Where modern music was born in New Orleans


In his flagship novel, On the road, jazz enthusiast Jack Kerouac writes: “Once upon a time, Louis Armstrong blew his beautiful spinning top in the mud of New Orleans; before him, the crazy musicians who marched on official days and split their Sousa marches into ragtime. Then there was the swing, and Roy Eldridge, vigorous and manly, blasting the horn for all he had in waves of power, logic and subtlety – leaning over it with shining eyes and a cute smile. and sending it to broadcast to thrill the world of jazz. “

Indeed, the streets of New Orleans have given the world so much jazz, but jazz is only the influential first portion of the melting pot of modern music, and this giant sonic cauldron sits right in the thick of it. New Orleans. For even Louis Armstrong blowing on his magnificent spinning top leaves a trail behind him, just as he illuminates the way forward.

Besides his Jazz, Louis Armstrong was synonymous with something else: his secret universe smile. It is indeed a smile that seems to embody the warm ways of the bustling city that spawned it. And when it comes to the secret of the universe, Armstrong would tell you he stumbled upon it at a young age; exactly six years, in fact.

He was one of the lucky few in New Orleans to witness the cloud changes of the mythical father of jazz: Buddy Bolden. Now Bolden’s records are so tattered, and the day-to-day narratives have become so torturous that he presents himself more as a patron saint of jazz, some sort of virtuoso half pioneer / half pretending to be practically protagonist, that the truth can hardly be trusted, as is often the case when it comes to the twisted stories of the South Delta.

As a young boy, Armstrong was brought up in extreme poverty. He had no shoes on, let alone toys to play with. However, on the same roads where he shined shoes to change, he heard the balm of life blowing around street corners from the mythical Buddy Bolden’s heavenly horn as he blew the hottest, coolest horn lines in. the stifling air of Orleans with the casual force of a lion’s purring. Of course, Armstrong wouldn’t be the only one tossed about by this Promethean wind – I guess that goes without saying, considering Bolden is nicknamed the inventor of jazz – but in Louis’ case it seems fateful that he caught the benison. of that musical breeze from the front.

In the surging stream of modern music, Armstrong would later influence and inspire millions of full-fledged musicians, including Sam Cooke. In his definitive civil rights hymn, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Cooke launches the first line: “I was born by the river, in a small tent, and like that river, I have been running ever since. The river in question is the Mississippi, making it perhaps the most deeply varied vignettes in musical history.

Arguably the Mississippi Delta is where modern music has flowed benevolently around the world, but likewise, it was one of the most fiercely racially divided regions in modern history, setting off a current of fluid fear among the black inhabitants. Aside from those two notable brushstrokes in the melodic motif, there are a myriad of others relating to the tides of change, the unburdened flow of the soul and so on until the endless amounts of corroborations. personal data are almost dried up.

The Mississippi River was also the means by which slaves were shipped south to reach the plantations of the Delta. It was the desperate breeding ground where modern music crawled out of the mud and misery of one of mankind’s great atrocities and etched like golden poetry written into the margins of one of the pages. the darkest in history. As Nina Simone once said, “funk, gospel and blues are all out of slavery, out of depression, out of sadness.”

It is not known whether or not Cooke persuaded the many multitudes that can be gleaned from the song into existence, but what can be deduced with certainty is the beauty and importance that came from the mainstream of the rising melody and emboldened words. Music is a godsend, and the harsh streets of New Orleans have always been alive with it, after all, they basically made it up.

In short, when those who are suffering in the plantations cannot speak, they must learn to sing. This encrypted meaning and the humanized expression of the blues elucidated the vital necessity of music, both as a means of communication and as a moving vehicle towards exultation. Buried in this underlying subversive current was the monolithic strength of voodoo, a religion that drifted from West Africa and the Caribbean onto slave ships. All the blues notions of the devil at the crossroads, the hoodoo and the hexagons are deeply linked to the ways of the old world and the Caribbean.

Catholicism was imposed on slaves arriving from overseas, but rather than drowning out voodoo tunes; it just formed a merger. Drums and rhythms may have been abandoned out of necessity, but Gospel songs became a fusion where Voodoo and hymns met. The same feeling of deep exultation was present, and the drums were vocalized in the chants and incantations of the singing songs of salvation of the soul.

(Credit: Pixabay)

Nowhere was this mishmash of cultures, sounds and spirit deeper than in Congo Square. Located in the heart of what is now aptly known as Louis Armstrong Park, just north of the French Quarter, this legendary location is where African slaves gathered when they were allowed to take Sunday off. This gathering was imposed in 1817 when the mayor of the city of New Orleans specifically selected the square as the only permitted “gathering ground”.

Imagine, if you will, how such a joyous cacophony in the heart of the bustling chic of New Orleans could shatter the eruption of modern music. Jazz, blues and rock ‘n’ roll came roaring from the swirling mixing bowl of the plaza, surrounded by twisted tupelo trees, winding dust roads and the giant clay ball moon that seems to be at hand. a few miles closer to the delta than the rest of the world, presiding in the hot, sultry evening air, all looking out for the sweet sound of celebration despite the dowry circumstances.

Two things happened in this square that sowed the future of music. The first is beautifully elucidated by writer James Baldwin. He wrote: “All I know about music is that not many people really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasion that something opens inside, and music enters, what we primarily hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music hears something else, faces the roar that rises from the void, and imposes an order upon him when he strikes the air. What is evoked in him is therefore of another order, more terrible because he has no words, and also triumphant for the same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.

This sense of the vitality of music could not be underestimated. If upcoming genres like punk promoted the idea that music was more about emotion than being a master, then they were simply borrowing a roaring notion from Congo Square centuries ago. Music, if only for a brief moment on a Sunday, truly triumphed over sorely imposed trials. This remains the case with modern music to this day.

The second step was simple: you could have a blues guitarist on one bench, someone singing hymns on another, and a drummer on the next. Great swinging jams could erupt as music from all corners merged into one. This atmosphere remains present to this day. Walk down to the square any afternoon and you’ll find buskers of all kinds frequenting the historic space. This effervescent vibe is the one Bob Dylan longed for when he wanted his euphoric “evening empire” not to “vanish into dust”. The bars, clubs and street names may have changed since then, but there is an atmosphere in the city that will undoubtedly be everlasting.

Neighboring Congo Square, in the twisted old French Quarter, the eccentric world that Armstrong, Kerouac, Dylan and everyone savored remains bustling with jazz and blues galore. Snug Harbor, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, Erin Rose, and Elizabeth’s all offer the timeless appeal of dizzying nights with cool sweat in your hair and never a dull sight to the eyes. Likewise, daytime cafes, like Monty’s on the Square, provide a breezy and tranquil place to all enjoy tired looks, with the peace of the Garden District always awaiting a trip.

There are many subjective arguments in modern music, but New Orleans proves to be insistent that it really was born in the ethereal Congo Square.


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