Terrance Simien, performing at Levitt Pavilion on Saturday, July 9, didn’t plan on being an international ambassador for Creole culture. However, that’s exactly what happened after the two-time Grammy Award winner launched Creole4Kidz and the History of Zydeco in 2000.
“My whole thing was to educate the public on the Creole people and the history of our music,” Simien said. “Now, I have kids who are now adults that are coming out to my shows. They’re turning their kids onto the music. It’s a lovely thing to be a part of experiencing the joy and the way music is able to be embedded in their memory. The experiences are always positive.”
In addition to children in the United States and Canada, Simien has taken the multicultural performing arts program to youngsters in Australia, Ukraine, Brazil, and other countries. He wisely recognized the music that touches you at a young age will stay with you throughout life.
“It’s fun-loving music,” he said. “It has a lot of energy so we try to get the kids involved as much as we can. While we’re teaching them about the music, they learn a little bit about the language, geography and history. A lot of people say it’s a performance that educates. Some of the kids are learning and they don’t realize it. It’s a beautiful thing years later to see parents wanting their kids to experience that vibe.”
Creole not Cajun
Simien stresses Zydeco is not Cajun music, which comes from New Orleans’ Caucasian culture. Creole comes from the Black and mixed-raced people in rural southern Louisiana and has influences from Spain, Africa, West Indies, Germany and other countries. Cajun music has its urban roots in jazz and blues. Creole music is more inspired by the sounds of West Africa and the Caribbean.
“Creoles and Cajuns are totally separate groups of people,” Simien said. “They’re totally separate cultures. The Creoles, our story has gotten told in so many inaccurate ways. I’m from the source of the music and my family has been here for eight generations and that motivated me to set the record straight. Everybody wants their story told correctly, no matter what culture you come from. It’s something we can all feel a part of.
“Simiens have been in Louisiana since 1766,” he continued. “My ancestors are from all over the world. I’m part French, African, Native American, German, Italian and Irish. I’ve got jambalaya DNA. The music and food are infused by all of those cultures and the whole Creole way. Because it’s multilayered, multicultural and multiracial, people from different parts of the world can claim a piece of it. All of those influences came out in the music, the food and the way of life.”
Gem City connection
Dayton has been a regular stop for Simien since he first started performing at Canal Street Tavern in the late 1980s. He has also made numerous stops at Fraze Pavilion and the Trolley Stop. This is his first appearance at Levitt Pavilion in Dayton but he’s no stranger to the network of Levitt venues.
“It’s always good to have a diverse city,” he said. “A lot of people go one-sided on these festivals and shows. I’d like to see more diversity and Levitt Pavilions all around the country always meet that part of the mission. Playing outside is always a great vibe and it’s good that people can come out for a free show. Live music is something that brings people together more than anything on the planet. It’s such a good scene when you see people of all ages, from all walks of life, just digging on the music.”
Zydeco comes alive
After being sidelined from touring for a year-and-a-half during the pandemic shutdown, Simien, like his fans, is relishing the return of in-person concerts.
“I had been on the road since 1985,” he said. “This was the first time I was able to spend longer than two months at a time at home without having to leave. That was a good feeling, but it didn’t take long to miss communing with the people. I really missed playing music and looking out at the audience and seeing people just smiling and enjoying themselves. I hope we never have to experience anything like that again. People really missed the music. The crowds are bigger than ever, and people are enjoying it that much more. They realize how much live music means to them. When it’s gone, a big part of your existence is missing.”
Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOW TO GO
Who: The 2022 Eichelberger Concert Season presents Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience
Where: Levitt Pavilion, 134 S. Main St., Dayton
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, July 9
More info: www.levittdayton.org
Artist info: terrancesimien.com