SAU Buzz

Creole music echoes through the Rogalski Center

by Hannah Blaser
Posted on Apr 14, 2016

Although the temperature outside didn’t reach 50 degrees on April 7, inside the Rogalski ballroom the atmosphere made its audience feel like they had travelled the 944 miles south to New Orleans.

Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience spent Saturday evening entertaining and educating an audience of almost 200 people about Zydeco, a form of American roots music.

“It’s a genre that has helped define the cultural identity of Louisiana and the American South,” Terrance Simien said on his website. “It’s the indigenous music of the mixed race, multicultural French speaking rural Creoles, who are some of the first families of Louisiana.”

The culture that Simien and his band brought to St. Ambrose was one that many students appreciated.

“The event itself was very eye-opening to the Louisiana culture with the food, music, people, and stories,” St. Ambrose student Mary Blesz said. “This event was also educational, because it provided our network of art advocates with the information regarding zydeco history. Terrance was extremely passionate about his heritage and his music, especially his two Grammys he received in the past.”

Simien’s two Grammys came in 2008 and 2014, but in between these two prestigious awards, him and his band saw many other successes. Perhaps most notably was his inclusion on the soundtrack of Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” which was released in 2009. That movie was significant for Zydeco music, because it was the first time it was used in a Disney film. It was also the first time the word “Zydeco” was spoken in a Disney film, laying the groundwork for a whole generation of young Disney lovers to potentially experience this music. And since the movie, Simien has been bringing the unique Zydeco experience to many places, including St. Ambrose’s campus.

“Bringing Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience was unique for the University because it provided the community with a unique New Orleans style event featuring Grammy-award winning artists,” Blesz said. “It was held in the Rogalski Center for a 'cabaret’ style, where food and drink were also provided. We featured New Orleans style food such as blackened fish, jambalaya, and rice dishes that complimented the theme.”

Holding the event in the Rogalski ballroom was one thing that made this experience different from other musical events like it.

“This is one of our few events that’s held in Rogalski and it’s an event that had the stage like normal, but with a dance floor and round tables so it was more of a social gathering,” St. Ambrose junior Alexa Walker said. “By the end of the night everyone was up and dancing.” 

It’s hard to describe Zydeco music to people who have never heard it. It is, for the most part, cheerful. The emotion that comes through the instruments being played and Simien’s voice has the power to leave listeners smiling and dancing or feeling like they’re being taken back in time.

“It was a New Orleans style experience, kind of like soul but upbeat and very lively,” Walker said. “They did a few songs that were more slow-dancing type songs, but everything was very fun.”

It isn’t every day that St. Ambrose hosts a Grammy award winning performer, a fact that made the experience even more special for some students.

“Being able to see such a different performance than what we’re used to is really what makes us diverse as a university,” Walker said. “Being able to experience that is not something you’d often be able to do outside of the university setting.”