One of New Orleans’s most original folk bands, for many music lovers the Zydepunks probably need no introduction.
The Zydepunks are Juan Kuffner on vocals and accordion, Denise Bonis and Joseph McGinty on fiddle, Joseph Lilly on drums, and Scott Beelman on bass. Frequent collaborators and former members include guitarist Michael James, accordionists Vincent Schmidt and Eve Venema, and bassist Patrick Keenan.
As impossible to pigeon-hole as New Orleans itself, the Zydepunks take their inspiration from a wide diversity of musical genres, including Cajun, Punk, Irish and Zydeco. For more than 10 years they have made it their on-going mission to challenge established musical boundaries with their iconoclastic take on world music.
Founding member Juan Kuffner moved to New Orleans in 1998. Channeling his fascination with Cajun and Zydeco music, in 2003, the Zydepunks were born.
“Originally we were just going to be a Cajun and Zydeco band,” said Kuffner. “But we just kept on adding other types of music. We never wanted to limit our music. Irish music has always been a part of what we do, as has Cajun, Yiddish, Eastern European, and Punk. Music always influences other types of music. So where is our exact dividing line? I don’t even know. ”
According to Kuffner, while world music, including Irish and Cajun, has enjoyed a renaissance in the last few years, one of the things Irish and Cajun music have in common is that, as genres, they were often “looked down on” by what he described as the “urban middle class.”
“Right or wrong, that is what people did,” said Kuffner. “And when I first moved here, I felt that even in New Orleans. But just as the attitude to Cajun music has shifted a lot over the years because of bands like Beau Soleil, and the Lost Bayou Ramblers, so has the attitude towards Irish music. The question of what is Irish music is fascinating. For a lot of people, Irish music is a kind of popularized Dublin pub song tradition, and that is questionable. Irish music isn’t just one particular form – it’s a lot more subtle than that.”
According to Kuffner, his “formative experience” with world music came while music shopping in a Virginia record store, where he grew up.
“I remember suddenly just being overwhelmed by this feeling that I was being pushed into buying “trendy” music for no other reason than this idea that music should always be “new” and “young,”” said Kuffner.
“And I just got really angry. People grab onto modernity in a way that I just don’t get. I love old music. To me it is important and valid to listen to old music, to world music, to jazz and blues, to Cajun music. People should look through all these treasures and respect them, and it has always been our mission to bridge that gap between the old and the new. And let people know that all world music is our heritage.”
More information is available at The Zydepunks