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Interviews

The New Orleans All-Star Brass Band: Do You Know What It Means?

By Published: October 17, 2006

If two of New Orleans oldest institutions treats its own sons as virtual strangers then what exactly is being done to help musicians get back on their feet? "Musicians have been helping musicians, explains Akbar. "You know, Wynton Marsalis through Lincoln Centre Jazz, they've been contributing personal efforts, and efforts through brass like the one we're doing now. We haven't been getting any help from anybody, only musicians like ourselves. That's the bottom line. We have been more used than taken care of by the other side, because we are the culture and we can move the culture around. We're bringing the culture to Bangkok. They used us a lot to raise money we never saw.

Veteran saxophonist Eric Traub adds: "There's a foundation in New Orleans called the Tipitina's Foundation working in conjunction with Lincoln Centre that provided some musicians but not all with grants. Although what he [Akbar] is telling you is closer to the truth. A lot of yada yada yada. The bottom line is we're not living the lives we were living before. You know, some questions do arise. This is not some fly-in-the-ointment tornado, this is the worst natural disaster we ever had and we were caught with our pants down. Nobody's got the idea to pull the pants back up.

There was a symbolic pulling up of pants, for a few hours at any rate, on the 25th September with the reopening of the Saint's Superdome, one-time shelter to thirty thousand New Orleans citizens, mostly Afro-Americans, who awaited rescue in squalid conditions for days—iconic images which shocked America and the world. At the Monday night ball game U2 were once again present, taking centre stage alongside Green Day, while the Storyville Jazz Band and the Rebirth Jazz Band played outside the stadium.

Sentiment is divided as to the benefits of the reopening and its appropriateness. Mallery sums up one line of thought: "I love the Saints. I love the Superdome, but you can spend $180 million on a roof, but you couldn't spend $180 million on roofs. You can spend $60 million on a quarterback, but you couldn't spend $60 million on roofs. It's like Spike Lee said—those people who were lifted up for four hours, when that game was over they went back to misery!

Charles Joseph is slightly more conciliatory in tone: "I'd like to say that on this point it's half-and-half—you need to have all that, some kind of idol to lift you up. But they have money to take care of this other stuff and it's not being used. Jeffrey Hills adds: "The money is there. We know it's there because we went to the countries that gave. Akbar makes his point: "The question is, where did that money go? We went thanking people for it. Where is it? I personally asked the mayor, I stood up at the mic and asked him and he said he didn't know, he'd have to check.

There is concern also that white corporate America will take over New Orleans and turn it into some kind of garish theme park. Disney Orleans? Mallery is horrified at the thought but defiant: "The government of the United States and New Orleans want to put New Orleans back like it was in the 1800s. Strictly tourism. They don't want the people who made New Orleans what it is there. They just want New Orleans what it was and that can't happen. It's like trying to makea pot of soup without water. We are the water of the soup and if you don't want us then there's no more soup.

The issue of racism is perhaps more convoluted than the average outsider may think as Charles Joseph describes: "Don't forget, apart from the black and white thing in New Orleans you sure also have the Creoles. They look at themselves better than the Caucasians. There are all these different styles of ethnic groups still fighting. Mallery sums the situation up: "All New Orleans is doing is going through its natural process which Katrina just exposed. It took the mask off. Now the whole world can see the ugly face, the real truth of what we see every day.



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