Meet the creole musician who is bringing tradition firmly into step with the modern world…
Rusty Metoyer and his band, the Zydeco Krush, have given audiences around the world a taste of Creole culture. The young accordion player from Lake Charles, Louisiana, brings family tradition and a wide variety of musical influences together, to create an exciting blend that gets audiences on their feet.
For Creole musician Rusty Metoyer, music is a connection to past generations. The Lake Charles born accordion player has always been fond of history; it was his favourite subject in school. So, it makes sense that his music aims to keep family traditions alive for future generations to enjoy.
A family tradition
“I grew up in music. Both of my grandfathers were creole musicians,” Metoyer said, “I always grew up with the music around my grandparents’ houses. Especially during holidays. Everybody coming together for jam sessions, because other relatives played music.”
Now an award-winning musician, he didn’t pick up an instrument himself until he was in his teens. After first playing the drums, he moved to the accordion after the death of his grandfather. “He’s the one who played accordion. I just wanted to pick it up just to learn it and play it around the house and around the family for holidays again. I never really planned on travelling the world with it, or playing every week and have a band and everything. I just wanted to learn how to play just to keep it going in the family.”
While his music is firmly rooted in tradition, Metoyer draws on many musical styles in his compositions. The 25-year-old grew up listening to all kinds of music, ranging from 60s soul to hip-hop, all of which have found a way into his writing. “You can kind of hear it in my music. It’ll be an R&B sounding bassline, but I’m singing some Pearl Jam over it or something, or James Brown and mix it in with some Alan Jackson, you know? Just anything really.”
While he classes his music as nouveau zydeco, he says he is inspired by pop musician Bruno Mars. Mars, he feels, is bringing musicianship back to popular music. Metoyer also aspires to Mars’ stage presence: “That calibre of performance. With the choreography and of course the singing and the musicianship and the instrumentation itself, [is] just the whole package.”
From the French Quarter to France
Of course, Metoyer is no stranger to the stage. His family home of Lake Charles, Louisiana, where both of his parents were also born, has been the base for him, but his performances have taken him across the US and beyond.
He said that out of all his performances, a few have really stood out. When he performed at the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans in 2015, it was “a sea of people… just as far back as you could see was people.”
A 2016 concert in Soliel, France, is also among his favourites. “They were so inviting to us and we were overseas, and they were singing my songs,” he recalls, “songs that I wrote. We were thousands of miles away and they were singing my songs. That was pretty cool.”
Along with his band, the Zydeco Krush, Metoyer recently played on a cruise ship, where his band was a special package for fans. However, after opening the shows to everyone on the ship, it’s no doubt he came away with even more fans.
“It’s a fun music. It’s an inviting music,” Metoyer enthuses, “[The cruise passengers] were blown away. I’m sure they had heard zydeco music before, because we sailed out of Texas. So, people have been around it, but they were probably surprised to see it on a cruise ship.”
Of course, not all audiences have been as receptive to zydeco music and some venues don’t always work with the musical style. “Zydeco is a dance music. It’s up close and personal with the crowd,” he explains, “really, people that’s just sitting back and watching in an auditorium type setting, that’s kind of tricky. It don’t have the same feel. You like to see those people bouncing up and down, clowning, and drinking, and coming up to the band saying, ‘Hey!’ All that kind of stuff.”
The music of real life
Rusty writes all his own music, having composed around 40 songs, 24 of which have been published through his band’s two albums, 2013’s Take My Hand and 2016’s In Due Time. Although his main instrument is the accordion, he says he finds it easier to compose on a guitar. This allows him to work out the lyrics and chord progressions, on which he then layers the accordion.
However, he often finds that the best music comes to him when he isn’t sitting down to compose. “It’s usually when I’m doing manual labour, or working outside or something, it’s when I’m concentrating on one thing, that’s when a song just comes in my head,” Metoyer said. “I’m working and singing to myself. I might have to record it on my phone and work on it later, but that’s usually how it comes to me.”
His music draws on both his own life experience and the stories of others. “I’m a big believer in learning from others’ mistakes,” he says, “I listen to what other people go through, and sometimes a song just comes to me about it.”
Creole culture and family values
For Rusty, the music he creates is a link to creole history and culture. He also feels that preserving the creole culture is more than just the language. “We do have to preserve our language, but my personal feeling would be the sense of family [and the] sense of strong family values. If you keep that up, the creole culture is going to stay there. The traditions and everything.”
He has even kept this sense of family with him in the form of a tattoo, which he said started off with a dream of Louisiana playing the accordion. The animated fleur-de-lis was joined by his family names and the words ‘Creole Family’.
Although his parents may not have liked all his tattoos – he got another more recently – the connection to his family and creole culture remains strong. As family and music are so closely entwined for Metoyer, his creative work is helping this preservation. He continues to write and perform, with a growing fan base around