Social Gumbo

May 9, 2006 by

Everyone in New Orleans has a favorite recipie for gumbo. Some make it with file, some with okra, some start with “the trinity,” others do not. Its a very personal thing. Many of these favorite recipies have been handed down through generations, changing a bit each time. So it is with the New New Orleans.

Everyone, including those who have never been here in person, has an idea of how the rebuild should go. From Chocolate City to White Chocolate City there is no end of variety in these visions. One thing is certain though, Katrina blew in on the winds of change.

Many seem to be thrilled with the fact that we have pared down to a social strata that does not include the poverty stricken and underpriveledged, many are quite the opposite. The nation watches our Post K Elections with a jaundiced eye as both sides of the question rail against each other.

One reality that has not been addressed, except by David Freedman (GM of WWOZ radio), is the fact that many of the poor areas that lie decimated are the areas where our distinctive music is incubated. Whatever your thoughts on crime, poverty, and race may be this is one angle to the discussion that bears serious examination.

The New Orleans sound, distinctive and globally known, is in danger of becoming an artifact. The neighborhoods of the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th Wards were the epicenter of musical development and growth here. With the children of these neighborhoods scattered the traditions are in serious danger. While the laundry list of problems in these areas is extensive (crime, drugs, gangs, horrible schools, poverty, etc.) they were where the next generations learned to embrace our unique musical traditions.

Marching Band culture spawned many a Mardi Gras Indian as well as jazz and funk musicians without number. Wherever they may be now you can guarantee that the children of those neighborhoods are not immersed in the SOUND of New Orleans. The result is that amidst the other insanities we face a great cultural loss looms. In short, the New Orleans sound is in danger of becoming a museum display rather than an organic, growing sound. A sad fate for the city that saw the birth of modern music in Congo Square.

I do not pretend to be wise enough to offer a full solution. I simply think that we need to begin to look at this clear and present danger to that which makes us unique and find a way to fight for its preservation and continuance. Otherwise this will truly be remebered as “The Day The Music Died…”

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