JAMbalaya is a concert, but, like the food it is named for, is comprised of many ingredients, uniquely flavored with the special spices native to Louisiana. Forget Mardi Gras and the beads and feathered masks. Forget the Hurricane glasses filled with a sticky-sweet, head-banging beverage adorned with a skull-topped swizzle stick.
Voodoo master Gregory Walker, JAMbalaya’s artistic producer, guest performer and master of ceremonies, has something quite different in mind. He’s thinking about Congo Square, where the slaves were bought and sold, and cultures collided. He’s thinking about black magic and the bayou, and the enticing, mysterious sounds of the back roads and swamps. He hears lively music coming from a shack through the distance on a foggy night.
The first concert in the Music and More Festival, presented by ACE at the J on October 30th in Levin Hall, is a mix of musical styles, woven together with elements such as Afro-Cuban music, African drumming, and three dance ensembles featuring different dance styles. The mood is funky and dark. Moss creeps from the stage and fireflies twinkle behind the performers who slip on and off the stage. It’s theater, it’s dance, it’s music.
And oh boy, it is music. The evening culminates with dancing to the irresistible rhythms of Terrance Simien, a zydeco legend. Zydeco is defined as “a black American dance music originally from southern Louisiana, typically featuring accordion and guitar.” It evolved in southwest Lousiana by French-Creole speakers which blends blues, rhythm and blues.
Here we take a moment to mourn the very recent passing of Buckwheat Zydeco (September 26), thew superstar who turned a generation of listeners, myself included, into steadfast zydeco fans. Buckwheat Zydeco was a good friend of Simien, and the concert is dedicated to his memory.
Simine, a Grammy award-winning vocalist and songwriter, is an eighth generation Creole. He was introduced to music via the piano at home,sang in church choir, and played trumpet in school band programs. He came onto the zydeco scene as many musicians were aging and the genre had lost some of its vitality. Simien was among a handful of young musicians eager to keep the musical tradition alive, a mission that has been accomplished.
You may have heard Simien on the soundtrack to The Big Easy or The Princess and the Frog, scored by Randy Newman. Simien and his band have toured internationally, presenting over 7000 live performances in more than 40 countries, and released dozens of solo recordings and collaborations. Along with his partner and wife Cynthia, Simien is deeply dedicated to music education, spending almost as much time teaching the history, culture and music of his people in the classroom as performing his high-voltage shows on stages around the world.
JAMbalaya is the first of five events in the Music and More Festival, which includes a family concert with Joe Black, a Ladino concert and Sepharid dinner, and headliner Andy Statman, a brilliant musician whose original compositions owe allegiance to klezmer, jazz, bluegrass and Jewish devotional music. The “more” is author and photographer Penny Wolin, whose images of Jewish photographers and their work will fill the screen in Levin Hall.
A pass to the festival is $100, until Oct. 15, and includes four of the five events of your choice. Tickets for JAMbalaya are reasonably priced at $18 in advance at $20 at the door. In another effort to make sure cost is not a barrier, discounted tickets are available for Andy Statman through a scholarship fund.
To purchase tickets, VISIT THE JCC WEBSITE.