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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Cross Culture: Whatever It is, Japan's 'King of Zydeco' Has Got It

Cross Culture: Whatever It is, Japan's 'King of Zydeco' Has Got It

March 6, 2019

by Dominick Cross
The Advocate
Yoshitake Nakabayashi, lead accordionist for the Zydeco Kicks performs with Corey Ledet.

I went to an annual Mardi Gras party — I know, pick a party, any party — Saturday afternoon in Breaux Bridge. Talk about fun. Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie played and people were dancing and generally passing a great time.

Someone commented that all of Breaux Bridge was in the house. A friend noted that she was the only native in sight, an honest, judgement-free observation, and I concurred.

As this large crowd of expatriates and tourists got their zydeco fix, it was pointed out to me that a Japanese man, Yoshitake Nakabayashi, videoing the goings on, was Japan’s “King of Zydeco.”

As Yoshi (as he’s called) documented the action, I was introduced to Akira Morishita, an affable translator as there ever was, and we talked about Yoshi.

Yoshi’s band is called Zydeco Kicks, and like a few others in his entourage, they’re from Tokyo. Akira, who lives in Missouri, lamented that his locale is polar opposite of Acadiana.

We decided to meet later at Joie de Vivre where Yoshi would sit in with Corey Ledet, who had Tony Delafose on bass and Jalin Thomas on drums.

Now, Corey, I’ve got to tell you, is one generous soul. Not only would Yoshi sit in, but so did Donna Angelle, Kirk Jones and Grant Dermody (who with Dirk Powell, killed it Lundi Gras night at the Whirlybird).

Sweet dreams are made of all of this.

Yoshitake Nakabayashi, lead accordionist for the Zydeco Kicks performing at Vermilionville in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Meanwhile, back at Joie, as a waltz came to an end, Hiromi Kimuri told me she played Cajun music in Japan. Man, her excitement when I pointed out (and introduced her to) one of the Magnolia Sisters, Lisa Trahan, was delightful, if not priceless.


And then I learned her husband, Kaz Sakaguchi, sings swamp pop. What?! Mind blown that the other local homegrown trinity — Cajun, zydeco, swamp pop — is well represented in Japan.

Yoshi first came to Louisiana in 1996. As a keyboard player doing blues and soul, he was already a fan of The Meters and Professor Longhair.

“First time I went to New Orleans, I accidentally saw zydeco live,” Yoshi said, as he stumbled in to Rockin’ Dopsie & the Zydeco Twisters.

And then he picked up an accordion, studied videos and caught zydeco live during his five visits since then. In time, Zydeco Kicks would release “Crawfish Got Soul!” in 2014.

“My favorite zydeco music is Clifton Chenier, Boozoo Chavis, Beau Jocque and John Delafose,” said Yoshi. Can’t go wrong with that.

Yoshi said Japan is home to two zydeco bands, two Cajun bands and a TexMex/conjunto band.

Over the next couple of days, I caught up with Kaz and Hiromi via social media and learned that Kaz first heard swamp pop the way a lot of people did.

“The first song and band of swamp pop I met was ‘Mathilda,’ by Cookie & the Cupcakes, in my teenage days,” said Kaz, who also read about the genre via Shane Bernard, John Broven and Johnnie Allan, “and have been digging records ever since.”

Kaz is a R&B and blues fan and performer and got into Stax, Motown and New Orleans R&B.

“Over time, my repertoire became more inclined toward Louisiana and Texas stuff,” he said. “I want people to know the wonderful things about swamp pop, so I added more swamp pop songs to my repertoire.”


Kaz is pretty good at it, too, as he performed at the 14th Annual Swamp Pop Reunion in Ville Platte on Lundi Gras.

“I feel that swamp pop has soul, as well as spirit of rock 'n' roll,” Kaz continued. “And, I like the rhythm of 'triplets'. Those are the reasons I love the kinds of American music.”
Yoshitake Nakabayashi is lead accordionist for the Zydeco Kicks.

Hiromi sings “a handful” of Cajun and Creole songs and plays the T-fer. She first heard the music in Japan from the band "The Hee Haw Woo Boys,” that she later joined.

“I had been a fan of the band,” she said. “(A band member) had visited southwest Louisiana several times in the past and eventually he invited me to join the band.”

It’s pretty cool that the musical essence of this culture caught the ear, eye and heart of musicians a world away.

After the gig Saturday evening, I asked Corey about Yoshi and his zydeco cred.

“Oh, yeah, he’s in the pocket. He’s in the pocket,” Corey said. “Oh, yeah.”

Corey first saw Yoshi six years ago and had him sit in.

“He was rolling then, too,” Corey said. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s got it.” Corey paused and smiled. “Whatever it is, he’s got it.”

After the gig Saturday evening, I asked Corey about Yoshi and his zydeco cred.

“Oh, yeah, he’s in the pocket. He’s in the pocket,” Corey said. “Oh, yeah.”

Corey first saw Yoshi six years ago and had him sit in.

“He was rolling then, too,” Corey said. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s got it.” Corey paused and smiled. “Whatever it is, he’s got it.”

Cross Culture: Whatever It is, Japan's 'King of Zydeco' Has Got It
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