When Terrance Simien talks about himself and the music he has played for over 40 years now, the Mallet, Louisiana native draws a comparison to one of his home state’s most famous dishes.
“I always say I have jambalaya DNA,” said the 56-year-old, who is one of the most prominent ambassadors of Zydeco, a musical genre that blends a melting pot of blues, jazz, gospel, funk, R&B, soul and Caribbean styles of music into its own distinct form.
“I have French, African, Spanish, Native American, German and Irish all mixed up in there,” he continued. “Most Creole families who have been around as long as mine are the same way. And it’s true for the music too. There’s so much of so many different styles in there that it really belongs to everyone. This is true world music.”
It’s music Simien will share with an audience in Central Minnesota when he and the Zydeco Experience (his longtime band) return to the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University for a performance scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on April 23 at the College of Saint Benedict’s Escher Auditorium.
The performance is part of this year’s Fine Arts Programming Series. Tickets are $30. Tickets are $23 for CSB and SJU faculty and staff and $10 for current CSB and SJU students. Tickets for seniors are $27 while tickets for those with a youth/student ID are $15.
They can be purchased online or by calling 320-363-5777.
“Terrance was one of the artists (whose performances had to be canceled) in the spring of 2020 (because of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic),” said Tanya Gertz, the executive director of Fine Arts Programming at CSB and SJU. “He returned last year for several special offerings virtually - a gumbo cooking class together with Mateo Mackbee at Krewe, which was pretty amazing, visits to French classes and sessions open to everyone about Creole Culture. He was also a participant in a student session during one of our Community Engagement Days.
“Terrance is an absolute hoot,” she continued. “His shows are pure joy. I challenge anyone to come and not leave with a happier heart and a buoyed spirit.”
Simien is a two-time Grammy award winner who has performed with legendary artists like Dr. John, the Meters, Randy Newman, Alan Toussaint, Stevie Wonder, Los Lobos, Paul Simon, Robert Palmer and the Dave Matthews Band. He has also been part of the music for films like “The Big Easy” and Disney’s 2009 hit “The Princess and the Frog.”
But he said what he enjoys most is traveling the world sharing the music he loves.
“I like that word – ambassador,” he said. “I definitely feel like an ambassador for my music. Over the years, we've done multiple cultural diplomacy tours for the U.S State Department. It was us getting out and playing our music in different parts of the world.
“It’s amazing the way music can serve as a common bond and bring people together.”
Simien saw that first-hand on a trip to Russia and Ukraine in 2015.
“We were playing at a youth camp in Russia for about 600 or 700 kids and everyone was up dancing and enjoying the music,” he recalls. “Afterwards, one of the kids, who was about 17, came up to us. He knew we were going from Russia to Ukraine. This was well before the current conflict, but after (Russian leader Vladimir Putin had) annexed Crimea.
“He wanted us to let the Ukrainian people know that their Russian brothers loved them. I just remember thinking about how people and politics are two separate things. And how a love of music can unite us.”
Gertz said that kind of harmony and excitement is exactly what Simien will bring to the stage here at CSB and SJU on April 23.
“He’s quick to capture your heart on stage in a high-energy experience that is exceptionally fun,” she said. “I personally can’t wait to see him and celebrate this year and the beginning of a renewal of great art experienced together.”
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Central Minnesota Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
More information on Fine Arts Programming at CSB and SJU can be found here.