Music: Beat keeper

Andre Thierry carries on Creole tradition

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Accordionist Andre Thierry taught himself to play an accordion that was stashed away in his grandmother’s closet. “I used to sneak in her room, and I would go in the closet and close the door and I would play, and after awhile I got pretty good,” he says. Photo by Matt Beardsley.

By Lily O’Brien

Although California and Louisiana may be many miles apart, the infectiously foot-stomping, joyfully rhythmic music known as Zydeco that comes from the South has grown roots—and an audience—in the Bay Area. Marinites will get a chance to experience this rich musical tradition at the fourth annual Creole United Festival, coming to the Marin Center on Saturday, October 1.

Accordionist Andre Thierry, who will be performing with his band Zydeco Magic, is one of the founders of the festival. At 37, he’s well regarded in the Zydeco music world.

Born and raised in Richmond, Calif. by a family that was deeply rooted in Creole culture and tradition, Thierry had grandparents who moved here from Louisiana in the ’60s, and brought the music with them. “[My grandmother] booked bands from Louisiana at the local church dances at St. Marks Catholic Church and that’s how the scene grew,” Thierry says by phone.

He confesses that, when first exposed to the music, he didn’t really like it. Then one night, something changed. “I finally went to the front of the bandstand and I just watched the accordion and it kind of hypnotized me,” he says, “and I fell in love with it.”

Thierry calls his particular brand of music “alternative Creole” because he blends traditional with more current hip hop, blues and R&B. Zydeco, which started in the late ’40s, was also a blend of many styles. “It took everything from Creole and it added the jazz, it added blues, it added reggae—it was just like a melting pot, like a gumbo, and it just threw everything together,” Thierry says.

Along with the music, Thierry is dedicated to preserving Creole culture. He teaches kids to play Zydeco music through a program called Zydeco for Kids, under Performing Stars of Marin, an organization that provides arts programs for low-income and minority children in Marin County.

“I feel that I’ve been blessed to play this music,” Thierry says. “I’m not a rich man, but I don’t need all that. I’m comfortable, happy and just like to make people happy and keep them coming back for more.”

Andre Thierry and Zydeco Magic perform at the Creole United Festival, Sat., Oct. 1, 11am-6pm, Lagoon Park at the Marin County Civic Center, 10 Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael; $20 in advance, $25 at the door, $8 for youth (6-12), under six, free; creoleunitedfestival.com.

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