NOLA: The Roots of Music: Part One

Display in Louis Armstrong Airport, New Orleans, by Ronise Nepomuceno

Every place has a distinctive feel. This sensation is the strongest during the first few minutes of arriving there. Perhaps everything gets intensified after spending so many hours in an air tight cabin. In New Orleans, the first sensation I felt was the unusual soft sound of something that was just like big raindrops falling on a surface made of glass. It had no consistency, but had distinctive patterns that would come and go in an improvised fashion, just like jazz itself. 

Jazz banner

Sounds can bring us strange memories and reactions. They are even known for affecting our mood. The sound of a hammer, for example, which is happening right now, makes me cringe. It reminds me of neighbours doing DIY on weekends, when I would like to take a nap or just get on with doing some writing. It brings to my mind the awful results of the DIY, made by, or better saying “committed by”,  the people who lived in our house before us. Because of them, we could have been electrocuted or gas poisoned, if it was not for the Health and Safety standards followed by manufacturer of electric appliances.  I could digress on a rant that would go on forever, or at least until DIY was outlawed completely. As I know this would not happen right now, I put on some music to baffle all the noise of a banging hammer and  the occasional shout and swearing that comes in between hitting a nail and a short silence.

In an attempt to go back to the track of what I am writing, I hold in my hands the object responsible for that curious sound I kept hearing in New Orleans, during this year’s Mardi Grass. It is just made of cheap acrylic. But  the sound it produces, contrary to the sound of a hammer hitting a nail, is full of spontaneity, joy and innocent mischief. It is a precious sound.

On the first morning I woke up in New Orleans, I decided to go for a walk on my own,  under the excuse of finding somewhere selling some strong take away coffee and croissants. But my true intention was to have a feel for the place, to wonder around its streets, sipping its air and all its colours.

Mardi Grass beads in New Orleans

A few meters after stepping out of the door,  I saw something curious. There were gold necklaces made of pearly beads lying around on the ground. A bit further,  I saw some more in gold, purple and green: the colours of the Mardi Grass.  All the suddenly  they were everywhere: hanging from rails, lamp posts and trees. I grabbed some of them, as if they were treasure and things I would never see again. 

In my random wandering, I ended up in the famous Tchoupitoulas Street, home of Tipitina, one of the best known music clubs in the town. It was named after a song by Professor Longhair,  the most revered Rhythm and Blues musician in the history of New Orleans. In his time, he created a new style by fusing Rhumba, Boogie Woogie and Blues.

The venue was built in 1912 and before it was opened as Tipitina, in 1977, it had been used as a gambling house and a brothel. Professor Longhair performed there from 1977 until his death in the 1980s. But Tipitina is more than a music shrine. It also hosts the Tipitina’s Foundation, a non-profit local organisation that supports musical education and provides musical instruments and uniforms to the state funded schools of New Orleans. They collect and repair old musical instruments and train old and young musicians, regardless of their background or income. Tipitina’s foundations was also responsible for providing support for Musicians affected by Katrina.

New Orleans bar

After finding the coffee and some croissants for breakfast, the lyrics of Tipitina could not be more right.  I had company waiting for me at home and I could not leave my boys alone.

“I’ll say hurry, hurry, come on Loberta

Girl, you have company waiting for you at home

Why don’t you hurry little Loberta girl, hurry

Don’t leave that boy alone

Tipitina tra la la la

Whoa la la la-ah tra la la la

Tipitina, hoola malla walla dalla

Tra ma ti na na”

More to follow soon >> 

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