to the Broussard and Bias families of St. Landry Parish for nurturing their rich musical heritage alive in Guyland.
He is the great, great grandson of the late Delton Broussard, an accordion teacher and leader of the popular Lawtell Playboys band of the 1970s and ’80s. The Broussards and Biases who aren’t musicians are singers and dancers, so Guyland couldn’t help but get involved in music.
Lots of gratitude also goes to Terrance and Cynthia Simien, who promote zydeco and Creole culture with a Ninja-like resolve. HBO learned of Guyland through a video sent by the Simiens. Terrance has presented his “Creole for Kidz and the History of Zydeco” workshops to more than 60,000 children across the country. Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, other state officials and music industry reps have become supporters of the Cajun-zydeco Grammy category because of meetings with the Simiens.
Now the world gets to know about Guyland Leday. He’s a shining star of talent, heritage and hard work.
AID FOR ZION
Financial and blood donations are being accepted for Justus “Zion” Gennuso of Opelousas, the four-year-old nephew of zydeco star Keith Frank and son of his Soileau Zydeco Band bass player, Jennifer. Zion is scheduled to undergo a bone marrow stem cell transplant July 1 at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans. As mentioned in this column last May, Zion can be heard on Frank’s new CD, Going to See Keith Frank, and often dances on stage with the band. He has Hyper IgM Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that prevents his body from making enough antibodies to fight infections.
Doctors say a successful transplant will allow his body to make its own antibodies and cure him of the disorder. Without it, costly and frequent transfusions would extend his life. But long-term survival is unlikely.
To help the family with medical expenses, an account in Zion’s name has been set up all at Hibernia National Banks in Louisiana. Zion’s transplant will require lots of blood and donations are being accepted at United Blood Services, 1503 Bertrand Drive, in Lafayette. The office is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. All donated blood will go directly to Zion’s care.
If a surplus of blood is donated, a cash credit will go to his medical fund. For more information on the blood drive, call (337) 235-5433. In the New Orleans area, call Susie Potter of the New Orleans United Blood Center at (877) 671-5707 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The family also welcomes cards and letters to Zion. They can be mailed to his grandmother, Jackie Gennuso, 125 Gennuso Street, Opelousas, La. 70570.
Zion’s transplant was the focus of a front page feature in the June 12 edition of the Opelousas Daily World newspaper. The article not only detailed his condition, but also outlined the moral and legal debate over stem cell research and treatment.
Anti-abortion groups call stem cell research abortion as it requires the destruction of human embryos. Some religious groups have called it human cloning. For online information on Zion’s condition, click on the Zion’s Fund link at www.keithfrank.com.
Contact Herman Fuselier at email@example.com.