By Joel Okida

Cedric_Watson_-_Creole_MoonThe Grammy category for Cajun and Zydeco music is only three years old. A young musician from San Felipe, Texas had his first solo album nominated in 2008 and his second effort made the list in 2009. This year, he’s back again as if it’s as sure a thing as his birthday. At 27 years of age, Cedric Watson, a relative newcomer to the scene, has reached the heights of the recording arts, sharing the charts and accolades with established Cajun and Zydeco giants such as Buckwheat Zydeco, Terrance Simien and Beausoleil.

Ignoring for the most part the trend of other young Zydeco artists to lean heavily, if not exclusively into hip-hop, smooth R & B, and funk, Watson honed his skills by keeping within the guidelines established by the old school legends of Creole and Cajun music. But this is not to say that there is an absence of anything new. Far from it. The youth movement is afoot and from that comes the influence of the relatively recent influx of Cajun and Creole crossover music. The crossover could be looked at as the result of younger Cajun and Creole musicians displaying the reverence for both early LaLa Zydeco and Cajun music, but also the fusion of those trusted rhythms with all things Americana and beyond. Out of Lafayette and the surrounding areas, there are bands and musicians who play the old style, but who also introduce, in varying doses, strains of country, bluegrass, swing, swamp rock, as well as Caribbean and Reggae inflections. On Creole Moon, Watson goes all the way back to Africa and introduces the kora (a 21-string West African harp lute) into the “modern” era of Zydeco.

L’Esprit Creole, last year’s release found Watson and his band, Bijou Crèole, adding new ingredients to the mix. He sometimes keeps close to the vest and in the style of old school leaders of Louisiana music like Canray Fontenot and Dennis McGee, but unlike a total imitation of the style, he stretches it out, re-arranges the songs, and puts his own stamp on it. A traditional waltz like Cher ‘Tit Coeur, has a country flair but still informs as an homage to waltzes past. Bebe Carriere’s Bluerunner, gets a snap and a crackle with a very playful percussive embellishment to augment Watson’s fiddle.

On the live recording, Creole Moon- Live from Blue Moon Saloon, the traditional Zydeco beat and the rubboard as well as the aforementioned, kora, are all there for the opening song, Watson’s own, Afro Zydeco. And it does get the show amped up for the dance crowd and an energetic introduction to the music ahead. And speaking of old school legends, Watson pretty much recreates the sound and soul of legendary zydeco accordion artists, John Delafose (also a fiddler) on Old Time Two-Step and Richard’s Two-Step. And does likewise for BooZoo Chavis’ Zydeco Coteau. It’s a tribute show, no doubt, as mentor Canray Fontenot, makes the set list, too. Fontenot, arguably the greatest Creole fiddler of his generation also taught Watson the traditional waltz, Jogue Au Plombeau, another cut on the recording. It should be noted that Watson makes the transition from accordion to fiddle with ease and has the deft touch to excel at both. Another track, Pa Janvier, was written by Cajun fiddler extraordinaire, Dennis McGee and is a slow and mournful funeral waltz, but no less beautiful in this rendition.

The first king of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier, wrote the anthemic torcher, I’m On the Wonder, which was indicative of his strong blues roots and a signature song. Watson gets the feel for it although with three straight Grammy nominations, what’s to sing the blues about? The addition of guest kora player, Morikeba Kouyate, in town from Senegal for Festival International, subtly augments the strong accordion melody. This song although covered by many a band is not for every singer as it requires a certain amount of torch singing that not every zydeco vocalist can reach for. Watson serves it up in good form and also gives solos to Kouyate, guitarist Chris Stafford, and guest saxophonist, Dickie Landry.

Creole Moon just touches the tip of the ice berg. It is a sampling of a night of Zydeco, Cedric Watson-style, at a very lively club in Lafayette. The set list, as mentioned, is geared toward dipping into the past and tipping the hat to those that came before. The recording demonstrates that reverence and shows what Cedric Watson can do with what he’s learned, and then gives a glimpse or two of what lies ahead. Will more African roots rhythms appear in the future?  The last song, Jurè, with its second line beat, echoes the pulse of a genre coming full circle. Zydeco has always incorporated a bit of gospel, folk, country, rock, and the blues- all percolating under that insistent beat. That Afro-Carribean, Reggae, and African rhythms are now seeping into the fold is not so far-fetched, but perhaps logical artistic sources to add to Zydeco’s already rich composite of dance-friendly music.

Joel Okida is a struggling artist, struggling writer, and struggling musician. It occurs to him that life is all about the struggle. Fortunately, he did not take up acting. However, he's not half-bad as a zydeco dancer and the ability to make a mean gumbo and lovely walnut tortes has gotten him by.