Pop culture from Southern California and beyond.

New Orleans dispatch: no bedfellows are strange at the Jazz & Heritage Festival

2012 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Presented By Shell - Day 3

Rick Diamond/Getty Images

You call this strange. New Orleans calls this Sunday.

It's actually impossible to have strange bedfellows here; even Emma Thompson & Dr. John make sense together. You can see this at the Jazz Fest fairgrounds, where Gal Holiday's Western swing might have warped your mind around her cover of Pat Benetar. 

And I heard Stanton Moore explain why at a drum clinic with Big Chief Juan Pardo of the Golden Comanche Indians, a Mardi Gras Indian tribe, at a club on Frenchman street called the Blue Nile. 

Mardi Gras Indians are getting a moment because of Treme, the HBO show (that is filming everywhere in town). Masking Indian has a glorious and complex history, with uptown and downtown tribes, spy boys and wild men and big chiefs. Now those tribes compete by trying to see who's the prettiest. But they also gave Mardi Gras itself, Carnival Season, its heartbeat. Without Indian classics like "Sew Sew Sew," "Big Chief," and "Indian Red," you'd just hear the Rex song over and over, "If Ever I Cease to Love," and maybe "Carnival Time." 

Moore's a native, and the drummer for Galactic, a longtime staple of my New Orleans whose dirty funk has, over the last several albums, grown juicy with the soul and passion of other traditions the city has nurtured. Galactic has recorded with Juvenile, Mannie Fresh, and Mystikal; sissy bounce artists like Sissy Nobby; gentleman pianist Allen Toussaint, several Nevilles, Al "Carnival Time" Johnson and I don't know who else. 

What I like about being in New Orleans is something that plenty of places in the world can and do offer, but few do. It mixes everything up, and there's no judgment about it. I used to work for a Guggenheim-recipient folklorist Nick Spitzer at American Routes. The job he does, and other people do, of teasing apart the strands of what music came from where, it's just astounding. The musicians themselves don't always see how to do it. The people listening don't always care. Gumbo, man. 

Moore and Pardo traded beats and stories. Together they described the way an African Caribbean rhythm evolved, the way hitting a tambourine should sound "like a 12-gauge" when the spy boy comes out the door, the way gospel performers and masked Indians hit the tambourine differently, to different effect. An Indian call like "Iko Iko" or "Hoo Na Nay" has a trance like effect: the music holds you, and you can't get out, and you don't want to. 

Both Stanton Moore & Juan Pardo said they're chasing that feeling, in a voice, or a rhythm, or a song. Turn up your headphones for the 1970 Bo Dollis classic, "Handa Wanda." 

"I'm chasing that moment every time I step on the stage with this," Pardo said, pointing to the Indian "suit" he sews every year for Mardi Gras. The suit's just another way to get at the feeling. If you're not a practicioner, you're chasing that feeling again, mixing it up, and crossing the streams, with your entrance as a listener into the second weekend of Jazz fest starts. 

blog comments powered by Disqus