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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

When you get to New Orleans, then you’ll know what Carnival’s for!

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, among other Gulf Coast cities and towns. in rural French southwest Louisiana, a Cajun and black Creole courir de Mardi Gras or Mardi Gras run is carried out by horseback-mounted revelers in more than a dozen communities.

The city of New Orleans was once the nexus and cultural jewel of the French, and Spanish Caribbean, the North America colonies, and later the American South. the cultural and linguistic elements that interpenetrated and mixed in the city turned it into a center of creative cultural sources the likes of which the United States has never seen again—what folklorist Alan Lomax called the Athens of the New World. the best way to begin thinking about New Orleans as the rarified crossroads of artistic development in this hemisphere is to adjust our sense of geography, and visualize the city not as the bottom of the United States, but as the crown of the Caribbean. From this perspective, the entire city, its cultures, its musics, and its Mardi Gras, comes into intercontinental focus and takes on a new aura.

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