n spite of its exotic name, Slim's Y Ki-Ki reflects the bleakness of much of the architecture of Southwest Louisiana. In the daytime its asbestos, imitation brick facade doesn't distinguish it very much from the lumber yards and furniture warehouses along the road north out of Opelousas. After dark the only indications that Slim's is a nightclub are the lighted beer sign next to the highway and the cars packed tightly in the front lot.

he muffled sounds of electric bass and guitar which waft into the small parking lot and to the neighborhood beyond confirm the hand-lettered sign near the door: "Big French Dance Tonite." Slim's is a popular club, but it isn't quite large enough to hire Clifton Chenier and the other bands who advertise themselves with the same rainbow-colored cardboard placards which announce soul band performances throughout the country. The hand lettered sign itself is probably superfluous anyway; the musicians tonight are Delton Broussard and Lawtell Playboys, all of whom live within five or ten miles of Opelousas. At Slim's Y Ki-Ki word of mouth is the best advertisement.

LISTEN TO
"Madeleine"

he soft music that filters outside without the aid of open windows or doors (ventilation seems to be one of the lesser concerns of dance hall operators) is no real forecast of the intense activity inside. On a good night Slim's seems barely able to contain the six or seven amplified bandsmen as well as the two hundred dancers who are never too tired to sit one out. Gustave "Bud" Ardoin, an accordionist who plays frequently at Slim's, told me, "Sometime when you get a crowd in there, seem like the roof go up and down, you know, like it’s breathing." It is not difficult to see how such an observation might be made; the activity at Slim's is unabated from 8:30 to at least 1:00. Unlike the white dance halls, where the musicians play only one fast two-step for every two or three waltzes, Slim's dance floor is punished by two fast dances for every waltz.

The lights are low: there is a glow coming from the bar in the corner, and several weak bulbs dot the low ceiling. At the door there is a small ultraviolet light where a girl takes your $1.50 cover charge and a $1.00 table fee; behind the musicians a Jax beer sign picturing a reclining black woman hangs on the wall, providing the bandstand's only illumination. Even in the low light it is obvious that the crowd is remarkably diverse in age, from several elementary school kids to people who could have retired years ago. Delton Broussard and the Lawtell Playboys, largely a family band, fit in with their dancing "audience"; the band members range in age from eleven to fifty-six.

The crowd at Slim's Y Ki-Ki

n the bandstand Delton Broussard is not a talkative man and the dances follow closely after one another without introduction. Off the bandstand he is almost equally reticent, a quiet man.

He, his wife, and his eleven children live north of Lawtell in Frilot Cove, a community not on the map. Frilot Cove is named for the Frilots, a black family that owns the grocery store, a large dance hall where the Lawtell Playboys sometimes work, hundreds of acres of farmland, and Delton Broussard's house. Delton works the soybean, rice, and sweet potato fields for Frilot six days a week during the planting and harvesting seasons. The Broussard house is centered in an expanse of soybeans, and a big live oak tree mercifully shades the family over the long summer.

In one of the bedrooms is stored hundreds of dollars' worth of "music", as instruments and amplifiers are often generically called —- guitars, a bass, an accordion, a specially made washboard, fiddle, drums, and an awesome wall of amplifiers. Most of the Broussards play instruments or sing, not only French music, but popular music as well. Teenage daughter Virginia sings in a soul band, and some of her brothers who perform as Lawtell Playboys on Saturday nights are soul musicians as well. Seventeen year-old Linton, a drummer, shyly admits that he prefers soul music to French music.

Christine Balfa watching the
Broussard kids dancing

 ut at Slim's and the other halls where

the Lawtell Playboys perform, the crowd comes for the Big French Dance, and soul music is scarce. Several English numbers, mainly blues, are among Delton Broussard's large ("I could play all night long and never play the same dance more than once") repertoire, but his audience considers it all "French music", a category which generally means accordion music. The music of Delton Broussard and other blacks who play similarly is variously called "French La La", "Creole", and "Zydeco". "Zydeco" is a folklorist's fairly recent spelling of "les haricots" (snap beans), a term which black musicians and dancers in South Louisiana have used for years to describe their music. Broussard, as well as the Carrière brothers, use the word "zydeco" to refer primarily to the faster two-steps.

he Lawtell Playboys' fiddler is Calvin

Carrière, the son of Eraste Carrière and the nephew of Joseph Carrière. It was from Joseph (Bébé) that Calvin learned the fiddle, and before Delton Broussard inherited the band's name six years ago, Eraste and Calvin were the mainstays of the Lawtell Playboys. Both Calvin and Joseph play the violin as a strong rhythm instrument, as well as for carrying the melodic line when the music demands. It is to Calvin Carrière that Delton Broussard attributes his introduction to music. Broussard, who moved to the Lawtell area from Arnaudville as a young man, says that Calvin is responsible for having taught him much of what he knows.

hile he plays a button accordion and has had much exposure to the playing of Eraste Carrière, Delton Broussard never learned the choppy, old-fashioned style that characterizes Eraste’s playing. Instead, Broussard's style resembles that of many contemporary white Cajun musicians but with a much more syncopated rhythm. Madeleine, the Lawtell Playboys' contribution to this record, is a standard in white dance halls and on Cajun radio shows but its treatment here is strictly black. While white hands performing the same song might pay more attention to the structure of the piece, particularly the bridge, the most important element of the Lawtell Playboys' performance is their attention to the song's rhythmic qualities. Delton Boussard doesn't play a well-defined bridge, or as the musicians say, he doesn't "turn" the piece. Nevertheless, that is part of the appeal of this interpretation, and the repetition creates a powerful, almost irresistible urge to dance. The crowd at Slim's Y Ki-Ki is ample testimony to that.

  Calvin Carrière, Delton Broussard.

 

copyright 1974 and 1999
Ron and Fay Stanford