There was a lot of good music in Robert Mugge's 2001 documentary Rhythm 'n' Bayous, but none so compelling as a couple of home-schooled south Louisiana teenagers with the unlikely names Moise and Alida Viator. At an age when other kids are getting drivers' permits and plagiarizing book reports, the Viators were busy learning early-century dance tunes and performing them, somewhat shyly, for Mugge's camera.
Three years later, Alida is "almost 19," she says by phone from her family home in Tasso, near Eunice. Her older brother, Moise, is 21. Both are now students at Loyola University, where their father, Etienne Viator, is a law professor. And the pair fronts the eight-piece band Eh, Las Bas!, which finally gets to perform at the Fair Grounds on a "fun stage," says Alida.
This year's Jazz Fest also marks the release of the band's first CD, Mermaids of the Canary Islands. On it, Eh, La-Bas! plays a mixture of music old and new, local and international, mostly in Creole. "We're representative of all the Creole flavors -- Creole jazz, Creole Caribbean," says Alida Viator. "We play what we like."
Above all, the Viators like Kid Ory. It's his version of the song "Eh, La-Bas!" that inspired the band's name -- although Alida points out that the song surfaces throughout Louisiana music history, in the hands of musicians ranging from Danny Barker to Fats Domino. In a press release, Eh, La-Bas! makes the indisputable claim that they are "one of the few bands since Kid Ory's Creole Jazz band whose vocalists actually speak and sing in New Orleans Creole."
This is not some mere linguistic exercise, however. The Viators are attracted to the Creole language for its poetry, and to the music because it moves them. This is why they put together an eight-piece band, complete with a horn section. Their Creole music requires an orchestra to get it out of their heads and onto a stage.
"For awhile, it was all hardcore Creole jazz," Viator says. "Now, we'll fit two songs together, write some of it, and try to incorporate it all."
The band has brought this recipe to the Montreal Jazz Festival and New Orleans clubs such as TwiRoPa and Blue Nile. New audiences don't always know what to expect, Viator admits, but they quickly catch on. "If you can samba dance, if you can Cajun dance, if you can dance to the blues," she says, "you can dance to this."
- Alida and Moise Viator are the sister-brother leaders of Eh, La-Bas!