Rhythm gumbo

Get up and dance when the Zydeco Cha-Chas come to town


Zydeco is truly music of the soul and, when it captures your own, it’s not going to ever let it go.

Whether you’re already a captive, or have thus far managed to elude it but are ready to cave-in, the Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership is where you want to be on Friday evening (Aug. 25) when Roots and Wires Presents Nathan Williams and the Zydeco Cha-Chas. Tickets for the family-friendly event are $12 at the door. Show is at 8 p.m., doors open at 7 p.m.

“Straight up, this band is one of my favorites and they are pure fun. I don’t think I bring any genre of artists that are more proud to represent their culture than the Creole people of Southwest Louisiana,” said John Henderson of Roots and Wires Presents, who previously brought the award-winning band to the Mothership in 2015.

Henderson is spot-on. Creole zydeco, and Cajun music, as well, are deeply rooted in the historical and cultural perspectives of Louisiana, representing a lush melding of customs, conventions, and ethnology. What holds this amalgamate together is a heaping serving of passion by the musicians for their craft.

And no one serves as a better champion for zydeco than Nathan Williams, Sr., who, for over 30 years has infected audiences with his foot-stomping, hand-clapping performances.

“With the sad passing of Buckwheat Zydeco last year, Nathan and his band are the top Zydeco band in world. They are coming straight to Taos from Lafayette and then they play at the Trinidad Blues Fest in Colorado the next day,” Henderson noted.

In the story of Williams’ rise to the top, Buckwheat Zydeco did more to elevate him than by posthumously passing the wand.

Williams was one of seven children in a family who grew up in St. Martinville, La., the heart of Creole country. Having an uncle, Harry Hypolite, who was making a name for himself as a Cajun guitarist, helped set the music flame burning in Williams’ soul. It was fanned when the young Williams — too young to enter a dance hall where his musical idol, Clifton Chenier, was playing — stood next to a fan vent and strained to hear the performance.

To this day, he calls those stolen hours the biggest influence on his dedication to Zydeco.

As his proficiency with the accordian grew, so did his reputation. He moved to Lafayette, where his brother Sid recorded Williams‘ first album on the independent record label, El Sid. It earned Williams a performance at the classic New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and put him in the sights of the legendary Buckwheat Zydeco, who mentored him, helped expand William’s solidifying fan base, and gave Williams his first shot with a major record label in 1988.

Since those early days, Williams has gone on to perform at the Grand Ole Opry and Lincoln Center, and has toured the world, including Japan, Greece, Turkey, Spain, Italy and France. He had appearances in the 1994 “Kingdom of Zydeco” and 2009’s post-Katrina detective movie, “In the Electric Mist,” which starred Tommy Lee Jones.

Featured in The New York Times and USA Today, as well as Essence and People magazines, Williams has performed with the likes of Buddy Guy, Cyndi Lauper, and fiddler Michael Doucet. In a November 2015, interview with Kreol Magazine, he admitted to a professed love for the music of James Brown and Al Green, stating that “I like them all. I just like music. I like so many different types of music.”

Both Williams and the Cha-Chas – who now record on their own label Cha-Cha Records – have received numerous national and international awards, including those granted by the ZBT Clifton Chenier Lifetime Achievement Awards. It is recognition that their reputation as a fun, party band has never strayed far from its roots as the best to come out of the heart of Creole Louisiana.

The Zydeco Cha-Chas are comprised mostly of family, including Dennis Paul Williams rocking on guitar and Mark Williams giving soulful back-up on the rub board, a modern take on the traditional washboard which provides rhythm and enhanced percussion. Whichever other members of his entourage turn up at the Mothership, it promises to be an unforgettable night.

Opening for Nathan Williams and the Zydeco Cha-Chas will be local favorites Sam and the Taos Zydeco All Stars, a rousing start to a danceable and dynamic show.

So, the audience at Friday’s performance can expect the unexpected, the only constants being the sheer joy of Williams’ spirit and the energy in the room that will challenge you to stay put in your seat. We bet you can’t.

Taos Mesa Brewing is located at 20 ABC Mesa Road, just off U.S. 64 west. For more information, contact the venue at (575) 758-1900 or visit taosmesabrewing.com. For more on the band, visit zydecochachas.com.