[JPL] Cultural convergence in America

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Wed Feb 6 11:26:26 EST 2008


http://www.artsjournal.com/jazzbeyondjazz/2008/02/cultural_convergence_in_am
eric.html

Cultural convergence in America
Primaries, Mardi Gras and Chinese New Year align -- look who's coming to the
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage fest!
How often does the US citizenry go to the polls on the same day acolytes of
Dionysis party and Asian-Americans prepare for the Lunar New Year (Feb. 7)?
I dunno. But the coincidence is heightened by the music lineup for the 2008
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival arriving in the mail.
And the good news is that over two weekends from the end of April through
the beginning of May, the sweet, sweaty, rhythmic and highly energized music
that has resulted from New Orleans' past as a capitol of the Caribbean that
happens to be in our semi-united nation will emanate from the infield of the
Fairgrounds Racetrack. This music can stir all listeners who've got ears,
anywhere sound waves reach (via recordings and influence, if the actual
waves grow faint). Whoever benefits from today's voting, whoever suffers
tomorrow from over-doing Mardi Gras today, whoever lights red firecrackers
on Thursday -- rest assured that the pulse of America survives a still
un-reconstructed city where the river that divides our east from our west
but is nonetheless portent of American lifeblood saunters towards the sea.
Excuse me for waxing pseudo-poetic. I just get excited when I read that
several thousand musicians across all Central and North America's popular,
vernacular and abstracted idioms convene to entertain all comers (over seven
days, in the hundreds of thousands) for modest ticket prices. Here are some
of the headliners: Stevie Wonder, Cassandra Wilson, Al Green, Bobby McFerrin
with Chick Corea, Robert Plant with Alison Krauss, guitarist Leo Nocentelli
of the original Meters wih keyboardist Bernie Worrell from
Parliament-Funkadelic, Dr. John, Walter "Wolfman" Washington, Irma Thomas,
Elvis Costello with Allen Toussaint, BeauSoleil, Gene "Duke of Earl"
Chandler, Bela Fleck, Mamadou Diabate, Dianne Reeves, Randy Newman, the Bad
Plus, Eddie Kirkland -- of course ALL the bands and players native to New
Orleans and its surroundings starting with the Neville Brothers and
including this year as a first, I believe, less heralded local modernist
reedsman Rob Wagner with bouyant Chicago-based drummer Hamid Drake. . . You
get the picture: jazz, blues, Cajun, rockabilly, gospel (a whole tent
devoted to the sacred), roots and extentions, music (also food, crafts,
people galore. . . ten or 11 separate venues operating simultaneously, 11
a.m. to 7 p.m., festivities continuing throughout what remains of this once
glorious (though -- careful -- crime-ridden) city . . . a scene without
parallel anywhere I've been in the world.
Staging the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, two-and-a-half years
after Hurricane Katrina laid waste to its vast residential districts is an
act of civic devotion to ideals that the Bush administration has completely
ignored. Putting on a multi-stage festival that brings so many strains of
American, Hispanic and Afro-Caribbean life together is a positive protest
against those fearful and fearsome forces that would keep us apart. I
haven't been to the New Orleans fest since Katrina, and probably won't go
this year (finances, you know?) but having been to Jazz Fest annually during
the '70s and '80s, and again in 2002, I feel it represents an uplifting
vision of a country I'm proud to belong to, where a massive population takes
sustenance from spirited creativity to forge a communal ideal of being happy
together. Jazz Fest is only symbolic -- we can't live like this everyday,
but to glimpse or participate in such a massive, populist gathering of such
diverse societies having fun gives hope that consensus can be reached by
these same individuals on how to solve the many problems facing us today.
True, reveling in music doesn't translate directly into making peace,
erasing deficits or instituting national health insurace, any more than does
voting in primaries, flashing on Bourbon Street or visiting Chinatown. But
hey, it's more than a start. Reveling in music is an example of what many of
us would do, if all those other problems were on the way to solved.
howardmandel.com 


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