Bervick "B.J." Deculus could have easily picked a cute, trendy name when he decided to start a zydeco band in California back in 1992. But Deculus chose a French name with a message - Bonne Musique Zydeco.
"Bonne" which means good, indicative of the good times the group provides for all listeners and dancers. "Musique" is French for music and stands for the band's dedication to a tight and entertaining sound.
And "zydeco," the style of Creole French dance music that Deculus was raised on in his hometown of Eunice, La. Deculus, whose first language was French, has been a warrior in the battle to make sure his native culture is not misrepresented.
National media, festival organizers and dance promoters often mislabel zydeco as Cajun music. Although they share a similar heritage in bayou country, zydeco and Cajun music are distinct sounds, literally as different as black and white.
Cajun music is the accordion dance songs played by the white descendants of the Acadians, exiles from Nova Scotia who settled in south Louisiana. Zydeco is the accordion music of Creoles, descendants of black slaves, free people of color, Native Americans and a variety of other ethnicities.
While Cajun music often includes fiddles, steel guitars and other country flavorings, zydeco is paced by the bass lines and ad-lib grooves of rhythm and blues, soul, and in recent years, rap and hip-hop.
And zydeco is not New Orleans music. It was born and continues to thrive about 150 miles to the west of the Crescent City, in prairie towns like Deculus' hometown of Eunice, Basile, Opelousas, Ville Platte, Lafayette, Lake Charles and surrounding area.
Deculus is also part of a 60-year migration of Creoles to southeast Texas and California, where thousands of Louisiana natives have settled in search of better job opportunities. Thus, Texas towns like Beaumont, Port Arthur and Houston, along with Los Angeles and other California cities, are home to large followings of zydeco fans and musicians.
Deculus and BMZ have proudly spread the zydeco gospel on the West Coast for more than a decade. But as this "Smokin' Zydeco" CD indicates, the band plays and appreciates a variety of music. Covers include a laid-back, horn-flavored version of the Hank Williams classic "Hey Good Lookin' and zydeco musician Joe Walker's "So Far So Good." The group tips its hat to zydeco king and Grammy winner Clifton Chenier on Chenier's "I'm A Hog For You," featuring lead singer and rubboard player Billy Butler.
The rest of the disc shows off BMZ's original songs, arrangements and skills as a show band with hot sauce flowing through its veins. Dennis Gurwell's nimble fingers on the piano, triple row and Cajun accordions can be heard throughout, along with drummer Andre Allen, guitarist Earl Alexander and Norman Weatherly on keyboards and horns.
BMZ gets down on "Get on Down," a musical tour of the clubs, musicians and venues that have made zydeco famous. Join the fun with your best line dance steps on the "Zydeco Slide." Glide across the floor in the arms of another on the "Bluesy Waltz." Hear the French slang of Deculus' roots on "Eh, La Bas."
The CD's eight originals either have "zydeco" in the title or in the lyrics, friendly reminders that Bonne Musique Zydeco is simple living up to its name - good zydeco music.
Herman Fuselier is a Louisiana music writer and broadcaster living in Opelousas, La.