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

By Published: October 17, 2006

Eric Traub reiterates what his companions say, and laments the profiteering and opportunism that raised its ugly heads in the wake of Katrina: "About two days after Katrina Halliburton was there, Wal-mart was there, and the Fed[eral government] was not there. I never even heard of the army corps of engineers but nobody ever talks about the army combat engineers. These are the guys over in Iraq that could build this hotel in twenty minutes. Why not put them in New Orleans? There are other rhetorical questions that came up—we have at least twenty billion tons of garbage, why not build the levee out of that? Recycle it. Questions like that kept coming up and of course falling on deaf ears. It's gonna take some time, for all our complaining it's gonna take time.

Returning to the music I asked Akbar if there exists in New Orleans a kind of jazz police, a jazz snobbery suspicious of change in the traditional style. "Not really, you know, because in New Orleans it's all connected, even with the new kids. We are the second generation of the traditional sound and we have incorporated more of an up-tempo, more progressive sound compared to the old tradition and the kids behind us are doing more contemporary stuff, doing a lot of hip-hop, rap stuff—they just do it in a brass band. They feel like this is too old for them because people can't dance the way they want to and they think that they're doing something new, but nothing is new. It's all just one piece of the puzzle. But we don't have a snobbery. We're a big family so we have a cohesiveness that I never saw in any other musical family in America. You know, New York is really competitive, cut-throat. New Orleans is not like that. We all work together at all times. We all know each other and we all fight, and laugh and love each other.

Watching the band that evening playing the beautifully soulful, blues-drenched dirge, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee, one can hear how nearly all modern American popular music drinks at the well that is New Orleans. Had Katrina struck New Orleans a century earlier who knows what course popular music in America may have taken? It is impossible to say. What is clear, however, is that if the present administration put half as much effort into the compassionate reconstruction of its national cultural treasure as it does into the fight against terrorism, then New Orleans would be up on its feet in no time. Someone remind me please, what are the American values Bush is trying to defend?

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