‘It’s a true world music’ 

By on February 10, 2024

Terrance Simien

Terrance Simien’s Zydeco Experience comes to the Pioneer

One thing that the Outer Banks and Louisiana have in common are the wetlands that mark the coastal landscapes and shape lifestyle and culture. Eastern North Carolina has the marsh. Louisiana has the bayou.

From that bayou comes one of the oldest and most distinctive cultures in American history—the Louisiana Creoles, who are Black and mixed-race French-speaking people from a melting pot of cultures from around the world. Known for their own unique language, cuisine, music, folklore, family traditions, and architecture, the Creole people have been in Louisiana since before it was part of the United States.

Terrance Simien, an eighth-generation Creole and two-time Grammy Award winning Zydeco musician has made it his mission to preserve, promote, and celebrate Louisiana Creole culture and its signature Zydeco music through his musical performances and educational workshops. One of the most respected and accomplished artists in American roots music today, Simien is bringing his act to the Pioneer Theater in Manteo on Feb. 17, with a free educational workshop in the afternoon followed by a live show with his band, The Zydeco Experience, later that evening.

In an interview with the Voice, Simien says he likes to explain where the influences come from.

“It’s a true world music, because, you know, I always give my DNA as a Creole, to let people know what a true Louisiana Creole is, because my family has been here since the 1700s. And my ancestors are from all over the world. I’m French, African, Spanish, Native American, German, Irish, and even some Norwegian in there…but the music itself is influenced by all these cultures that came together in the Creole community and started something new.”

Simien’s band is called the Zydeco Experience for a reason. As Simien’s website puts it “Zydeco is exhilarating and as complex and diverse as the Creoles.” Characterized by its African and Caribbean roots, Zydeco also picks up influence from rock and roll, blues, jazz, funk, and R&B and features instruments like the accordion and the washboard. Known for his smooth vocal harmonies, his masterful accordion skills, and infectious stage presence, Simien and his band bring the vibrant musical tradition to life with a joy and connection that moves people in a way they weren’t expecting.

“So a lot of times people walk in and say, ‘Wow, what is this? I’m feeling it, why am I feeling it?’ I think the reason for that is because of all that jambalaya of influence,” he says. “It’s a spiritual thing for me and it’s always been a sacred thing in our community, the music, you know, we’ve always appreciated it, and knew that it was something we could come to and come together as a community,” he says.

Simien explained to the Voice that as a teenager, he related more to the laid back vibe of the older men who would play Zydeco music compared to the places where they were playing the more popular mainstream music. In the 80’s, he was one of two young men that led Zydeco bands in the country. There was his band, and another called the Sam Brothers 5, and the rest of the bands were at least 20 years older.

“It was a style of music that was considered…what we would call old people’s music. Not me, but other young people at the time,” he says.

Now, Simien says there are all sorts of young people playing Zydeco music, many of them weaving in contemporary music like rap and hip-hop in with it. His band is an example of the different generations that play, with Danny Williams on keyboards and vocals, Stan Chambers on bass and vocals, Ian Molinaro-Thompson on drums, Michael Christie on trumpet and Noah Boshra on saxophone.  As the website puts it, they have “Three OG’s and three Gen Z’s.”

Simien’s humanities lecture on the 17th, brought to Manteo by a partnership between the Pioneer Theater and Dare Arts and funded by South Arts in a partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, is designed to educate audiences about his Louisiana Creole heritage and give an overview of traditional Zydeco music. He will also discuss and demonstrate his main instruments—the accordion and rubboard. The rest of the band will be in attendance and will demo their instruments and talk about their careers, formal music education, inspirations and touring.

“On our educational piece, we try to keep it informative, but also, we want you to be entertained,” says Simien. “We want it to be fun, and we want people to enjoy it, because that’s what the music is all about…bringing joy.”

Today, with two Grammy awards, his music featured in the popular movies like “Princess and the Frog” (showing at the Pioneer Theater the night before the show) and 85,000 performances in 45 countries, Simien has brought Zydeco music to the world stage. By educating people across the world through his workshops in performing arts theaters, school theaters, gymnasiums, and classrooms, and even at residencies at places like Berklee College of Music, Simien has helped to solidify Zydeco music and Louisiana Creole culture into pop culture and contemporary society.

“It’s American history and it’s a history that we Creole people in Louisiana are proud of,” he adds. “And we want everybody to be a part of it and enjoy it.”

See what people are saying:

  • Greg

    The concert was excellent, an uplifting evening

    Wednesday, Feb 21 @ 10:27 am