ANSONIA — The Darke County Center for the Arts (DCCA), Arts Midwest Touring Council, Ohio Arts Council, and other sponsors treated students at Ansonia Elementary School to a zydeco concert Tuesday afternoon.
Two-time Grammy Award winner Terrance Simien and his band, The Zydeco Experience, played a selection of songs for the kids in the school’s auditorium, including their song “Gonna Take You There ,” which was featured in the DIsney animated film ‘The Princess and the Frog.’ In between songs, Simien gave the kids short lessons about the history of zydeco music, Creole food and culture, and Louisiana’s famous Mardi Gras celebration.
Zydeco is a style of music comprised of blues, R&B, and Native American influences that originated among French Creole speakers in southwestern Louisiana in the early 20th century. The name is thought to have been inspired by a French phrase meaning “the snap beans aren’t salty,” a reference to the poor Cajun and Creole folk who started the genre not being able to afford salty meats to add flavor to their dinnertime fare.
Simien introduced the students to a number of traditional Cajun and Creole instruments, including the Cajun accordion, a small squeezebox-style instrument with a single row of buttons used mostly for playing zydeco music; and the frottoir, or rubboard, which consists of a light metallic plate hung over the shoulders and covering the chest and stomach, a percussion instrument also used by jazz musicians. Several children from the audience were selected to come up on stage briefly and play the frottoir in accompaniment to Simien’s performance.
Before the frottoir was invented, according to Simien, Creole musicians used washboards as instruments.
Simien also taught the students a bit about Mardi Gras – “Fat Tuesday” in French – which, while celebrated in urban areas like New Orleans with parties and parades, actually more closely resembles the Halloween tradition of trick or treating in rural Louisiana communities.
“We Creoles in the country go trick or treating for Mardi Gras,” Simien said. “The kids and the adults. You wear costumes, and walk around from door to door, but instead of candy, they give you a live chicken or a duck!”
Finally, Simien showed the students a Creole flag, which consists of a blue and white portion representing the Creole community’s French heritage; red, yellow and green sections, one featuring a green star, representing the flags of Mali and Senegal, two African nations whose emigrants contributed to Creole culture; and finally, a red and yellow portion bearing an image of the Tower of Castillo, which represents the group’s Spanish heritage.
“This is the second time Terrance and the band have been here,” DCCA Artistic Director Keith Rawlins said. “They were here four years ago, and the teachers and staff all told me how great it was. They said it was one of the greatest things they’d ever seen.”
Rawlins also felt the event provided a valuable educational experience for the kids.
“I think they walk out of here having learned a lot,” Rawlins said. “They think of it as ‘wow, I had fun,’ but in fact, they’ve learned about another culture.”
Ansonia Elementary School principal Ashlee Fourman agreed.
“We like to bring in different things that our kids aren’t necessarily exposed to living in Darke County,” Fourman said. “It’s great to be able to bring that to the kids.”
Simien’s band has given performances at Bradford, Franklin Monroe, Arcanum and Versailles elementary schools this week, in addition to Tuesday’s performance at Ansonia, with additional shows planned for Thursday at 1 p.m. at Mississinawa Valley; Friday at 9:15 a.m. at Greenville Primary/Middle School; and Friday at 1 p.m. at Tri-Village Elementary. The band will also perform tonight at 7 p.m. at Bistro Off Broadway.
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