AN INTERVIEW WITH ROSIE LEDET
The standout female accordionist, singer, and songwriter Rosie Ledet is often referred to as "The Zydeco Sweetheart," and for a good reason. Her brand of the native Louisiana folk music blend called Zydeco has captured the hearts of many Louisianians, and also those of folk music lovers around the world. To date, she has released nine Zydeco albums with her band, the Zydeco Playboys, on the Maison de Soul record label and JSP Records, and has just released a more contemporary-sounding tenth album called Slap Your Mama this year.
Zydeco was developed by the people of southern Louisiana, who mixed the longstanding Cajun music of central Louisiana with newer styles of music like rhythm & blues to give it a more upbeat and modern feel. Zydeco bands usually consist of traditional Cajun instruments like the accordion, fi ddle, and washboard, but can also include percussion instruments, horns, and even keyboards.
Zydeco and Cajun music are not just beloved in the region they were developed in; in 2007, after years of lobbying by advocates who enjoyed Cajun music, the Grammy Awards created the Best Zydeco or Best Cajun Music Album category. Winners of this category so far include BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet, Buckwheat Zydeco, Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band, and Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience.
Ledet grew up in Church Point, Louisiana, in the heart of Cajun Country, and the native Zydeco and Cajun music of the area surrounded her. However, Ledet was more content to listen to popular music on the radio than to indulge in her parents' music. Ledet's journey into not only enjoying, but learning and performing the music began one night when she attended a show at Richard's Club, a Zydeco dance club located on Highway 190 in Opelousas, LA that is now called the Zydeco Hall of Fame because of the many now famous acts that performed there since it opened in the 1940s. She was also inspired by a Louisiana-born and San Franciscoraised female musician named Queen Ida.
Ida Guillory was the fi rst professional woman accordionist and her instrument took her far; she was also the fi rst Zydeco artist to tour in Japan.
Although Ledet found her musical calling with Zydeco, she is currently promoting her latest album, Slap Your Mama, which is not necessarily folk music; she wants to branch out into other genres and expand her professional horizon. I had the opportunity to speak with Ledet about this crucial and exciting time in her career, her foray into music as a career, and performing at the 2013 Jazz and Heritage Festival.
WYAT: Tell me about the album you are currently working on.
Ledet: I'm working on a new album produced by Andre Nizzari for my new band; name of the band soon to be released once the record is completed! I sing and play some keyboards. I wrote all the songs, and Andre helped arrange them and add to them. It is not Zydeco, but it is still very danceable and fun: a mixture of rock, funk, new wave, alternative, and even reggae. The band's instrumentation consists of vocals, guitars, synthesizers, bass, and drums.
WYAT: You weren't into Cajun music as a young woman, but became interested in it because of one show. What about that moment changed your mind about Zydeco?
Ledet: Growing up with Zydeco and Cajun music, it was much more popular with the older generation. So attending that fi rst show and seeing people of my age and how much fun everyone was having, young or old, [proved that it was great]. It's funny but back then, my parents were the age I am now.
WYAT: Historically, there are not many female musicians in Zydeco music. Have you ever felt any discouragement in the Zydeco community?
Ledet: No, I never felt discouraged, because watching Queen Ida made me feel confi dent as a woman playing Zydeco music.
WYAT: You picked up the accordion later in life than most people find their instruments. How long did it take you to master the accordion?
Ledet: I don't believe that I have mastered the accordion and never will!!!
WYAT: Here in Louisiana, we love our native music. But do you feel that Zydeco and Cajun music could be as popular as other genres of music elsewhere in the country?
Ledet: I think what makes Zydeco music special is the fact that it is part of Louisiana culture, and I feel that it could never really get as popular as, say, country or rock music. But with the Internet, all different kinds of music are easily available to people, more so than ever, and this will give the music the ability to grow more widely known.
WYAT: Did you play any instruments before that time?
Ledet: No, but now I'm teaching myself to play keyboards to be able to write different styles of music other than Zydeco.
WYAT: Do you have to perform differently at a large festival?
Ledet: We try to cater to the crowd at festivals. We play more high-energy songs, or sometimes at certain shows, we will play more traditional songs; it all depends on the crowd.
WYAT: Who are you looking forward to seeing this year at Jazz Fest?
Ledet: Anyone would be a treat, but every year we are usually on the road to another show.
WYAT: Is there anything else you'd like to say?
Ledet: I'd like to thank all the fans out there, and also I want for all to have a great time at Jazz Fest this year. Please look out for my new band coming soon!