POSTCARD FROM NEW ORLEANS Every street here has its own soundtrack. But the French were only the first wave: perhaps the key thing that made New Orleans so unlike any other American city is that Louisiana had what amounted to three colonial eras in rapid succession: French, Spanish, Anglo-American. And these Europeans weren't necessarily (as Donald Trump might have put it) sending their best France originally used Louisiana as a penal colony. Driving along the 17th Street canal until I hit Lake Pontchartrain, I stand by the new pumping station and look out over the city. The lake, the canals, the river New Orleans is basically defined by its water. Katrina in 2005 didn't actually do that much damage to the town, as a storm the problem was that the levees broke, and the city simply filled up with water. (There's a Museum of Death next to my hotel.) I associate this with the local voodoo tradition, which grew from West African religions and was then shaped by an influx of Haitians, which was a huge event in New Orleans's history. Thousands of refugees from Saint-Domingue Creole landowners, slaves, and free blacks in roughly equal proportions streamed over the ocean, first to eastern Cuba and then, when the French were evicted from there in 1809, over the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans.
The book is exquisitely, passionately written - the chapters on the economics of slavery are the best I have read on the subject.
In many places this book is very dry. Still New Orleans has a pretty crazy history and it makes for pretty entertaining reading. "New Orleans was a dissolute town from the beginning. These were men who had fought all their lives against the amnesia that is slavery's legacy...They played tambourines and sang as they moved through the empty, twisted ghost town of the Lower Ninth Ward, where six months after the disaster the people were still gone and houses sat on top of upside down cars.
Ned Sublette, the author, pays due attention to the music tradition of the area, its unique and changing slavery regimes, and spends time explaining why New Orleans became the diverse, jazz-pioneering and carnival-hosting city it is known today. It was in the 1820s that the New Orleans became a powerful city, but not before changing authority hands this time the Spanish gained power in 1764. When Louisiana was annexed in 1804 by the US, the author notes that, at that time, the city was already an urban crossroads of languages, both spoken and musical, with a complex Afro-Louisianan culture already in existence Sublette, 2008: 3. New Orleans had three changes of slavery regimes with French, Spanish and then British-Americans came different outlooks on slavery and ways to organise it. Sublette provides both a broader and more intimate picture of slavery prevailing at that time in New Orleans, sometimes making rather bold and shocking statements about the treatment of slaves and struggles for freedom. Sublette writes: notwithstanding other places of importance, the musical concepts of Africa were more freely and more widely expressed in the dynamic, creative, violent city of New Oreland than anywhere else in the United States 2008: 120; and the multiple subterranean line of connection the legacy of Congo Square, voodoo, the musical funeral procession, the Mardi Gras Indians, the spiritual churches, and other cultural phenomena come together still in the contemporary music of New Orleans 2008: 299. The great thing about this illustrated book is that it highlights some of the historical and cultural elements which go overlooked when talking about the development of New Orleans. New Orleans is not mishmash; it is a fusion a layering of cultures, languages and traditions which gives the place a unique aura not found anywhere else in the world.
The basic thesis of the book is that the three distinct colonial powers that held New Orleans brought different slave cultures to the city - different both in the origins of the slaves, and in the few "freedoms" that slaves were allowed.
Digressions on the etymology of the word funk, an entire chapter dedicated to anti-Jefferson apologetics, and various unsubstantiated claims of musical congruity from the Caribbean islands to New Orleans seriously damage an otherwise thought provoking account of the historical milieu that existed during the creation of the influential American port city. While never directly stated, his argument seems to be that many factors in the world amalgamated to create the singular city of New Orleans, ranging from multinational colonialism, Caribbean revolutions, and a unique relationship to the social rights of African-American slaves. More often than not, the cultural details of places like Santo Domingo and Cuba are given and the reader is asked to assume that the details must have been similar in New Orleans based on the inevitability of cultural exchange due to close proximity and constant trading between the islands and the city. In Sublettes case, a simple introductory chapter explaining his intention of exploring the various reticular networks that came up when studying the roots of New Orleanss culture and interpreting them within the larger global context of the city would have eased some of the frustration I felt when reading this book as a history. Sublette doesnt so much prove New Orleans to be a globalized city as much as assume it to be so. Later, he claims that in order to know what the Kongo culture in New Orleans was like, all we have to do today is visit Cuba.
Ned is having a book party and forum in the city Thursday night. BOOK PARTY "hip, erudite and provocative story-telling"- Roger Han, 'Songlines' "an energetic and fascinating read" --Tristram Lozaw, 'Boston Globe' NED SUBLETTE speaking singing, signing books MAY 8 7:30 pm BRECHT FORUM NYC 451 West Street (Bank & Bethune) previously posted: got this on line http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articl... MMc review Feb 2010 Timing was right for me and this book: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and a trip west are fresh in my memory...Haiti suffered a dramatic disaster...I just watched some flics on the War of 1812 and have been listening to the 'Who Dat Nation' playlist, and, for the first time in 46 years, the Saints won the Super Bowl.
And I liked it, but think I (or any reader) would have benefitted more if I had read the author's previous book, 'Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo' in advance -- Much of New Orleans character stems of course from its musical history -- which is derived from the confluences of the slave trade, the history of the various Caribbean colonies and which state (nation) had control over New Orleans and when.
It also a good bit of the evolution of the city's music and dance.