The Heartbeat of New Orleans

The Heartbeat of New Orleans Musicians and their Importance for the Survival of Post-Katrina New Orleans ♪♪ ♫ ♫ ♪♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♫ ♫ ♪ ♪ ♪ Geerke Bakk...
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The Heartbeat of New Orleans Musicians and their Importance for the Survival of Post-Katrina New Orleans

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Geerke Bakker

The Heartbeat of New Orleans Musicians and their Importance for the Survival of Post-Katrina New Orleans

Geerke Bakker 3768147

Thesis for the master ‘Cultural Anthropology: Multiculturalism in a Comparative Perspective’

Supervisor: dr. ir. Yvon van der Pijl

Utrecht University August 2013

Index Introduction………………………………………………………………………………...1-7

Chapter 1

Drowned, destructed and in despair……………………………………..8-15 Katrina’s impact

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Rebuilding with music…………………………………………………...16-27 Understanding community


Coming back


Rebuilding with music


Bearing and securing the culture of New Orleans……………………..28-35 Dealing with competition

Chapter 4



Imagining a secure future……………………………………………….36-38 Going back to normal


Regaining pride




Appendices……………………………………………………………………………….43-44 Appendix 1: The urban tour


Appendix 2: The neighborhoods


Introduction August 29, 2005. Hurricane Katrina made landfall on New Orleans, leaving behind a city drowned, destructed and in despair. 1

Katrina and the failure of the levees was an event that left its traces in the history of New Orleans and is still leaving her traces in the present (and will most likely continue to do so in the future). After the devastating disaster of hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed, New Orleans was left in limbo. A big part of the city flooded and consequently a lot of people lost their homes and were displaced. Nowadays Katrina’s presence can still be found in the memories of people and in objects like abandoned damaged houses. The disaster meant a turning point in the lives of many New Orleans residents. For them there was a New Orleans before the hurricane and now there is a different New Orleans and life after the hurricane. New Orleans is attached to its culture and the culture is attached to New Orleans. The inseparable relationship between New Orleans and its culture could be described as symbiotic, New Orleans needs its culture to exist as a cultural significant place to live in and to be visited and on the other hand the culture needs New Orleans to be a place where the culture can be exposed and be meaningful. The first aspect that will be discussed in this thesis is the strong connection between culture and New Orleans. The cultural connection with a certain place is essential for the feeling of belonging, the creation of a sense of place and consequently for a secure future. These feelings and senses play an important role in the rebuilding of New Orleans. A dramatic event like a disaster, caused by a destructive natural, modified or built environment, provides an opportunity to assess the impact of such an event on a place, its people and its communities. Disasters and their aftermath grant us the opportunity to delve into human social domains and cultures; they show how people constitute their morality and project their continuity and security into the future. Moreover, disasters 1

Every time when Katrina is mentioned in this thesis it refers to the whole disaster that came with the hurricane, so not just the hurricane but also the failure of the levees and consequently the flooding of a big part of New Orleans which made up for most of the lives lost in the disaster and for the destruction of the city.


have the capacity for disclosing the unequal situation within and between communities (Oliver-Smith and Hoffman 2002: 4-6). In this thesis, disaster and the vulnerability that is exposed due to a disaster is the second aspect that will be elaborated upon. In particular, I will put emphasis on the vulnerability of the music community of New Orleans and the influence that Katrina had and still has on this community. A lot is written about disasters and their impact. Within disaster studies the main aim is to look at the impact of a disaster shortly after the event occurred. In this thesis it will become clear that situations change when one looks at the impact of a disaster after a longer period of time. Questions arise about the vulnerability of people and communities. Did this vulnerability change in the course of the years after the disaster? Were the people really that vulnerable as they appeared to be at first? The third prominent aspect that will be addressed has to do with this change in vulnerability. This aspect involves the social theory about the ‘reinvention of the self’. Knowing that music plays a big role within the culture of New Orleans and acknowledging the symbiotic relationship between culture and New Orleans, one can state that the musicians and music are important for New Orleans’ rebuilding and survival; an issue that has been addressed too little in the literature about the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina. The musicians are the ones that create a (sense of) place, something which is reflected in the fights and struggles that they go through to help the culture of New Orleans survive. The musicians experience, what may be termed as, a (cultural) revaluation. It is stated in this thesis that the creation of a (sense of) place and the change in vulnerability of the musicians are part of a process that can be described as a ‘reinvention of the self’. Katrina put New Orleans at risk of losing everything, something which made the city realize the value of their main cultural characteristic, the music. This thesis will show that a disaster does not only mean devastation and destruction, but that there are also positive sides and opportunities created. It is not intended to trivialize the devastating effect of what happened and is still happening in the light of the disaster, but an acknowledgement of the fact that for some people it can mean a new start and a new way of life that can have a positive effect on themselves and their community.


Research themes The main question central to this thesis is: What is the influence of Katrina on the music community and musicians of New Orleans? This question will be answered by looking at different issues and using concepts that concern the music community. The issues that will be discussed involve the recognition, appreciation, and pride that is mentioned when talking about the culture, traditions and history of New Orleans. Furthermore the vulnerability of the music community will be discussed and how this vulnerability changed in the course of time. The main concepts that are important for the elaboration of these matters are disaster, vulnerability, community and community building, (sense of) place, reinvention of the self, belonging and (collective) memory. The literature used involves anthropological perspectives and social theory about disasters in general, about hurricane Katrina and its impact specifically, and about the different concepts mentioned above. These concepts are part of larger debates that revolve around, for example, the context of (re)migration, urban planning and disasters in general (Corcoran 2002; De Certeau 1984; Oliver-Smith 2005; Oliver-Smith and Hoffman 2002). The question arises how one can apply concepts like the creation of a (sense of) place, the feeling of belonging and the reinvention of the self to the rebuilding of a place and a community after a disaster? I will apply these concepts within the context of the situation of the music community of New Orleans after Katrina. I will show that these concepts are instrumental for understanding the situation in which the music community finds itself. Additionally I will demonstrate that these concepts are important for understanding the impact of a disaster on a community over a longer period of time.

Conducting research The initial undertaking was to find out whether there is a (music) community among the musicians and how the musicians see the community they belong to. The second aspect is how the musicians see their role in the culture of New Orleans and how Katrina affected the musicians and their role. What was and is their role in the rebuilding of New Orleans and the revival of the cultural economy?


The urban tour As noted above, the process of creating a sense of place is one of the main themes of this thesis. As a researcher, sharing a place with your informants, one has to keep in mind how the researcher is emplaced within the ethnographic context. Creating a sense of place is a human activity that is constantly in progress. Therefore the ethnographer is not free from it and is involved in the creation of a sense of place for oneself in relation to her or his informants. The routes and pathways of the ethnographer and the informants cross each other and get entangled. This entanglement has to be noted by the ethnographer during her or his fieldwork. The ethnographer is not emplaced in a similar way as her or his informants but she or he can try to create an almost similar sense of place by seeing, hearing, tasting and experiencing the place in almost the same way as the ethnographers informants (Pink 2008: 179). This was done by trying to be at the places where the musicians are. In doing this, I could see what the musicians see, hear what they hear and experience the city a little bit as they experience it. To illuminate this experience I will describe my own emplacement by giving a short urban tour of the New Orleans that I experienced and came to know during the three months of fieldwork.2

We will start in the French Quarter, on the corner of Canal Street and Bourbon Street. Bourbon Street, once known as the musical street of New Orleans but now (it changed after Katrina) unfortunately taken over by various strip clubs and venues that are known for excessive drinking. Thankfully there are some exceptions to be found amongst all that drunken craziness. But let us leave Bourbon Street and go to Royal Street, the street where most of the street musicians play, often from dawn to dusk. There we see Roselyn and David, a couple playing on the streets of New Orleans for decades, Roselyn beautifully dressed in purple as always, with a strong voice and playing an African music box like no other. And Roselyn’s lifetime companion, David, a multi-instrumentalist jamming away on his instruments. The next stop will be Buffa’s, a bar/restaurant on the corner of Esplanade Avenue and Burgundy. Let’s check out the band that is playing tonight; the Honeypots, a group of three women, Lynn Drury vocals and guitar, Margie Perez vocals and Monica 2

See appendix one for a map of the urban tour.


McIntyre vocals and cello. All three are great songwriters and musicians. It is always a joy to go to their gigs, be it their gigs as the Honeypots or individually with their own bands. As the night is still young, we will walk a few blocs down Esplanade Avenue and go to Frenchmen Street, the street that has had an enormous boost after Katrina and where there is the highest density of live music in New Orleans. We can grab a bite in the Three Muses and while eating we can enjoy the traditional jazz of the virtuosic pianist Tom McDermott or, depending on the day of the week, the Latin influenced sounds of the saxophone of Joe Cabral. The next stop is the club d.b.a. where we can see John Bouté. A voice that makes Sam Cooke come alive! After enjoying the singing of John Bouté we will cross the street from d.b.a and go back to the traditional jazz with Meschiya Lake & the Little Big Horns. An unbelievably great voice accompanied with a great band, their music brings you back to the trad jazz heydays of the 30s and 40s. And to finish off the night we will dance the night away at Mimi’s. This was only a small fraction of what New Orleans has to offer. In other districts like St Claude Avenue, Mid City, Treme and Uptown, a lot of other music venues can be found.

As noted in the description of the urban tour, the city is divided into several districts, with the entertainment district mainly located in the district called the French Quarter. There are dozens of music venues, if not more. At these venues live music is played at least once a week; at some places even every day of the week. The music scene is a vibrant scene and this can be experienced especially in the French Quarter and on Frenchmen Street, which is located right outside the French Quarter in the district called Marigny. Next to these two hubs of live entertainment there are various music venues in the different districts all over the city. These are typically neighborhood bars visited generally by locals. The French Quarter is the most popular neighborhood among tourists and Frenchmen Street is becoming, in this regard, increasingly an extension of the French Quarter. Another interesting district is Bywater, where I lived during my stay in New Orleans. Bywater is an up and coming neighborhood in the Ninth Ward. The process of gentrification is very prominently visible in a neighborhood like Bywater. I will elaborate


further upon gentrification and its effect in chapter one. The neighborhoods mentioned above are the main locations where this research was conducted.3 Getting into contact with (professional) musicians is very easy in New Orleans, knowing that there is live music every day of the week. Some musicians that were contacted were found in the bar where they had their gigs. But for most of the musicians interviewed contact was made through other musicians, the so called snowball effect. In general the musicians of New Orleans were very open and approachable and therefore there was no problem finding musicians that were willing to converse. In total seventeen interviews were recorded of which some were two musicians at the same time, and three of the interviews conducted were not recorded. In this thesis not everybody contacted is mentioned but that does not mean that those conversations were not useful; those conversations were as interesting as any other and were valuable in offering different perspectives on various matters. In addition to talking to and interviewing musicians, meetings were attended of several organizations that consist of musicians and/or support groups that defend the interests of the musicians. In addition a conference was attended about the economic importance of musicians for New Orleans. Furthermore, I visited as many gigs (displaying a great variety of genres) as possible, various festivals and Mardi Gras. When conducting fieldwork it is important to be aware of personal biases and distortions and be mindful of ones own senses (Altork 2007: 107). In the course of my research I therefore reflected critically upon my own personal biases, especially concerning the ‘battle’ between the cultural sector and the city government, which will be elaborated upon in chapter three. In this matter I acknowledge that my perspective has been informed largely by the musicians. This might have caused a biased elaboration about this ‘battle’. Nonetheless, in general the way of being in the field can be best described as Sanjek (1990: 411) does in his article On ethnographic validity. He states:

Sometimes I think ethnography is to social science as jazz is to music. (...) Jazz innovator Miles Davis is known to have told band members: ‘You need to know your horn, know the chords, know all the tunes. Then you forget about all that, 3

See appendix two for a map of the various neighborhoods mentioned.


and just play.’ Knowing the anthropological tradition, knowing the range of fieldwork methods, and knowing what constitutes ethnographic validity are essential, but they do not produce ethnography. Like Jazz, ethnography requires the person who improvises the performance, who not only knows how to do it but does it.

This makes doing ethnography a creative exertion. As shown above, fieldwork methods like participant observation, semi constructed interviews and formal and informal conversations have been used. These are common methods for conducting ethnography but those methods were all used with a sense of improvisation.

Thesis lay-out Since history is a very important aspect for the music and culture of New Orleans this thesis will start by giving a short outline of the general history and specifically the music history of New Orleans. In the course of this outline one can detect the importance of the music scene of New Orleans. This first chapter discusses New Orleans during and after hurricane Katrina, it addresses the kind of impact it had on the city in general and highlights some aspects that involve the musicians as well. The second chapter will give an outline of how the music community is being conceived by the musicians of New Orleans and attempt is made to characterize this community by using various theoretical approaches and concepts. Subsequently I will examine the changes that occurred after Katrina within the music community and the music scene and their importance for the rebuilding of New Orleans. The third chapter will give an outline of the role that musicians play within the culture and the (cultural) economy of New Orleans. Specifically I will focus on the ‘battle’ between the cultural economy, which includes musicians, artists and music venues, and the city government and what this means for the musicians in how they conceive their role within New Orleans. In the fourth chapter I will conclude by answering the main research question. What do all these changes after Katrina mean for the musicians and the music community and how do they perceive their importance for New Orleans and its future?


1. Drowned, destructed and in despair

History and the musical history of New Orleans can be found everywhere throughout the city. From the Spanish and French architecture in the French Quarter to Louis Armstrong Park, which includes Congo Square, to the living legends that call New Orleans their home. The fact that New Orleans has the Jazz National Historical Park shows the importance of the musical history that exists in New Orleans. One of the first research undertakings in New Orleans was a tour that shows you all the historic sites concerning music. The main part is the honoring of the most influential musicians who made New Orleans music how we know it. Musicians like Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima, Sidney Bechet, Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, the Boswell Sisters and many others.

New Orleans has a rich history in the cultural/musical sense as well as in the sense of ethnic geography. The ethnic history is strongly related to the rich musical history; a relationship that will be elaborated upon in this chapter about the history of New Orleans. The French were the first to colonize the part of the United States that is now known as the state of Louisiana. This was because of its convenient location between the Mississippi river and Lake Ponchartrain. In 1764 the French ceded New Orleans to Spain. In 1800 the French took New Orleans back and in 1803 the United States obtained it in the Louisiana Purchase. New Orleans became one of the main seaports for the United States (Banfield 2010: 111). During the colonial times enslaved African people were transported to New Orleans and Louisiana to work on the plantations. In 1809 the population in New Orleans doubled due to thousands of refugees from Saint Domingue that came to New Orleans after the slave insurgency. These refugees were French colonialists, free creoles of color and ex-slaves. The arrival of these refugees contributed to the revival of the Francophone and Afro-Caribbean culture (Campanella 2007; Fussell 2007: 848). The mingle of French, Spanish, Caribbean and African influences became even more diverse after the first wave of immigration in the nineteenth century. During this wave mainly Irish, Italian and German people came to New Orleans (Campanella 2007: 4). Because of the presence of all these different cultures New Orleans is known as America’s first multicultural metropolis. This mingle of cultures and cultural traditions 8

has had a big influence on the music that evolved in New Orleans. It created a ‘gumbo’ of traditions that is known as New Orleans music (Banfield 2010: 111). New Orleans music encompasses various genres that emerged out of the ‘gumbo’ of cultural and musical traditions. Examples of these musical genres are among others, Cajun, zydeco, blues and jazz. New Orleans is particularly known as the birthplace of jazz, one of America’s first forms of modern urban entertainment music. Jazz was born through the cross-cultural assimilation that happened at Congo Square, a gathering place where slaves could mingle, celebrate rituals, sing and dance ‘freely’ every Sunday (Banfield 2010: 112). These gatherings were characterized by the call-and-response character of West African music that has become one of the main characteristics of jazz and can be seen in other forms of Africanized American music, like the ‘work songs’ and the blues. Another characteristic that was born out of these gatherings, is the social function of the musical performance. There is no separation between the artist and the audience, members of the audience participate in the musical ritual and connect with the artist and each other (Gioia 2011: 9). Hence, music played an important role in creating new social connections and networks. The Africanized American music culture (and the black music culture in general) can therefore be seen as an art form that represents ideas and ideals which are spiritual, cultural, intellectual and aesthetic. It became a form of socio-political expression. By means of music a community of artists and audience is created; by performing the musical rituals together the community can express how they feel, think and move (Banfield 2010: 4). Throughout the history of New Orleans one can see that the city is composed out of communities from Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. These different communities have a migration history that shines through in narratives that reflect the emotional and social experience of displacement. These narratives can form a starting point for a cultural rebirth (Kish 2009: 673). Looking at the music history of New Orleans and especially the Congo Square gatherings, one can see how new musical collaborations created an opportunity for expressing communal feelings. Within these new musical collaborations a cultural rebirth emerges which can be seen in the different genres that found their roots in these collaborations. Cultural rebirths and musical collaborations that


started because of migration narratives can be found in the genesis of many artistic expressions. As can be seen in the piece above, one can trace the origins of the rich musical history of New Orleans. Musicians are very aware of this history and in every conversation it was mentioned as an important reason why New Orleans is such a good city for musicians to live. Lynn Drury is a singer-songwriter from Mississippi and has lived in New Orleans for over seventeen years. Her music is part of the Americana tradition and Lynn describes her music as ‘Mississippi grit with a New Orleans groove’.4 She says the following about the musical history of New Orleans and the ways in which people feel its presence:

[There is] a long history of music here to pull from, a lot of inspirational people that live here too…so mainly the history and the culture of the music, you feel really connected to it here, you feel kind of like at ground zero for music (…) the heart of it I think is here. It’s hard to explain but from music that’s created here and was created so long ago…you have all of these different little machines, you know, different styles, different genres that were created out of that basic groove and that funkiness and that, you know, that New Orleans thing is real.

Keeping that history alive and passing down the torch to the next generation is important for the musicians, especially the ones who were born and raised in New Orleans. In a part of a conversation with Margie Perez, a singer from Washington D.C. who came to live in New Orleans in 2004, we talked about how the musicians that are born and raised in New Orleans feel an extra responsibility to keep the tradition of New Orleans music alive. We talked about Shamarr Allen and Troy ‘Trombone Shorty’ Andrews, two well-known and world touring New Orleans musicians:

They [Shamarr Allen and Troy ‘Trombone Shorty’ Andrews] pass the torch, they tell the kids, you know, ‘you gotta learn this stuff [traditional New Orleans music]


Americana is an American music style combining country, folk, rock, bluegrass, blues and R&B.


because the stuff you’re playing now, that’s all fine and dandy but this is where it came from.

At a concert of Shamarr Allen during the French Quarter Festival, Shamarr Allen mentioned that he is active teaching music to the children in the Lower Ninth Ward. The Lower Ninth Ward is one of the most vulnerable parts of New Orleans. It is the lowest part beneath sea level in New Orleans, with only the protection of a levee in the form of a concrete wall. It is a neighborhood dealing with high rates of poverty and crime. Nowadays, almost eight years after Katrina, one can still see abandoned houses and barren pieces of land owned by people that never came back or were never able to come back due to socio-economic problems. The people of the Lower Ninth Ward are vulnerable because of the location but also in the economic and social sense. Because of their vulnerability these people were affected most by Katrina and the flood. The importance of the degree of vulnerability of people in combination with a disaster will be elaborated in the next paragraph which is about New Orleans during and after Katrina and Katrina’s impact on the city and its population.

Katrina’s impact On August 29, 2005 hurricane Katrina made landfall and devastated more than 90,000 square miles of the US Gulf Coast and when the levee failed it flooded the city of New Orleans. Katrina forced the evacuation of about 1.5 million people from across the Gulf Coast, destroyed around 300,000 homes and initially killed 1,720 people. Yet the aftermath of the disaster also took its toll, for many people died as a result of ‘indirect’ causes, such as suicide and drug overdoses, in the months and years that followed. Not the heavy storm itself, but the subsequent flood that occurred because of the failure of the levees was the main disaster for New Orleans. The flood destroyed whole neighborhoods and killed more people than the actual hurricane did. Many of the people stayed during the hurricane, because they did not have the means to leave the city. They were the most vulnerable people, predominantly African American, poor, elderly and/or living with a disability (Weber and Peek 2012: 1-2).


A disaster like Katrina exposes among other things, the inequality within a society and reveals the most vulnerable people. Klinenberg (2002) has written about social vulnerabilities and disasters in the context of a heat wave in Chicago. He writes that disasters expose a structure of urban marginality and uncertainty. He shows that aspects like age, socio-economic inequality and social capital make different people more vulnerable than others. Oliver-Smith (2006) develops a similar line of argument about vulnerability in the context of a disaster. He writes that vulnerability is generated through a chain of causes embedded in ideological, social and economic systems, demographic components, socio-economic status, mobility and ecological aspects. This chain combined with a natural hazard, produces a disaster. Understanding vulnerability in this way, reveals that different kinds of people who live in different kinds of (socioeconomic) conditions are exposed to different levels of risk and suffering from the same hazard. A society’s pattern of vulnerability is a core element of a disaster (Oliver-Smith 2006; Oliver-Smith and Hoffman 2002: 3). To summarize, the impact of a disaster on different kinds of people depends on their socio-economic status and their identity (differentiated along classifications like class, race, ethnicity, gender, age, political- and power structures). The inhabitants with low socio-economic status of New Orleans are, with regard to the aspects of the chain mentioned above, the most vulnerable. Because of this they had to endure a bigger impact by hurricane Katrina than the inhabitants with high socio-economic status. Therefore Katrina can not only be seen as a natural disaster but also and to a greater extent as a social disaster (Oliver-Smith 2006; Smith 2006). For bringing together the mundane with the socio-political forces that influence the vulnerability one can also use Veena Das’s popular notion on ‘critical events’ (1995). One could describe a disaster as a critical event, an event in which the everyday life gets disrupted and wherein local environments get damaged in such a way that the social structures have to be reinvented. Which brings new modes of action between the everyday and the socio-political into practice (Carsten 2007: 4). After the disaster in New Orleans a lot of people lost their homes and were forced to leave the city. People who were dependent on the institutional evacuations were being settled farther away than the people who left without institutional help. The people who were dependent were mainly the residents that lived in the most vulnerable low lying 12

areas, had a low socio-economic status and consequently it was more difficult for them to return after they were displaced (Petterson et al. 2006: 654). As a result the residents with low socio-economic status struggled to find a way back home and the demographic structure of the city was changed after the storm. The population of New Orleans was rearranged. This process was already set in motion since the 1960s but Katrina accelerated the movement of people to the suburbs and further. The factors that influenced this movement were loss of high-skill, high-wage employment, poor public schools, a diverged housing market, and crime. These factors have accelerated since Katrina (Fussell 2007: 855). Not only has the number of inhabitants declined but also the ethnic structure has changed. The majority of the African American population has not returned to their homes yet, because of the demolition of social homes, the increase of the rent and the loss of property after Katrina (Petterson et al. 2006: 652-654). Another phenomenon that occurred in many neighborhoods in New Orleans (mainly in Bywater, Marigny, Treme, the French Quarter and the Lower Garden District) is the process of gentrification, which constitutes a revaluation of the neighborhood in the sense that it attracts people from a higher socio-economic group. This happens mainly because the older houses were destroyed and rebuilt with better materials, hence resulting in more expensive houses (Petterson et al. 2006: 660). Gentrification also increased the rent which made it difficult for people that wanted to come back to find affordable houses. Because of this process of gentrification people with low-incomes were once again forced to find a place to live in the vulnerable neighborhoods, which were often characterized by high crime rates. Petterson et al. (2006: 661) argues:

This [gentrification] shows that communities are not being rebuilt but reorganized (…) [to] exclude the poorest, ‘least productive’ segments of the population, striving to make the area appear cleaner, providing safer environs for tourists, and reducing the continuing demand for social services.

Once again this indicates the inequality and vulnerability for the people with the least social and financial security, living on the margins of society.


Returning to the musicians it is interesting to note that a lot of musicians had to deal with similar kind of problems because of their vulnerability. Most musicians belong to the same socio-economic group that is dependent on institutional help and social services. Lynn for example also struggled to find a place to live in New Orleans. ‘(…) I got this place in 2009. I finally had a place to myself. I haven’t had an apartment, you know, I was living like a college kid.’ Answers like these, indicating the struggle to find an affordable place or the attempt to rebuild their severely damaged houses, were mentioned by all the musicians contacted. Next to losing their house or returning to a damaged house and losing almost all of their personal belongings, musicians also lost their source of income. There were no gigs due to the closing of music venues or because musicians lost their instruments in the storm. They lost their main source of income and thus were forced to find new ways of earning money outside of New Orleans (cf. Le Menestrel and Henry 2010). In the months after Katrina many musicians went on tour or did charity performances that were organized for New Orleans musicians that were displaced after Katrina. Many of those musicians were invited to places all over the world. New Orleans music got a boost and New Orleans was put in the centre of attention after the storm. The willingness to help New Orleans and its rich music culture was very much present among music fanatics. Currently the situation for the musicians that came back has stabilized, although the economic situation of musicians remains difficult.5 But there are also signs of improvement. Some of these improvements are the increased availability of gigs due to new venues, more frequent ‘live music nights’, increasing numbers of tourists and the emergence of new festivals (Sweet Home New Orleans Music Community Report 2011: 16). The music community is vulnerable when one looks at their socio-economic status but because of their strong social network and their popularity they are less vulnerable than they would appear to be. Joe Cabral is a saxophonist who came to New Orleans in the 1980s. He is one of the founding members of the band called ‘the Iguanas’ which started in 1989. The Iguanas is his main project. It is a band playing Chicano rock, which is New Orleans R&B combined with Latin styles.6 He also has his own jazz trio that he 5

The income of the music community is near or at poverty levels but rising slowly. In 2011 the average income of an individual was about $17,000 a year. In comparison, for the whole New Orleans area the average income is about $30,000 (Sweet Home New Orleans Music Community Report 2011: 18). 6


plays with on a weekly basis. These are two projects among many others. Joe says the following, which shows the strong social network and agency of musicians:

There was definitely alliances formed and you know, a lot of sharing that maybe wouldn’t have happened before. So yeah I think there was definitely a lot of, a new found kind of camaraderie. And also because really I think the music was, was really key in, you know, helping the city to revitalize itself because it’s such a strong cultural kind of unifier, that people are proud of, of New Orleans music and New Orleans musicians. So as a New Orleans musician you want to find yourself in a new type of position in that scene where you would say ‘ok here I am and lets revolve’.

A social network and their strong agency combined with the importance of their presence in the city and the willingness of many organizations to help the musicians empower and realize their compatibility as a community, show that the musicians are not as vulnerable as one would think. In making this network and their community stronger the degree of vulnerability is decreasing for the musicians. At present the vulnerability of the musicians appears to be less than before Katrina.

This chapter showed the importance of music for New Orleans throughout the history and the devastating impact of Katrina on New Orleans. When looking at disasters the vulnerability of people is important to take into account. It is important not only to look at the comparison between before and after the disaster but also at how this vulnerability has changed and how the vulnerable empower themselves despite their helplessness during a disaster. In the upcoming chapters it will become clear how the music community empowers itself and fights to reduce their vulnerability. The music community does this by making clear that they make New Orleans a culturally significant place by creating structures that form the foundation for identities and communities. The next chapter will show the importance of creating a (sense of) place and belonging in New Orleans and makes clear how these senses are important for the (re)building of a community. 15

2. Rebuilding with music

Saturday night at Café Istanbul, a night filled with the band called Voices of the Big Easy, accompanied by many of their friends. The night begins with the performance of the Voices of the Big Easy playing their songs. After a few songs a Mardi Gras Indian appears in full costume, singing some Indian songs with the band. Then the jamming kicks off with singers, saxophonists, percussionists, harmonica players and poets rotating, jamming with the band and playing their songs. The genres vary from great R&B/soul to opera, and with people from Europe jamming along. A typical night that illustrates the openness and the ‘gumbo’ that exists within the music community of New Orleans.

Understanding community The idea of community is a multidimensional and dynamic concept that has to be examined by looking at its context. The context in which a community exists evolves over time and is going through changes caused by, for example, economic shifts, public policy and disasters. In addition it is important to note that community is not a homogenous concept; it does admit differences within and among communities (Hyland and Bennett 2005: 5-6). Because of this potential for difference it is hard to categorize a group of people as a ‘community’. In order to understand the music community of New Orleans the following aspects have to be taken into consideration. The first aspect is that the music community can not be seen as a homogenous community, but consists of different, what may be called, ‘subcultures’ that are mostly divided per genre. The second and third aspects are the symbolic and instrumentalist dimensions of community in which the emphasis lies on belonging, place and the creation of a sense of belonging and place; topics that will be further elaborated later in this chapter. To comprise the symbolic aspect the following definition, derived from Anthony Oliver-Smith (2005: 53-54), is applied:

The word community designates a group of interacting people who have something in common with one another, sharing similar understandings, values, 16

life practices, histories, and identities within a certain framework of variation. A community also possesses an identity and is capable of acting on its behalf or on behalf of those who have a claim on that identity.

To this definition I would add that a shared physical place is also an important feature for a community, be it a place where they feel they belong or a place where they long to be, as will be elaborated upon below.

In order to demonstrate the connection between these aspects I will look at empirical arguments and let the musicians speak about how they see their community and how this connects to various approaches about community. With regard to the heterogeneous character of the music community, it will be demonstrated that despite the differences within the community one can still conceive the music community as a community. Most of the musicians play in different bands that play different genres, which indicates that most musicians are part of multiple subcultures. Each genre has its own subculture but because of the ‘crossover’, in the sense that they play in different formations and with a lot of different musicians from different genres, one can state that there is an overall music community that includes all the different subcultures. Monica McIntyre, a 35 year old cello player and singer, who came to New Orleans in 2009, says the following: ‘I think there is in New Orleans, there are various communities of musicians who are supporting each other and those communities can look very similar or extremely different.’ Although there are many subcultures within the music community, one can still say that the music community exists in the minds of the musicians. In order to explain this, I will employ the concept of ‘imagined community’ of Anderson (1991). He uses the concept in the context of nations. A nation can be experienced as a community when there is an imagined connectivity between the people. The people of the community do not know each other but there is an image of the community in the minds of the people. There are assumptions of congruence which are cultural constructions themselves (Eriksen 2002: 99). The musicians might not be all connected directly, in the sense that they have face-to-face interaction, but they are connected in the sense that they have the 17

same imagined connectivity to New Orleans and its music scene. This imagined connectivity can be seen in the musicians’ sense of belonging and place; they share the same sense of belonging to New Orleans and the musicians believe in their value for the city. The instrumentalist dimension of community is reflected in the point of view of Joe Cabral, a musician who has been living in New Orleans since the 1980s. Joe’s answer illustrates how most of the musicians talk about their community:

I think it’s really cool, it’s strong and again I think it’s based on respect and ability to deliver. Then you start to form communities and build communities and I think it’s interesting, we are all in the same boat pretty much and just different levels of where you at in your career but we’re all doing the same kind of thing, trying to get a gig and play music, that’s what we love to do.

Being in the same boat and having to face similar challenges and the fact that ‘we are all part of New Orleans, we are all in this together’, were common responses among my interviewees. The musicians form a community because they challenge the same problems, that unite them, and to solve these problems the musicians have to stick together and form one voice. For some the instrumentalist dimension is the only aspect that connects musicians as a community. Evan Christopher is a successful clarinetist playing all over the world, came to New Orleans in 1994 and lived there a few years off and on. He came to live permanently in New Orleans in 2008. Evan does not play that much in New Orleans anymore, but nonetheless he is active in the organization ‘the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans’ (MACCNO) which is founded by members of the cultural sector and stands up for all the members of the cultural sector.7 Evan says the following about the music community:

It’s my job to speak of a music community to help people accept that idea that we have the same problems and that we need to move together to solve them but it doesn’t actually mean that that music community exists in its spirit. 7;


The mutual connections between musicians got stronger after Katrina; ‘I think that’s what the storm did; the community banded together. The community came together to support the people because the government wasn’t doing shit.’ The musicians felt a responsibility to support and help New Orleans and its people and to get New Orleans back. What is evident is that the musicians are united in dealing with the same challenges. Furthermore they are united in their mutual love for New Orleans as the city where they can survive doing the one thing they love the most; making music. Herein one can see the instrumentalist dimension that some musicians emphasize when they talk about the music community. An instrumentalist view means that there arises a connection between people only from contemporary social conditions. There is no historical or cultural explanation needed (Eriksen 2002: 54). A sense of community is created to serve a particular purpose. For some musicians this means that they are united because they stand stronger as a group in the challenges they face. These challenges have to do with the ‘battle’ that is going on between the cultural sector and the city government and consequently with making enough money to survive. An elaboration about this ‘battle’ will be given in chapter three. The next aspect that will be dealt with is the symbolic dimension. To explain the symbolic dimension of the music community the theory of Cohen (1985) about the symbolic construction of a community can be rendered useful. Cohen argues that communities are symbolically defined because the production of boundary maintenance and the production of ‘cultural stuff’ merge in the creation of symbols (Eriksen 2002: 56). By means of symbols people become aware that they belong to a community. In other words, people base their community membership on the things they have in common, such as religion, language and cultural expressions. By using symbolic devices a community shows its members its distinctiveness and in this way there is a symbolization of community boundaries (Cohen 1985: 40). The shared experience of the musicians is that they all (struggle) to make a living by the music they play. Being part of New Orleans makes their music an important feature of the unique New Orleans culture. This brings us to one of the main aspects that unites the musicians, namely the place they work and live in, New Orleans. Community and place are often two associated components. Communities gain shape in a certain place and/or aim their desires at certain 19

places. The connection between place and community often originates when a place gain cultural significance (Oliver-Smith 1996: 308). This can be achieved through, for example, music. Music can play an important role in the narrativization of place, as a creative practice as well as a form of consumption. Music plays a role in the way in which people define their relationship to local, everyday surroundings. An example of this relation between space, place and music, is the use of music for creating a community with a symbolic connection based on belonging and a shared past. Music gives meaning to the local, it gives a collective meaning and significance to place (Bennett 2004: 2-3). There is a soundscape of music created in which the local and the global, the individual and the communal, the commodity and the cultural expression come together in one place (Long and Collins 2012: 146). On the other hand, Inda and Rosaldo (2008: 13) argue that culture is not bounded to a place because of globalization. A cultural object like music circulates through ever-expanding networks and reterritorialized cultural objects occurs with it, which means that the object is being relocalized in specific cultural environments. In other words, the object is not losing its connection to a specific place but it is placed somewhere else; it does not necessarily belong in or to a particular place anymore (Inda and Rosaldo 2008: 14). The cultural object becomes culturally significant and meaningful in other places as well. In the case of the music of New Orleans one can see that the music and the musicians are known and appreciated worldwide but at the same time do belong specifically to New Orleans. The music and the musicians are part of the cultural identity of New Orleans. The musicians feel a strong connection to their city, a feeling of belonging created through history and through the cultural object of music. Monica used a beautiful metaphor for explaining this connection and the feeling of belonging:

If you belong somewhere, if you are a native weed in the ground, you are there and you keep showing up, the people might pull you but you keep coming back up (…) you don’t know where else to be…

This feeling of belonging grew stronger after Katrina. The musicians felt it as their responsibility to come back and revive the city; they feel that they are valued for their 20

importance for the cultural survival of New Orleans. The musicians as a community satisfy symbolical, cultural and psychological needs for belonging and meaning. In this way there arises a form of community building that is based on belonging and the creation of a (sense of) place. Hedetoft and Hjort (2002) write in the introduction of their book The Postnational Self: Belonging and Identity about home and belonging as two concepts that are interdependent. Our home is where we belong, where our own community is, and where we long to return to when we are elsewhere in the world. Belonging is a cognitive, fluid and above all an affective concept. Home is therefore where we feel we belong. Home can be a place far from where one lives, the place where one is longing-to-be. As noted above, belonging is a fluid concept. People may feel as if they have multiple belongings, one can feel attached to multiple places on which they base their identity. Similarly, identity in itself can also be seen as a fluid concept, since people can have multiple identities (Hedetoft and Hjort 2002: ix). It may be argued that the musicians are part of multiple communities, and form a community within the larger communities of New Orleans. The musicians feel a special appreciation as a community amongst the larger communities of New Orleans. As Monica points out:

(…) being in the city where music is so important, where art and culture is so important. Here music is everywhere and music is important to everyone. It’s interesting to be part of that important. There is a different value here for musicians than anywhere else.

By means of their music, musicians create a sense of belonging and a sense of place that the people are looking for especially after a disaster of the scale of Katrina. The way this sense of belonging and place is created will be elaborated upon in the next paragraph.

Coming back When one thinks of New Orleans, the music automatically comes to mind. The city lives on music. Because of the importance of music for New Orleans, the musicians are an important feature of the city. After the hurricane the music community was hit and 21

diminished to only a few that stayed in the city. It was estimated that in 2006 only 250 musicians had returned, which is less than ten percent of the pre-Katrina musician population (Raeburn 2007: 819).8 Morgan, Morgan and Barrett (2006: 707) claim that when the space that a community inhabits is damaged and when there is a strong sense of place, this can have an impact on the community. Because of this impact there can arise a situation in which the community has to generate or reinvent their sense of place. It will be shown that the musicians play a big part in this reinventing and regenerating of a sense of place. The vibrant music scene of New Orleans got disrupted by Katrina but it did not take long before musicians started to play again, despite the fact that the city was half empty:

(…) I came back and did that gig at café Brazil one night and that was really cool to just be back, to be playing. There weren’t that many people there but just to be in New Orleans playing music was just like oh yeah great, you know. (…) You know, there were enough [people for an audience] and it almost didn’t even matter you know. It was just like well we’re playing music and we’re in New Orleans. So you know, maybe it just needed to happen on a cosmic level, it was just like we’re putting music out there and it will happen again. It was weird thinking about how it had changed us, because it changed, it was like a new day and…so it definitely had a new kind of energy because of that (…) There was no New Orleans in a weird kind of way, so what are you doing, so it’s like well I get the energy and the vibe is well we’re playing because this is our home and this is what we do. And it doesn’t matter if there is somebody here or not, we’re still gonna play. I guess you have to reach down and examine your motivation like why play here, why not just go somewhere else…This is where I live and where I want to live and this is where my music lives so I gotta play.


Report of the Cultural Committee: Mayor’s Bring New Orleans Back Commission, January 17, 2006, 20PPT%20FINAL.pdf, p. 9.


This excerpt from an interview with Joe, a saxophone player who came to New Orleans in the 1980s, shows the deep connection that exists between the musician and New Orleans. The residents of New Orleans share the opinion that the future of New Orleans is inextricably tied to the return of the music scene and its musicians (Raeburn 2007: 819). The musicians have been the city’s signature for centuries and thus are part of the city. Margie noted that ‘It took a while for things to reopen but the music was there and it was one of the first things that was back’. Musical transmissions and performances are not only symbols or expressions of a community but are also part of processes that can, at different moments, help generate, shape and sustain new collectivities (Shelemay 2011: 349-350). Hence, one can say that the musicians play a big part in the rebuilding of New Orleans. Although the storm has also changed the music community, their goal is still the same; getting New Orleans back as a musical city. Due to the displacement caused by Katrina, members of the music community of New Orleans got spread out all over the United States and sometimes even moved to Europe. In New Orleans there are some organizations that are aimed at helping musicians survive in New Orleans. After Katrina most of these organizations made it their priority to get the displaced musicians back to New Orleans. This shows how the musicians are perceived by people that tried to rebuild the New Orleans music culture and consequently the city. These are organizations that solely try to make things better for the musicians. The organization Sweet Home New Orleans is a good example. This organization started after Katrina, trying to achieve their main goal: to get the musicians back. They are still active but now their main goal is to empower musicians and to educate them in business skills in order to help them further develop their career. By now most of the musicians that wanted to come back are back, but there have been some changes in the music community and the music scene since Katrina. Because Katrina put New Orleans back on the map a lot of new young musicians came to New Orleans to live and work as a musician. This has had an impact on the music traditions and the music genres that are being played in New Orleans. The young musicians want to create their own traditions, yet they have not forgotten where it all comes from, the New Orleans rhythm, groove and sound can always be recognized in the music. Matt 23

Hampsey, a guitar player and a ranger for the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, says the following about the New Orleans sound:

It’s the same energy; the rhythm (…) the music from the street, the street parades, the brass bands, all those things can turn in any genre. You can hear the rhythmic jump in a brass song or a jazz song or bands on Frenchmen Street, even when they are not originally from New Orleans but when they spend enough time in the city, suck up enough…they will definitely start sounding like they’re from New Orleans.

The musicians are welcoming to new musicians, or as they call it ‘transplants’. They see it as ‘more fish for the gumbo’, as long as they respect and learn the music tradition that is important for the sound of New Orleans. Evidently, music is always evolving and changing, but the shared notion is that one always has to keep in mind the history of the music. Music in New Orleans is seen as a way of life and not as just entertainment or a hobby. Young New Orleans musicians like Shamarr Allen feel great responsibility to pass on the torch of the New Orleans sounds. He is an example of someone who combines the New Orleans sound with contemporary music. The music scene also went through certain changes. Frenchmen Street for example gained popularity when tourist numbers started to increase. Because of the influx of the new musicians from outside New Orleans and the creation of new musical traditions by young New Orleanian musicians, the music scene has gotten more diverse. A large range of genres can be found, from punk rock to rap, from jazz to country and from blues to opera. But as noted above the New Orleans rhythm will always be present.

Rebuilding with music A disaster has a big impact on individuals and communities because people get separated from their cultural traditions on which their identity is based; they have to start a process of ‘reinvention of the self’. Disasters are ‘totalizing phenomena’ in their ability to affect almost every domain of human life (Oliver-Smith 2005: 46-47). As soon as the music returned to New Orleans the people were able to practice their cultural traditions again; to 24

organize second lines, parades and festivals. After Katrina the musicians also had to reinvent themselves and their role in New Orleans. They realized how important and valuable they are for New Orleans and its survival as a culturally significant city. They came to see that they are the ‘ambassadors’, the ‘culture bearers’ of the city. The main reason why the musicians are so important for the rebuilding of New Orleans is that they make New Orleans meaningful as a place for the people that live in New Orleans and for those who visit New Orleans. Chuck Perkins is a born and raised New Orleanian, a singer/poet of the band Voices of the Big Easy and one of the owners of Café Istanbul. He describes the connection between the place and the musicians of New Orleans as follows: ‘The musicians merge in the culture of the place, they are part of the place, the culture bearers, they make it happen.’ Another way to create a connection to a place is by using (collective) memories. The places where people live are full of memories that are connected to objects and words. De Certeau (1984: 108) argues that such places are characterized by ‘a diversity of presences of absences’. Especially after a disaster, memories of the time before the disaster are very present. For many people there was a life before the disaster and there is a life after. For New Orleans, one can state the same. In different places and from different people one can hear stories like ‘before the storm here was this or that, or lived that person’. With these stories and objects, any object or story that triggers a memory connected to that place, one creates a presence of something that is absent. A memory of a place that is now gone; an absence that gives a connection to a place that is still present. These memories of objects and words show the invisible identities of the visible. Memories tie people to a place. They make the place personal, based on enigmatic states of being enclosed in the symbolism of the pain and pleasure of the body mainly expressed in words (De Certeau 1984: 108). An example of such an expression can be found in feelings of belonging. ‘This is my place, this is the place where I feel good.’ ‘There is no other place like here for music.’ And in the emotional expressions that come with the stories about the hurricane. These stories make emotions run high while the hurricane created new memories but also destroyed memories because of the loss of persons and objects that share and trigger those memories. Nostalgic memories are important for the connection between people and place, in space and time. For example 25

the memories of the ‘old’ New Orleans from before Katrina. ‘We’re gonna long for the late 90s of Frenchmen Street…when we knew everybody, you know, now it’s a very popular…it’s very Hollywood.’ The following metaphor of De Certeau (1984: 108) helps us understand the nostalgic component of memory: ‘A memory is only a Prince Charming who stays just long enough to awaken the Sleeping Beauties of our wordless stories.’ Losing a place and creating a sense of place, binds together memories and with it communities. The way memory merges, separates and reworks in these situations can be seen in the creative ways of remembering. Herein one can see the use of memories in the reinvention of the self and the reinvention of a community where it is shown that the self and the community are not pre-scripted but invented with an important notion of memories for the commitment within the community (Carsten 2007: 26). It is the musicians that create a sense of place for themselves and the people of New Orleans. Because a lot of inhabitants got displaced after Katrina, the musicians try to incorporate the displacement in this process of creating a sense of place (Le Menestrel and Henry 2010). To get a sense of place is to make the space where people live culturally and historically meaningful (Morgan, Morgan and Barrett 2006: 706). To make the place meaningful and to create a connection between people and place, there is an interdependence created between tradition and place. This is done by performing rituals; something which is only possible and meaningful when they are being performed in that one place, New Orleans. An example of this interdependence is the tradition of the second line. This tradition belongs originally to (jazz) funeral rituals. The second line often refers to the secondary group of people who follow the hearse, mourners and band at a jazz funeral procession, or those who follow the band at a secular street parade. During this walk everyone can join the second line. Nowadays the second line tradition is not only performed during funerals but is also done to bring the community together (Raeburn 2007). By joining the second line, one creates a feeling of belonging to a community. The musicians are, as seen in the example, an important part for the second line tradition. This tradition is something which can only be performed in New Orleans; the tradition is incorporated in the culture of New Orleans, it is part of New Orleans and that is what makes it meaningful for the people who participate in it. In this way New Orleans can be seen as a practiced place. A place where the connection between a place 26

and its people is expressed through practices, like the second line, and narratives. These practices and narratives constitute a set of relationships in space and time along with a social network (Le Menestrel and Henry 2010: 191). In addition to creating a sense of place, this practiced place is also important for the music community. They participate in these practices and express their connectedness to New Orleans through their narratives, their shared history and their (collective) memories.

I began this chapter by arguing that the musicians form a heterogeneous community based on different instrumentalist and symbolic aspects. Subsequently I underlined the importance of place and the importance of a sense of place and belonging for the returning of the people of New Orleans and the revival of the city itself. Herein the importance of music for the creation of a sense of place was shown. These important features are instrumental in understanding the role of the music community in the rebuilding of New Orleans. I have attempted to demonstrate that the musicians were and are important for the rebuilding because they revive the culture of New Orleans. As the culture is revived, the sense of place and belonging restores and coming back and rebuilding the community and the city becomes a meaningful project. Knowing their important role for the city and its rebuilding the musicians became aware of their valuable presence and started to comprehend that they deserve more. In the next chapter the significant role of the music community for the culture and the (cultural) economy of New Orleans will become clear and I will demonstrate how the music community ‘fights’ for the credit that they deserve and in order obtain a secure place for the future.


3. Bearing and securing the culture of New Orleans ‘If the musicians do not come back the culture will die’ 9

In chapter two the reinvention of the self was mentioned. After the disaster the musicians had to reinvent themselves as a community and also as the cultural bearers for New Orleans. How do they position themselves in New Orleans and how do they see their value after the disaster for the (economic) culture of New Orleans? This chapter will deal extensively with this question, and different examples will show how musicians have reinvented themselves as cultural bearers.

As shown in the previous chapters, the culture of New Orleans depends for a big part on the musicians and the music. But also other forms of art are important for New Orleans. Walk two blocs on Royal Street in the French Quarter and you will pass several art galleries, see a street musician play and pass a street performer entertaining people with acrobatic or illusionist acts. These different cultural expressions are increasing but music remains the main cultural expression for New Orleans. When the musicians came back to New Orleans they had to figure out what they could mean for New Orleans and its revival. This process of figuring out their role and meaning for New Orleans can be seen as a process of a ‘reinvention of the self’. The process of ‘reinvention of the self’ comprises three stages: the sense of self-awareness, the need for self-actualization and the reconfiguration of the self (Corcoran 2002: 181). Growing self-awareness coincides with the reviewing of existing goals and the articulation of new goals. Self-actualization refers to the balance between opportunity and risk; by letting go of the past one becomes free from oppressive emotional habits and as a consequence one can generate opportunities for self-development. In other words: try to attain the goals that were set. And in the last stage, eventually, there is a reorganization of the self wherein the new experiences and goals are incorporated in the reinvention of the self (Corcoran 2002: 181; Giddens 1991: 9

Quote of Bruce Raeburn, curator of the Hogan Jazz archive at Tulane University, in Le Menestrel and

Henry (2010: 180).


78). Looking at the musicians, one can say that the musicians went through or are still going through those stages of reinventing themselves. After Katrina most musicians were forced to review their goals and the role they wanted to play for the New Orleans culture and the way in which they are valued for their cultural relevance. The realization that musicians are the people that keep the city together on the communal and the financial level, provided musicians with a legitimate ground to make claims for themselves. The financial potential of the music scene is reflected in the fact that the tourism industry is one of the main drivers of the economy of New Orleans, together with the oil, gas and shipping industry. The culture of New Orleans is the basis for a cultural economy that attracts millions of visitors each year.10 With one of the main tourist attractions being the live music. In response to this fact the musicians are starting to organize themselves because they realized their important value for the culture and the (cultural) economy of New Orleans. Lynn, a singer-songwriter and a longtime resident of New Orleans, observed the following for herself and her fellow musicians:

(…) The musicians have responded to the point where ‘wow! We’re finally standing up for ourselves’, you know…Like ‘No, we are the reason why people come here!’ A large part of the reason why people come here, if not the only reason (…) But, you know, we never really seen ourselves as that important…to the musical, to the culture maybe…I’m speaking only for myself, you know. But I think definitely there’s a bit more ‘Yes we realize, you’re getting all these tourist dollars getting into the economy and we need, we deserve a part of that!’

An example of an organization that has members that are almost all active as musicians is the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MACCNO), this organization provides information to people of the cultural sector about what their rights are. MACCNO originated as a response to the increasing involvement of the city government in the cultural sector. This interference involves the creation of more regulations for music venues, street musicians, artists and the tarot card/hand palm readers on Jackson Square. 10

Report of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center: The New Orleans Index at Six, August 2011,, pp.12, 35.


The regulations for the music venues have a big impact on musicians; are they losing once again another place where they can play their music? Right after Katrina, music was pretty much allowed anywhere because the city had other things to worry about, but now the city arrived at a point where regulations for the cultural sector are one of the main points on the agenda. Because of this regulating focus of the city government there is, what one would call, a polemological space created. The term polemological refers to the power relationships between the ‘powerful’ and the ‘weak’. With the polemological space comes the utopian space where possibilities of the ‘weak’ are created. In this utopian space there is a resistance created to the state of affairs and its dogmatic legitimations which redistributes this space. The utopian space creates a space where the order can be redistributed and gives room for a ‘popular’ culture to manifest. A culture that resists assimilation in a space that has to be created on its own within the polemological frame. To create its own place, the place of its own power and will, it has to distinguish itself from the ‘environment’ where its place is created within. In other words, to delimit one’s own place from the Other. With this delimitation of one’s own place comes an important effect of the triumph of place over time. This allows one to create advantages, securities for the future and a certain independence (De Certeau 1984: 16-18, 36). It may be argued that the music community is stuck in this polemological space with the city government, a space where the music community and the city government clashes. The musicians are looking for an autonomous place in the utopian space where they can perform their art and culture without the constant interference of the city government and where they can work independently toward a secure future. Here, the difference between space and place is based on the approach concerning agency. In this perspective the emphasis lies on the human experience as agents in the relation between space and place. There is a framework of human commitments, capacities and strategies created in which places are intertwined in space. The places are parts of the space. Within the spaces there is a framework of reference created in which places are made (Agnew 2011: 324-325). The musicians show in many ways their discontent about the actions of the city council against music venues that are located mainly in residential areas. They participate in second lines or they play beneficial performances for the music venues that are being 30

threatened with a shutdown, they do this mainly to bring the matter under the attention. Take for example Jimmy’s Music Club. Jimmy’s is located Uptown in a residential area and got a liquor ban because of complaints of residents living near Jimmy’s. Jimmy’s Music Club is trying to re-open but this liquor ban prevents them from re-opening. As a response the owners of the bar are legally fighting against the liquor ban. To support this fight and to help to collect the money to pay the legal fees, local musicians organized three days of live music to help Jimmy’s in fighting this ban.11 After Katrina the city government commissioned to create a Master Plan about how New Orleans should look like and how the city could be created into a sustainable and livable city again. With this Master Plan there is also a Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO) created. The Master Plan and the CZO that is referred to is from 2010 and is a plan of how New Orleans should look like per zone in 2030. The Master Plan states the following concerning rezoning:

The purpose and intent of each zoning district will make clear what type of development would be expected, consistent with the Master Plan policies and future land use map, setting standards for location, size, shape and character of new development and how developments fit together (Master Plan 2010: 38-39).

The Master Plan (2010: 44) policy dictates that the downtown area will be a ‘vibrant 24hour neighborhood and commercial/entertainment district’ and the CZO (2010: 14.31) states ‘support the clustered development of museums and cultural venues by creating a district for these uses and supporting retail and visitor services that promote the arts, creating a major venue zoning district.’ Nowhere in the Master Plan or the CZO music venues outside of the downtown district are mentioned, because it is not consistent with the afore mentioned purpose and intent of the various zoning districts. It is remarkable that the state of Louisiana just started a campaign with the phrase ‘No America, we will not turn that music down’ where the Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana Jay Dardenne states ‘A true Louisiana music experience includes people, places and flavors, all as


‘Jimmy's Music Club Fights Liquor Ban with 3 Days of Music’, April 3, 2013,


original as our sound’. Here one sees a city government closing down venues because of the place where they are located and a state government that is trying to promote the music and even highlights the importance of place. Hence there is a contradiction between different government levels. When it comes to the zoning and planning of a city it is difficult to include the imaginary aspects, like memories and feelings, that exist in the minds of the people that live in the city. Planners do not experience the city on the most elementary level. The people that live in the city write the urban ‘text’ but they are unable to read it and they are blind for the spaces that they use (De Certeau 1984: 93). The aim of the musicians is to show their ability to read the urban ‘text’ and give sight to the spaces that need to be delimitated to get a New Orleans that is worthy for its culture and its people. The main concern among the music community is that all music venues will be put in the downtown area with the consequence that the neighborhood bars will be closed, something which is not written in the urban ‘text’ of New Orleans. Margie, a singer and a resident of the Musicians Village says: ‘It’s like here’s a city that supposes to be taking care of its culture and they’re turning around and having a moratorium on music licenses!’ The musicians are not only angry because they lose venues where they can play, but also because the culture will be lost in the neighborhood. The music culture is not only important for the money and the tourists but also for the people of New Orleans who want to hear the music and see the culture survive in their neighborhoods. As Evan, a musician and activist for the prevalence of live music in New Orleans, notes:

(…) Culture exists in the neighborhoods and exists in every neighborhood. The corner bar is looked at by the city as a nuisance business, but to the community that’s a meeting place, that’s a place where communication happens, that’s the place where people talk about what’s happening in the neighborhood.

Additionally all kinds of regulations are invented for organizing second lines. This is in contradiction with the culture of second lines, as it was the custom to have spontaneous second line parades. Fortunately second line parades are still organized every Sunday.


In all the instances mentioned above one can see the value and importance of the work of musicians. They try to let the music survive and therefore the culture and the city. This is part of the musicians’ reinvention of the self and therefore the reinvention of their community. The reinvention of the social identity of the musicians stands in connection to the reinvention of community (Oliver-Smith 2005: 46). To return to the three stages of the reinvention of the self, the final stage, the reconfiguration of the self can also be seen as the ‘reflexive self’. This concept shows the importance of agency in overcoming structural constraints. Herein the main notion is ‘we are not simply what we are, but what we make of ourselves’ (Corcoran 2002: 187). The musicians use their agency in ‘fighting’ against the regulations that threaten neighborhood bars so that the neighborhoods will keep an important part of their culture. Next to fighting regulations the musicians also form a voice against crime, corruption, poverty and other wrongdoings that afflict the city. These ‘fights’ make musicians an important group of people that stand up for their cities’ cultural importance and show that they are more than just musicians, they make themselves the cultural bearers that the city needs.

Dealing with competition Musicians are also individuals who try to run a business and make money to survive. What the musicians make is a cultural product but also a product produced with economic purposes. In the competition of securing economic means the musicians have to act as individuals against each other, something that contradicts the existence of communal feelings among musicians that was shown in the previous chapter. Concerning community the musicians stand together, but for running their business, being creative and making money, they stand alone. The musicians stand together but are also each others competitors. The competition between the musicians started with the growing commodification of musical production. As noted above, a large part of the economy of New Orleans is based on tourism. The tourism industry is strongly related to the New Orleans cultural production, as the whole music and entertainment scene is mainly based on tourism. This has been a relatively recent phenomenon. Until the 1960s tourism and music were not really part of the economy of New Orleans. Commerce, small manufacturing and the oil-industry made 33

up a big part of the economy. This changed when the port business declined, the ‘white flight’ occurred after the desegregation in the 1960s, and the oil glut in the 1980s which left the oil-industry in struggle due to huge profit declines. After these events the tourist industry became an important part of the economy of New Orleans. This resulted in an increase of paid gigs, but consequently also a dependence of the musicians on the cultural and tourism industry (Le Menestrel and Henry 2010: 187). The soundscape of the music started to play a role in the branding and selling of New Orleans as a cultural significant city (Long and Collins 2012: 146). This switch of economic importance shows that musicians are not free from influences happening on the macro level. On the micro level the competition is one of the aspects that influence the musicians. The competition between the musicians is increasing mainly because of the influx of new musicians. However the musicians that were in New Orleans before Katrina do not really feel a strong competitive pressure of the new musicians, mainly because the musicians that were in New Orleans before Katrina have a stronger network and are already known within the music and entertainment business of New Orleans. The competition between the musicians that lived in New Orleans before Katrina is not really seen as competition, more as friendly competition. The competition sets the bar high and forces the musicians to be creative. Next to the fact that the musicians need ‘to get their hustling skills together’. Joe, a musician who has been living in New Orleans since the 1980s, sees that the competition has a positive effect on musicians and the music:

Also ambition counts for some of it. And the competition is, I think it’s good, it just leaves out the people that aren’t gonna hang (…) Me personally I spend a lot of time working on my craft, I didn’t used to I kind of was like ‘whatever’. But then I realized I have to step up and there are just a million cats behind you (…) especially around here, so you really have to be some what tenacious and a little driven and kind of fearless because you gotta go ‘hé this is me!’ You gotta network, make connection.

Musicians are forced to create a business mind. They are running a business, hustling for gigs, writing songs, recording new albums, and trying to get funds to finance everything. 34

It is not just a cultural expression for a musician, it is a business. Evan states that some musicians should develop this business sense more:

We are entrepreneurs, running our own businesses and the biggest problem is that the musicians aren’t taking enough responsibility for functioning in their careers, like responsible people would in their business, that’s one of the biggest problems. (…) if we don’t look at ourselves as a piece of that business model, we’re lost. The pressure is for the musicians, is to act in that way more.

This sense of business is needed because of the commodification of the musical production. Music is not only seen as a cultural product but as a commodity. One of the main goals of the musician is to sell her or his music and make money. The problem in New Orleans is that the supply of music is higher than the demand. This makes it harder for musicians to demand a higher pay for gigs. There are always other musicians who do it for less and for the exposure because they need to make a name within the music scene. They do not make a distinction between the ‘authentic’ community based New Orleans music and the commoditized New Orleans music productions because their main concern is survival within the competition (Raeburn 2007: 814). Because of the higher supply, the economic value of the music decreases which makes it more difficult for the musicians to make a living. Especially when the demand decreases due to the closing of different music venues by the city government. Fortunately the cultural value of the musicians stays strong, which is especially the case for the musicians that know the New Orleans of before Katrina. In this chapter the important role that the musicians play in the culture and the (cultural) economy of New Orleans was explored. Furthermore, it was argued that the music community came to realize this for themselves. This realization is being explained by using the concept of the ‘reinvention of the self’. With this realization came a better organization of the music community to stand strong in the ‘battle’ between the music community and the city government of New Orleans. In this battle the music community tries to create a space where they can freely express their art and where a secure future can be imagined. 35

4. Imagining a secure future

Doesn’t matter, let come what may I ain’t ever going to leave this town This city won’t wash away This city won’t ever drown. (Steve Earle 2012)12

In what way did hurricane Katrina influence the music community? What changed in their perspective and how do they perceive their role as musicians of New Orleans for the future? What do these findings tell us about communities after a disaster and the change in their degree of vulnerability in the present and the future? These are the main question that will be answered in this chapter. This chapter constitutes as a concluding chapter wherein the previous chapters will come together in a couple of concluding paragraphs.

Going back to normal In the disaster anthropology the emphasis lies on the impact of a disaster over a short period of time. It has been shown that it is important to look at the impact of a disaster also over a longer period of time. In the immediate aftermath as well as over a longer period after Katrina, one can see that the musicians were and still are important for the creation of a (sense of) place for themselves and for New Orleans in general. Returning musicians to New Orleans brought with them a sense of normality that the people were looking for after the storm that devastated a big part of the city. Matt, a musician and ranger for the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, noticed the following when he came back after the hurricane:

New Orleans residence embraced anything that was close to normal after the storm. So if there was a festival or something that was coming together, or there was a band playing because that was a part, you know, something that give you a


Earle, S. 2012. This City. On I’ll never get out of this world alive. New West Records.


break from gutting your house or dealing with mold or mildew or finding a place to stay, that was a return to a sense of normalcy.

For this sense of normality elements of the self, like place and community need to be recreated in the cultural constructs of space and time (Oliver-Smith 2005: 70). A disaster can show the importance of place and the attachment that exists to that place (OliverSmith and Hoffman 2002: 10). For Katrina the same applies. The connection to New Orleans and its residents is strong. The role of a cultural object like music is important for this connection. This makes the musicians one of the main ponents for creating this connection by generating a sense of place and with it a sense of belonging based on a shared history and (collective) memories. For the re-creation of the music community the concept of the ‘reinvention of the self’ can be applied. The music community created new goals because they realized the important role that they play for the culture of New Orleans. In reinventing their community the musicians created a positive change in their degree of vulnerability, which made them go through, what may be termed, a cultural revaluation. Wherein cultural conservation comes with nostalgic memories of a time that is not present anymore but that has to be re-created for the utopian space of the imagined future. The point is that a disaster can show communities their vulnerability which can make them realize that they deserve better and will make them try to reinvent their role in the community and space wherein they attempt to create a better, utopian place over time, which will hopefully result in a decline of vulnerability. The risk is that the utopia can be deceptive because the imaginations that come with the utopia are difficult to realize. Herein imaginations can not only be understood as an evocation of images of a reality which is not present, but also as a participation in these images to try to create a presence of the imagined. Imaginations are created by the mind that is engaged and influenced by its own past and thoughts but mingles freely through the lines of the senses (Ingold 2012: 3, 16). Memories are a component of the imagined. One way of imagining the past for the present is called the quotidian mode. In this mode the objects and narratives that remained from the past provide a basis to carry on in the present and eventually to the future. The past gets obscured by the present but the past is rooted in the unobtrusive and unmarked ground of the everyday (Ingold 2012: 37

8-9). The quotidian mode of imagining is one of the main modes one could apply for the situation of the musicians of New Orleans. The nostalgic memories of the ‘old’ New Orleans from pre-Katrina are part of the imaginations they have for the future. The musicians are striving for an autonomous place where the rich music history of New Orleans can live on and be part of the everyday life of the present, with the risk of having a deceptive utopia for the imagined future.

Regaining pride Many times during this thesis the pride and value that musicians feel they regained after Katrina, especially in the years directly after the storm has been discussed. The musicians have these feelings of pride because the people that came back after the storm gave them the appreciation for coming back and bringing the music back to the streets of New Orleans. As Alexis Marceaux, a 23 year old musician and native New Orleanian, puts it:

After Katrina it was quiet, there was no music, that showed to people that the music is not a given and that gave for a lot of people the music more value. (…) It goes back to the pride coming back through the music. It came back and it came back stronger.

In response the musicians started to organize and try to create that autonomous space that they need. A place where the space and time are combined in a place where the musicians can express their cultural sense and survive by means of this expression alone. The embodied experience of other people’s way of emplacing are filled with (collective) memories, imaginations or experiences. This shows how others remember and imagine their own experiences and how it is embodied in their sense of the remembered past, the direct present and the imagined future (Pink 2008: 193). The recent past is being remembered as a rich past with the freedom of cultural expressions, a time to reminisce about. The present as a time to organize, fight for, obtain and preserve a place for the valuable cultural expressions that are being threatened by legislation. And eventually trying to preserve this (utopian) place for a secure future one can only imagine about. 38


I would like to thank every informant for telling their story, in particular the musicians that were open to tell about their lives and experiences as musicians in New Orleans. These were the stories that form the base of this thesis. As well as the conversations, I would also like to express gratitude for the invitations to the many gigs and parties visited. I had the most enjoyable time in New Orleans and most of it was because I met a lot of great and inspiring people. The people I met and New Orleans in general have a special place in my heart. I would also like to thank my lovely housemates for making New Orleans a great home for three months and for accompanying and inviting me to great gigs and parties. It was a crazy but enjoyable experience living with y’all! Last but not least, I would like to thank my supervisor, friends and family for supporting me during my fieldwork and especially in the process of writing this thesis, I really appreciate it.


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Appendix 1: The urban tour


Appendix 2: The neighborhoods