Rebirth Brass Band "Do Whatcha Wanna (Part 3)"
"Second Lining in Treme" by Mtume ya Salaam & Kalamu ya
ďSo why do you
Iíd just finished telling Mtume about the cops breaking
up a Second Line in Treme, arresting two of the
musicians who refused to stop playing music. Somebody
(widely assumed to be a new resident, probably white)
called the police complaining about the noise. In Treme.
Let me break it
down. Treme is the oldest, continuous African-American
community in the United States. Treme is located
adjacent to the French Quarter, literally across Rampart
Street, which divides Treme from the French Quarter. The
real deal is that over the last ten years or so there
has been a slow gentrification of Treme. And then
Katrina came and post-Katrina the gentrification bulked
up like it was on steroids.
Donít get me wrong,
I know white folks who are really, really pissed off
about what happened. Itís not simply a racial thing. To
me, itís the end of an era.
ďSeriously, if itís all over, why stay?Ē
I had just said, you could the turn the lights out. Itís
over. Mtume quietly probed. I told him, I donít know.
Itís getting harder and harder.
The main reason I stay is because of my work with the
young people of the city. I teach creative writing and
digital video to high school students in an independent
writing program called Students at the Center. We work
in the public high schools.
The news about the break-up of a Second Line (please
read this report from the daily paper) brought a
round of cursing from my two sons. The younger,
Tutashinda, still lives in New Orleans. Mtume lives in
San Diego. Itís not easy to communicate how deeply this
latest development affects us. Impromptu Second Lines
have taken place in Treme for over 100 years.
In this case, the Second Line was in honor of a band
member who had a stroke and died. The main funeral was
not until the end of the week on Saturday but during the
week some of the guys got together and had a little
Second Line in the neighborhood. It happens all the
time. No big deal. Except that somebody called the cops.
Approximately twenty police cars showed up. Twenty! New
Orleans is the nationís murder capital. That many cops
never show up for a shooting.
Twenty cop cars. Shit, they didnít have that many
musicians in the band. More cops than musicians. And get
this: the Second Line was about to disperse. Half a
block to go.
Half a block.
One high schooler who was there told me, ďThey werenít
acting up or nothing. My mama wouldnít have let me go
out there if they were acting crazy.Ē
I donít knowÖ Iím not at a loss for words. Iím just
tired of the bullshit going down in the name of
recovery. And as far as I know, not one politician
(black, white, Asian, Hispanic or whateverónot one) has
stood up do denounce this incarceration of New Orleans
Katrina part two.
When you read the Second Line article online be sure to
read the comments. Read how many people think itís about
getting a parade permit. Read how we need laws.
For a long time slavery was legal.
What you trying to say, Kalamu? Iím not ďtryingĒ to say
nothing. Iím saying the worst part of this is that new
residents, politicians and law-and-order loving citizens
of New Orleans are ready to shut down New Orleans street
Clearly, itís against the law to ďDo Whatcha Wanna.Ē
ďDo Whatcha WannaĒ
A Celebration of New Orleans Music)
is close to a Rebirth/New Orleans theme song, perfectly
encapsulating the traditional laissez faire attitude and
reality of black New Orleans. Itís damn near a sacred
chant. Alas, itís also an epitaph for a time and for an
attitude on the ropes, going, as another epic songs
says, going down slow.
Trumpeter/vocalist Kermit Ruffins who is featured on
ďWhat Is New OrleansĒ (from
the former lead trumpeter and co-founder of Rebirth
Brass Band. Kermit went solo and established himself as
the latest in a long line of trumpet players who embody
New Orleans cultureóa line that stretches back to Buddy
Bolden, the legendary founder of New Orleans brass band
ďFeel Like Funkiní It Up,Ē (from
Feel Like Funkiní
It Up) is quintessential Rebirth. Itís what they
do when they roll through the streets. Believe it or not
this is dance musicóbut dance of the African retention
kind. Dance done in the streets. Everybody improvising
their own steps. Everybody on the one, bopping to the
same beat. Itís a miracle of chaotic uniformity. Itís
like we all be holding hard to a live electrical wire,
each of us charged up by the same voltage, all of us
jerking and jumping in our own individual way. There is
no feeling quite like it except maybe in church when
they catch the spirit, or down in Haiti, or over in
Brazil, or on the coast of Ghana, and on and on wherever
black folk are free enough to make our own music in our
own way without the requirement of anyone elseís
permission or consideration.
Thereís a tradition to this music both in New Orleans
and through out the diaspora as well, of course, also in
our traditional home in Africa. Rebirth is just a local
manifestation of a much larger African heritage cultural
In another life back in the
mid-eighties, I traveled with Rebirth Brass Band,
bringing them to programs in New York and twice to
France (once we toured the countryside near the German
Rebirth is a street band. They are rowdy. Always for
pleasure. Ever ready for a party. And lawdy, lawdy they
can party hardy. These cats are the reigning street
band, taking over from their elders, the Dirty Dozen
Brass Band, who took over from their elders the Olympia
Brass Band, and so forth and so on. Dirty Dozen mixed
modern jazz with traditional jazz. Rebirth brought R&B
and funk to the table, mixed in with traditional New
Orleans brass band music.
I love what Rebirth do.
Anywhere else in the United States they would have been
regulated (parade permits would most definitely have
been required) long time ago. But in New Orleans an
impromptu Second Line was (emphasis on the past tense
verb: ďwasĒ) the norm.
I donít believe any of us saw this latest muzzling of
bands like Rebirth coming through the after-slaughter
Katrina enabled. Who would have believed you could get
arrested for Second Lining in Treme?
You better listen quickly to ďWhat Is New OrleansĒ
because the old traditions are fading fast; faster than
any of even the most cynical among us could ever have
(I know at least one or two readers want to know whatís
the problem with getting a parade permit? Iím not going
to even bother answering that.)
And thatís the problem. Itís a fundamental culture
clash. Why should we have to justify singing, dancing
and making music in the street where we live? Think
Somebody called the police. Negroes on the loose.
This is the music of Negroes on the loose.
Listen closely. Listen quickly.
Now, wave goodbye.
óKalamu ya Salaam
* * *
A truly sad
Iíll tell you whatís wrong with getting a parade permit.
Itís cultural genocide. Thatís whatís wrong with it.
People have been Second Lining in New Orleans long
before whoever it is thatís complaining was even born.
Itís hard to believe anyone would have the combination
of gall and insensitivity that it would take to call the
cops to shut down a tradition that is part of the
indelible framework of the city of New Orleans.
Iíve heard it said
that the problem isnít the Second Line itself, the
problem is the drinking, drug use and gun violence that
accompanies the Second Lines. (For the moment, I wonít
even argue about whether or not that characterization of
Second Lines is accurate.) If the problem is violence,
deal with the violence. If the problem is illegal drug
use, deal with that problem. Donít make the music the
problem. The city Iím from is known the world over for
music, and not just any kind of music. New Orleans is
known for street music. I guess I shouldíve known this
was coming when several years ago the powers-that-be
starting forcing French Quarter performers to get
At least in that
case you could argue that itís a one-time process, after
which the performers could just do their thing. In this
case, the Second Liners would have to apply for a parade
permit every time they wanted to play. Thatís
ridiculous. Often, Second Liners are regular people with
subsistence-level jobs. They donít have the time or the
money or the know-how to run around applying for a
parade permit everytime they want to play some music.
Itís a joke.
something you have to understand about Second Lines.
These are not parades. If you arenít familiar with a
Second Line and youíre getting an image of a Mardi Gras
parade with thousands of people lining the streets, you
couldnít be more wrong. Itís true that there are large
Second Lines on certain holidays, but generally, a
Second Line is a rag-tag, mostly improvised kind of
affair, with maybe six or seven musicians and about
twenty or so people following them around, dancing and
singing or beating on bottles with sticks or playing a
tambourine. Itís not big, itís not particularly loud and
itís not a terrible invasion on anyoneís personal space.
I can remember being at my brotherís house Uptown when a
Second Line would go by. Weíd be sitting there watching
a football game or playing cards or something and
someone would say, "Hey, thereís a Second Line out
there." Weíd get up and go outside or maybe just stand
on the porch and watch. After five or ten minutes, the
whole thing would be over. In a way, itís sacred and
beautiful and necessary, but in another way, itís not
even a big deal. That itís turned into what itís turned
into in New Orleans is a truly sad commentary on the
concept of Ďcivilizationí itself. Think about it: a
couple of New Orleans musicians were actually arrested
for playing music. Thatís beyond pathetic.
P.S. To all my New Orleans people:
Keep on doing what you wanna! Shake that ass!!!!!!
posted 7 October 2007
* * *
* * * * *
The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the Age of
By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the
rosy picture of race embodied in Barack
Obama's political success and Oprah
Winfrey's financial success, legal
scholar Alexander argues vigorously and
persuasively that [w]e have not ended
racial caste in America; we have merely
redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial
segregation has been replaced by mass
incarceration as a system of social
control (More African Americans are
under correctional control today... than
were enslaved in 1850). Alexander
reviews American racial history from the
colonies to the Clinton administration,
delineating its transformation into the
war on drugs. She offers an acute
analysis of the effect of this mass
incarceration upon former inmates who
will be discriminated against, legally,
for the rest of their lives, denied
employment, housing, education, and
public benefits. Most provocatively, she
reveals how both the move toward
colorblindness and affirmative action
may blur our vision of injustice: most
Americans know and don't know the truth
about mass incarcerationóbut her
carefully researched, deeply engaging,
and thoroughly readable book should
* * * *
Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
collection of fourteen essays by scholars and
creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late
1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of
Carter G. Woodson and
Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
NicolŠs Guillťn and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America. This
collaborative text set the tone for later
conferences in which writers and scholars worked
together to promote, disseminate, and critique the
literature of Spanish-speaking people of African
descent. . . .
Cited by a
literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the
field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which
most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Boisí
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
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