It’s hard for Jeffery Broussard to slow down. In March, the Creole accordionist/fiddler was part of a successful 10-day Library of Congress/CEC Arts Link-sponsored cultural exchange tour of Russia along with Balfa Toujours and fellow Creole musician Ed Poullard—the first time that most of these Russian audiences had ever witnessed Cajun-Creole music in a live setting. “It was different, man,” Broussard says quietly. “But once we started playing, the response was great, which surprised me because the music was so new to them.”
“They were kind of a conservative, somber-looking audience,” Poullard says. “But at the end of our set when Jeffery and I played, we had them dancing on the stage with us. It was really heartwarming to see that.”
Since the breakup of his longstanding band Zydeco Force in 2005, Broussard has had many opportunities like this come his way. Broussard and his Creole Cowboys have toured South America and Europe twice in 2011. This year there are plenty of stateside jaunts on the books.
It’s a dream come true for a son of a tenant sharecropper hailing from Frilot Cove, a rural community near Lawtell, Louisiana. When Broussard is on tour, he will often visit elementary and middle schools and do school assemblies, introducing younger audiences to Creole and zydeco music. “I get a kick out of the kids because there are so many interested in the culture,” says Broussard.
His father, Delton Broussard of the Lawtell Playboys, traveled extensively but Jeffery didn’t with Zydeco Force because bassist Robby Robinson was too busy working to tour. “After Zydeco Force broke up, I decided to do what my daddy did and keep [the culture] going,” Broussard says.
He should know a thing or two about Creole music. He was practically weaned on it in the Lawtell Playboys, a generational band that featured his father Delton on accordion and Calvin Carrière on fiddle, with various family members playing support instruments. When one cousin wanted to switch to bass from drums, Jeffery assumed the drum chair at age eight. He played with his father’s accordion when he was away, usually until his mother started yelling at him to put it back, fearing that the instrument would be broken. “My daddy didn’t know I played the accordion until I was 15,” Broussard says. “But every time he got back, he knew the accordion wasn’t put back the same. He couldn’t pinpoint exactly who [was playing it] because I had five brothers beside myself.”
At 19, Broussard and Robinson co-founded Zydeco Force, an influential band that included Broussard’s brother Shelton and cousin Herbert. The group laid the groundwork for the future of zydeco by changing the proverbial single beat to the double clutchin’ variety and being the first zydeco band to sing in harmony. For good reason, he worries about the future of zydeco. “The thing that gets me about the younger guys is that they are using an accordion and they are calling it zydeco,” he says. “You don’t hear anything that they are playing that has something to do with zydeco at all. It’s all rap and hip-hop.
“The sad part about it is there is only so many of us left playing traditional music—myself, Geno Delafose, Cedric Watson, Dexter Ardoin, Ed Poullard, Preston Frank, Chris Ardoin’s father ‘Black’ Ardoin. What’s going to happen with this music, man?”
Zydeco Force may have been innovative in its heyday, but the group often sang its harmonies in French to the delight of the older generation. Today, practically none of it’s in French and the older generation doesn’t go out anymore. “The kids go and pack the club but they don’t dance,” he says. “They just stand [in the middle of] the floor. Nobody wants to spend $15 to go hear somebody play if you can’t dance and enjoy yourself.”
Broussard cites another problem—excessively loud music. Recently, he was at a small, 100- person capacity venue where a zydeco artist had an array of speakers that would have been more suitable for an outdoor festival, six on the top and four on the bottom. “I’ve never played in a club where I had to go find some earplugs.
“The sad part about it is that all these guys are good accordion players. A lot of them come from French-speaking families and know how to speak French. Most can sing in French. Why not teach these youngsters that? Y’all got them where you want ‘em. Y’all are drawing packed houses wherever you go. Let them know where their culture comes from.”
Jeffery Broussard and the Creole Cowboys play Jazz Fest on Saturday, May 5 at 1:30 p.m. on the Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do Stage.