Gare-on-teed Phat

L'il Brian Terry drags zydeco into the hip-hop era by mixing it with rap

Other tracks on Fresh confirm that Terry ain't playing your mama's zydeco. On "FuNkABlUeSaDeCo," a heavy bass intertwines with pounding drums and the jingly funk of rhythm guitar. Tight accordion riffs are laid down like a DJ's laying tracks on a Technics turntable. It's total rap from the get-go, effectively processing hip-hop elements through zydeco filters.

"I was raised up on zydeco," says Terry. "That's in the blood of my family from Louisiana. But the rap and the hip-hop just give me some room to play around with other stuff, to make it my own thing and mess with the ideas I have going around in my head."

Terry's synergistic experimentation continued on his second Rounder CD, 1997's Z-Funk, which kicks off with the track "H-Town Zydeco," a tribute to the hometown music scene. Featuring some piercing blues-rock guitar by brother Patrick "Heavy P" Terry, the song climaxes with a bass jam right out of Parliament Funkadelic.

L'il Brian Terry cuts up the accordion like a DJ on a Technics turntable.
Jean Hangarter
L'il Brian Terry cuts up the accordion like a DJ on a Technics turntable.

Meanwhile, the title track offers a swaying groove, hip-hop atmospherics fused seamlessly with an eerie accordion line. In a fiercely aggressive manner, Terry raps: "Believe it, you know that I'm here. / Grew up on that blues and that Clifton Chenier. / It appears that a lot of zydeco bands have lost the juice. / But Li'l Brian and the Travelers, you know we're getting loose." Near the end of each line, the crew shouts out the final phrase, gangsta-style. The lyrics flow forth in rapid-fire sequence, culminating each time with the major theme: "It's the Z-Funk / And I cannot lie. / Zydeco is what I know / And zydeco will never die."

The two Rounder releases, and extensive appearances at festivals and major venues worldwide, have made Li'l Brian Terry and the Zydeco Travelers better known, in recent years, outside of their home base. In particular the band has become popular on the East Coast college circuit. "They hear us and have a good time, tripping out because we adding elements in an original mix," Terry says. "We're not just giving them a straight-up, repetitious zydeco thing all night long. They really dig it because it's zydeco, but it connects with their own music culture, too."

Having signed a new deal with Tomorrow Records, Terry has just completed work on his third major album, due for an early 2000 release. This disc will feature a duet with his mentor, the music's biggest success story, Buckwheat Zydeco. "I'm really excited about being with Buckwheat, soaking up all he's done, all he knows," says Terry. It may well be a shrewd apprenticeship, for like his respected elder, Terry makes no apologies for being progressive.

"We ain't scared to try to push this stuff mainstream and get it off the back burner," he says. "Zydeco is definitely in the heart and in the blood. But I just feel like we must acknowledge rap. We must not box ourselves in."

Li'l Brian Terry and the Zydeco Travelers will perform Thursday, November 25, at 8 p.m. at Club Essence in Barrett Station (on U.S. Highway 90 in eastern Harris County). Little Porter and the Zydeco Hustlers will open. Call (281)328-6588 for more information. And you can sample some zydeco-hip-hop at these clubs: Club Classic, 802 Crosstimbers, (713)697-9966; Buffalo Soldier, 13515 Homestead, (281)590-8866.

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