A world of music in one man
By Mel Minter
If you’re putting together a world music festival, fiddler/accordionist/singer/songwriter Cedric Watson gives you a head start. The Creole music that the four-time Grammy nominee produces captures the contributions of at least three continents—North America, Europe and Africa—to the steamy cultural crossbreeding of Louisiana.
“I did a DNA test, and I’m 10 percent Native American and 12 percent Caucasian. I’m African—[they were] brought here as slaves for the most part,” says Watson. “So what am I? I’m a freaking American—I’m Creole.”
The African, French, Native American and Spanish blood that runs through his veins also inflects the traditional Creole music of southwestern Louisiana—from juré, unaccompanied vocal music, to the acoustic house-party music known as la la, through the still-evolving zydeco. Watson is taking that tradition forward and backward simultaneously, and when he opens the proceedings Saturday night at ¡Globalquerque!—with Danny Devillier (drums), Desiree Champaigne (rubboard) and D’Jalma Garnier (bass)—be ready to move backward and forward and every which way.
Born in Texas
Contrary to several published accounts, Watson was speaking French and playing Creole music before he moved from his native Texas to Louisiana, where he now resides. “Everybody has it wrong. A lot of people think I learned French and I learned Cajun music and shit—[that] I came here to Louisiana and did it. Bullshit, we have that in Texas. Why would I have to come here when I have that in my family?”
His grandmother supported Watson’s obvious musical talent—he’d started playing on a toy accordion as a boy—with the gift of a guitar at the relatively late age of 16. By 18, he had managed to scrape together the money for the instrument he really wanted: the fiddle. It was something of an odd choice, but by his own admission, he was an odd kid. Unlike his peers, who were rapping and hip-hopping, he turned to the old Creole music and its central instrument, the fiddle, which had all but disappeared from modern Creole music.
“I was raised by older people, and I grew up in a town of 868 people. I never caught on to American pop culture,” he says by way of explanation. “The only thing that really got me about Creole music was that [when we heard it], we was always having fun.”
Aged in Louisiana
Nine years ago, J.B. Adams, a Houston DJ and Creole music aficionado, heard Watson play the fiddle and introduced him into an exclusive circle of Creole musicians in southwestern Louisiana. They began teaching the 19-year-old everything they knew.
“It was the fiddle. ‘Aw, man, we thought the Creole fiddle was dying.’ Everybody was telling me that, and they were happy. I seen old people cry. When I saw that—like Goldman Thibodeaux [revered Creole accordionist] put his hands on my shoulders and cried as I was leaving his house—Man, this is what I’m doing for the rest of my life,” Watson says.
“This is the only reason I’m here is because of what happened to the slave trade and the Creole,” he says. “So I have to cherish that. Over 500 years, a lot of African people made it to America, but a lot of them died on the water. I come from the strong ones that survived. Spanish people who came over to fight for Mexico, French people running from Haiti, from their slaves—I came from them, the strong that survived. I live that every day, and I breathe it and I feel it. And in my music, I want everything that you hear in Louisiana culture—I want the French, the African, the Spanish—everything to come out in my music, everything.”
You can hear it all come out in his latest and perhaps most remarkable release—the first he produced himself—Le Soleil Est Levé (Lache Pas Records). You can hear it in the old-time roots, and you can hear it in his new songs that take the Creole fiddle into a new century. You can also hear it very live and in person at ¡Globalquerque! for one night only.
Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole
appearing at ¡Globalquerque!
Saturday, Sept. 17, 6 p.m.
on the NHCC’s Plaza Mayor
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