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Blues for New Orleans

Blues for New Orleans: Mardi Gras and America's Creole Soul

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 112
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  • Book Info
    Blues for New Orleans
    Book Description:

    In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as the citizens of New Orleans regroup and put down roots elsewhere, many wonder what will become of one of the nation's most complex creole cultures. New Orleans emerged like Atlantis from under the sea, as the city in which some of the most important American vernacular arts took shape. Creativity fostered jazz music, made of old parts and put together in utterly new ways; architecture that commingled Norman rooflines, West African floor plans, and native materials of mud and moss; food that simmered African ingredients in French sauces with Native American delicacies. There is no more powerful celebration of this happy gumbo of life in New Orleans than Mardi Gras. In Carnival, music is celebrated along the city's spiderweb grid of streets, as all classes and cultures gather for a festival that is organized and chaotic, individual and collective, accepted and licentious, sacred and profane. The authors, distinguished writers who have long engaged with pluralized forms of American culture, begin and end in New Orleans-the city that was, the city that is, and the city that will be-but traverse geographically to Mardi Gras in the Louisiana Parishes, the Carnival in the West Indies and beyond, to Rio, Buenos Aires, even Philadelphia and Albany. Mardi Gras, they argue, must be understood in terms of the Black Atlantic complex, demonstrating how the music, dance, and festive displays of Carnival in the Greater Caribbean follow the same patterns of performance through conflict, resistance, as well as open celebration. After the deluge and the finger pointing, how will Carnival be changed? Will the groups decamp to other Gulf Coast or Deep South locations? Or will they use the occasion to return to and express a revival of community life in New Orleans? Two things are certain: Katrina is sure to be satirized as villainess, bimbo, or symbol of mythological flood, and political leaders at all levels will undoubtedly be taken to task. The authors argue that the return of Mardi Gras will be a powerful symbol of the region's return to vitality and its ability to express and celebrate itself.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0100-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    There is no more powerful symbol of life in New Orleans and the region around it than Mardi Gras. The annual festival along the central Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama is an emblem of the area’s historical and cultural difference from the rest of the South. It also connects America’s “Third Coast” to the Old Worlds of Mediterranean Europe, West Africa, and Native America. Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”), or Carnival (“farewell to fleshly excess”), includes such events as costumed float parades, neighborhood marches or second-lines, street gatherings, informal parties, and formal balls in New Orleans, Biloxi, and Mobile,...

  4. Strange Mergers and Deep Mixture Making
    (pp. 23-28)

    It is impossible to comprehend Mardi Gras or New Orleans or, for that matter, the Americas, without confronting the concept of creolization. “Creole” is an adjective and a noun heard throughout Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, and it is widely associated elsewhere with that region through movies, advertising, and tourism. But the term has a much older and wider application. “Creole” historically meant someone born in the New World, and in Louisiana it could refer to the offspring of French planters as well as the children of newly arrived slaves. Creole has also come to mean something entirely new, or...

  5. The Spanish Tinge, Second-Line, and the Black Atlantic Origins of Jazz
    (pp. 29-36)

    While the sources of similarities between the musics of New Orleans, rural Louisiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Haiti, and French Guiana may seem obvious to close listeners, the reciprocal influences between Cuban and Afro-French music are not so apparent. But even a listen to their musical interactions uncovers an astounding amount of cultural ingenuity and confluence as cultures, musicians, and rhythms came together. While one can trace the sources of certain instruments, instrumental ensembles, and stylistic techniques, the music enacted defies easy classification. When the music is played, its sources are subordinated to its overall sound. The complexity of the borrowings and...

  6. A Festival of Liberation, Protest, Affirmation, and Celebration
    (pp. 37-58)

    Mardi Gras is but one of many festivals that grew not only from the process of creolization, but also from the few ways in which slaves were able to obtain a glimpse of New World freedoms. Slave holidays seem to have existed even under the most repressive imperial regimes. Before Emancipation, in fact, these were commonly the flashpoints of revolt, or if not, of unbridled riots. Afterward, most of them served as archives of past indignities, fueled by a replaying of the moment of emancipation. And again, unsurprisingly, as these festivals serve today as markers of the slave past and...

  7. Carnival Knowledge: Mardi Gras in and Beyond New Orleans
    (pp. 59-74)

    Mardi Gras is historically associated with French and Spanish populations along the Gulf Coast. However, many groups such as Anglo-American and Jewish cultural elites in Uptown New Orleans, Gays in the French Quarter, and African American middle-class men and women in Mobile now join in the traditional festive occasion. Mardi Gras falls on the Tuesday in February or March prior to Ash Wednesday and, hence, forty days before Easter. The Mediterranean-Latin roots of Mardi Gras are in the pre-Roman rites of spring and later Roman festival or ritual occasions such as Baccanalia, Lupercalia, and Saturnalia. Over time, were incorporated into...

  8. Carnival Along the Gulf Coast
    (pp. 75-96)

    Although smaller in scale and less widely known than the New Orleans Carnival, Mardi Gras in Mobile has been celebrated in various ways since the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Cowbellions were formed in the 1830s and later began ordering their costumes from Paris, but during the Civil War Mobile’s public Mardi Gras was called off. In 1866, it was revived by a veteran named Joe Cain, who dressed that year as a mock Chickasaw Indian chief called “Slacabamorinico” and drove through the then-occupied city in a decorated wagon. On the Sunday before Carnival, Joe Cain is now commemorated...

  9. Conclusion: Mardi Gras Will Never Die
    (pp. 97-102)

    The conditions after Katrina and Rita demand that vernacular creativity and the basic rules of creolization be brought to bear on the situation. Improvisation, community bricolage, breaking, and calling out provide the pattern for a future, whatever the details. The world is still there to be turned on its head. Perhaps the clean-up itself will take its pattern from the way in which Mardi Gras traditionally ends.

    After the last float passes, Carnival comes to an abrupt end for those who have endured the entire time. Incredibly strong spotlights are directed at the area where there are the greatest number...