Lassiez les bon temps rouler… let the good times roll. If only. Ever since Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma hit, the good times have not been rolling for many of the people along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Most of the major damage that occured along the gulf coast and inland for 100 miles still hasn’t been fixed. During the week of Mardi Gras more people were evicted from their hotel rooms across the country. Some people who’ve been offered jobs in New Orleans can’t go because they don’t have anywhere to stay. And when hotel rooms are used for tourists, then there are even less rooms for those who need them. There were alot of feelings about whether to have Mardi Gras. Some people wanted a semblance of normal, and for New Orleans that would mean having the parades. But alot of people didn’t think there should be a Mardi Gras celebration, because so much of the city is still devastated, and most of the people are still gone. Today we will go from Mardi Gras into the very heart of Congo Square and out into the deltas and beyond. And we’ll see what’s happening now six months later–in New Orleans and some of the other areas. Then we’ll add some lagniappe. We’ll talk more about that later.
Part of the healing process is to let out our anger and frustration without hurting anyone. And this year’s Mardi Gras parades mocked and poked fun at the very institutions that have betrayed alot of people. Many folks who’ve had their homes destroyed and lives changed, maybe forever, still want to have hope. And part of having hope is wanting to feel like part of a community that cares, which can be hard if most of that community has been destroyed. My hope is that our government will help all the people who they’ve hurt by their negligence and corruption. My hope is that people who want to come back and rebuild, will be able to do that. My hope is that people who went to New Orleans to have a good time at Mardi Gras also saw the devestation and helped by doing something to make it better. My hope is that maybe some of you who are listening to our show will also be inspired to help, either by offering your time, money, or needed materials. Check out our website www.purplearth.net for ways that you can help.
The music that you’re hearing today has its roots in the hardships and struggles that African-Americans have endured because of slavery. Congo Square, in New Orleans, was the site of the largest slave market in this country. And it’s also the birthplace of our modern music. That was where slaves could go on Sundays and play their drums and dance. Out of that desire to keep their spirits intact came spirituals and gospel music, followed by the blues, ragtime, boogie woogie, jazz, rock and roll, hiphop and more. Because of this history, all of us who listen to modern music need to understand where this music came from. It came out of Congo Square and into the cotton fields and deltas of the deep South, before traveling north through Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago, Kansas City, Detroit and on to the rest of the world and back.
The sound that we associate with New Orleans had its birth after the Civil War, when many of the Union Army’s brass instruments and drums were left behind and then picked up by some of the freed slaves. To that, add all of the cultures that have been part of the mix over the centuries — the indigenous people, the Spanish, French, German, English, Africans, and French-Canadians, and we start to understand how our history and music intertwine. That’s also why there’s such a wide variety of styles and instrumentation. Over time the music has developed its own rhythm with a backbeat, which means that in 4/4 time instead of the beat falling on 1 and 3, it falls on 2 and 4. What you’re hearing today has its roots in New Orleans and the surrounding areas–the very same areas that were affected by the devastating storms, including one of the great cities of the world. This is our musical tribute to all those who have come before and those who will come again. It will be our second line. Traditional jazz funerals consist of a brass band and drums, followed by people dressed up in their finest, carrying colorful umbrellas and hankies. The musicians are called the first line and the people following the musicians are called the second line.The parade and music starts on a very slow and somber tone, and is played traditionally between the church and the cemetary, but ends as an upbeat dance, after the burial. Here’s our second line medley.
Ever since Katrina hit I’ve felt that we as a country need to have a second line, a way for the country to mourn what happened. Maybe it could be the beginning of a grief process so badly needed, not only because of the effects of the storms, but because of the larger effects of slavery that still exist, including racism and poverty. If there is a silver lining to any of this, it’s that many people, including young anarchists, older professionals and lotsa folks inbetween have gone to the south to help. Some of these people are in neighborhoods that they’ve never been to before, putting their desire for compassion into action. Unfortunately this can lead to underlying feelings of racism and classism, when most of those in need are people of color and those who come to help are mostly white. In spite of the cultural issues, it seems that most of the people who have helped out–or who have been helped–have benefited from the experience. The other silver lining is the diaspora. Even though it’s extremely tragic that so many people have been forced out of the area, it has spread the New Orleans’ culture out into the greater world. More people than ever are aware of what a treasure it is and why it needs to be saved, along with other areas of the gulf coast. We just hope that people who want to, can get back home and be allowed to rebuild sustainably, with the assistance that they need.
During this year’s spring break, lots of college students from across the country are getting on busses to go down South. But instead of laying on beaches and working on their tans, they’re helping out in New Orleans and other communities along the Gulf Coast. For a week at a time these students are cleaning up debris, removing mold, rebuilding houses and helping to make areas livable that were destroyed. In fact we have two busloads of students from two different schools in our community who are going to New Orleans to help out . We’ll talk with some of them in a later show. We’ve heard that over 10,000 students have already gone to help. Many other people have been “Walkin to New Orleans” from Mobile, Alabama. They started on March 14and arrived in New Orleans on March 19. This was sponsored by several veterans organizations that oppose the invasion and occupation of Iraq. They see the connection between neverending war and the failure of our country to respond to the needs of people at home when the hurricanes hit, especially the needs of poor people and people of color. Go to www.purplearth.net for more information about these actions.
We’ve talked about some of New Orleans’ history and you’ve heard some of the great music that came from there in one form or another. But New Orleans incorporates so much more. It’s also well known for its art, literature, architecture, gardens, and especially its food. From gumbo to jambalaya, muffeletas to beignets, fresh veggies and crawfish, it’s a cuisine with many influences, including French, Creole, and Cajun. Such a fantastic city, with many hidden nooks and crannies, wierdly wonderful characters, and charming cafes. But it can never be the same without the many African-Americans who were part of everyday life that aren’t there now, including many of the local musicians.
Most of the local musicians have had to go elsewhere for housing and employment. Fortunately, many have been given gigs in other communities, like Austin, Texas–where lots of bands from New Orleans played at this year’s South by Southwest Festival. And a lot of musicians will be back for this year’s Heritage and Jazz Festival, the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. The lineup for this year’s Jazz Festival is a who’s who of local, national and even international acts including Fats Domino, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint w/Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen and his new Seeger Sessions Band, Hugh Masakela and Angelique Kidjo, to name just a few. This festival has become a rite of spring for many people. Unfortunately, a lot of New Orleans will still be uninhabitable. Because of this, the need for people to go help to clean up, repair and rebuild will still be there. If you’re thinking about going to the Festival, please consider helping out while you’re there.
Ever since Katrina wreaked havoc, Common Ground Collective has been working in the 9th Ward and other areas around New Orleans. Their mission is to offer “solidarity not charity”. It’s not only to help people rebuild their homes, but also to build day care centers and community centers so that these neighborhoods can sustain themselves and thrive once again. Those who go to help will be given a safe place to stay, plus three meals a day. The main cost is getting there. Although today’s show has focused mainly on New Orleans, there are still many areas across the Gulf Coast that need help. Another “on the ground” organization that is working across the gulf coast is Greater Communities. For more information about Common Ground, Greater Communities and other grassroots organizations, please visit our website www.purplearth.net. There will also be links to news stories, relief organizations, and more about the history of some of the music you’re hearing today.
Earlier in the show I mentioned lagniappe. “What’s that?” (Obbie) Here’s what Mark Twain said from “Life on the Mississippi”, (read from book). And now for your lagniappe. One of the more popular meals in New Orleans that’s cheap and tasty, is red beans and rice, traditionally served on Mondays. Another popular food in our southern states is cornbread. Both corn and beans are indigenous foods to the new world, and along with squash make up the three sisters — some of the most sacred foods to our original people. Go to our website and you’ll find a link to a vegetarian red beans and rice recipe, along with my own recipe for cornbread. Enjoy your lagniappe.
We’re working on another show about New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. As we mentioned earlier, we’ll talk with some of the students who went down south for spring break for a first hand account of what’s happening there now. We’ll talk with a woman who had to move her elderly parents across the country after Katrina hit. A couple weeks ago we went to interviewed someone with the Family Farm Defenders. They took their school bus from Wisconsin loaded with food and equipment to help set up some of the relief kitchens after the storms. They also went to help out many of the displaced farmers, especially those of color. It should be an interesting show coming from many angles. Some of the other shows that we’re working on include a report from this year’s Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference, and an Earth Day show concerning global warming and climate change. That and a whole lot more next on A Different Reality.