The foremost authority on Congo Sq. at the moment is Freddi Williams Evans. She’s not solely an writer and historian, she’s an activist within the battle to protect New Orleans’ distinctive cultural heritage. She wrote an amazing Congo Square story for 64 Parishes in 2018.
Congo Sq., now Armstrong Park in New Orleans’s Treme neighborhood, served as a gathering floor for Africans within the early years of the town.
Congo Sq. is a public plot of land situated in New Orleans on North Rampart Road between St. Ann and St. Peter Streets. Within the nineteenth century, it served as a gathering place for Africans, most of them enslaved, the place conventional music, dance, and delicacies of the mom continent may very well be overtly loved. Distinctive within the antebellum South, Congo Sq.’s cultural milieu has led many students to consider it was the very floor that finally gave delivery to New Orleans jazz. At current, it’s located within the southwest nook of the Louis Armstrong Park situated within the Tremé neighborhood, the oldest African American neighborhood in New Orleans. Right now’s Congo Sq. encompasses 2.35 acres, roughly one-half the measurement that existed throughout the nineteenth century, when its most celebrated occasions befell.
This public house holds a protracted and numerous historical past beneath French, Spanish, and American rule that features leisure, non secular, navy, cultural, and political occasions involving numerous teams of individuals. Nonetheless, it was the gatherings of enslaved Africans on Sunday afternoons and the affect of their conventional practices on fashionable tradition that made Congo Sq. recognized world wide. This location hosted public performances of African and African-based music, track, and dance over an extended time period and at later dates than another public location in North America
The affect of these African cultural practices (rhythmic cells, songs, music, dances, non secular perception programs, advertising and marketing, and delicacies) on the tradition of New Orleans is important. The rhythms and variations performed in Congo Sq. are discovered on the core of early New Orleans jazz compositions and have become an integral a part of indigenous New Orleans music. They’re nonetheless heard in second line and parade beats, the music and songs of Mardi Gras Indians, and the music of brass bands that play for jazz funerals and black social support and pleasure membership parades.
Williams Evans’ 2011 e-book, Congo Sq.: African Roots in New Orleans, is available from UL Press.
When you have a while, this 40-minute lecture she gave in Berlin back in 2018 incorporates a wealth of details about not solely Congo Sq., however the historical past of NOLA.
Right here’s how the lecture was promoted on the time:
It has been known as the Floor zero for African American music tradition: The Congo Sq. in New Orleans is the place within the 18th and nineteenth century enslaved in addition to freed Africans and their descendants gathered each Sunday to talk and sing of their native languages, apply their non secular beliefs, dance based on their traditions and play African-derived rhythms on devices modeled after African prototypes. Whereas creolized and European types of music and dance have been appropriated, too, the decided will to perpetuate their African cultural heritage within the “New World” was important for its survival and for establishing a collective cultural self-understanding. In having a decisive affect within the origins of Jazz and different African American musical types, the efficiency, preservation, and hybridization of African-derived practices in Congo Sq. has been ground-breaking for contemporary American tradition.
Congo Sq. has been immortalized by quite a few NOLA musicians through the years, none extra beloved than New Orleans’ personal Neville Brothers, heard right here performing “Congo Sq.” stay on The Late Present with David Letterman in 1994.
The son of one other famed New Orleans music family, Wynton Marsalis, provided a tribute of his personal in 2006. As Marsalis notes within the YouTube add beneath, Congo Sq. is “a ground-breaking new work written by Wynton Marsalis with Ghanaian drum grasp Yacub Addy.” The composition “debuted in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans within the spring of 2006 earlier than a wildly enthusiastic viewers in Congo Sq. (inside Louis Armstrong Park).”
Right here’s many of the efficiency of Congo Sq. in Montreal.
One other son of New Orleans is jazz trumpeter Terrence Blanchard.
Born in New Orleans in 1962, Blanchard started enjoying piano on the age of 5. He added trumpet three years later. In summer time music camps, he turned associates with Wynton Marsalis and Branford Marsalis. After a teenage stint touring with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, in 1982 Wynton beneficial him to take his place in Artwork Blakley’s Jazz Messengers. Blanchard joined and served till 1986 because the band’s music director—the identical position Shorter, the band’s major composer, stuffed from 1959-1963. “With Artwork, we performed all of Wayne’s tunes and we beloved them,” says Blanchard. “Oh my God, his music was superb. He and Thelonious Monk set the desk for me for composition.” That match with Blakley who needed his band members to jot down new music to maintain the band recent. Blanchard estimates that he wrote between 5 and ten tunes for the band—a few of which have been by no means performed or recorded.
Whereas Blanchard continued to be a Jazz Messenger till 1990, he and fellow band member Donald Harrison shaped a quintet that recorded seven albums for various labels. Blanchard started his solo profession at CBS Data along with his 1991 eponymous album. On the identical time, he started working with Spike Lee, first acting on the soundtracks to Do the Proper Factor and Mo’ Higher Blues. Blanchard’s rating for Jungle Fever in 1991 marked the start of the long-standing collaboration. Blanchard was nominated for a greatest rating Oscar for Lee’s 2018 movie BlacKkKlansman and 2020’s Da 5 Bloods. He turned the second African-American composers nominated twice within the class—duplicating Quincy Jones’ honors for In Chilly Blood in 1967 and The Shade Purple in 1985. Whereas Blanchard says he and Lee have misplaced rely of what number of tasks they’ve labored on collectively, it’s estimated to be within the vary of twenty, together with 17 movies and three tv tasks. Highlights embody 1992’s Malcolm X and the 2006 Hurricane Katrina documentary movie, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in 4 Acts.
In 2007, Blanchard produced an album, which grew out of the rating for Spike Lee’s aforementioned Katrina documentary. As JazzWise reviewer Kevin Le Gendre, says of that album, Tale of God’s Will (a requiem for katrina):
This can be a sturdy assertion a couple of pure catastrophe that was was a tragedy by racism and incompetence. Blanchard’s requiem reveals what else man is able to. An album of sombre magnificence that exudes uncooked, stark emotion.
Right here is Blanchard’s tribute to Congo Sq. from that album.
I hope that, for those who ever end up in New Orleans, you cease by Congo Sq.. Hang around and take a look at the gathering of drummers. Activists locally are preventing to protect the house as sacred floor, which Delfeayo Marsalis discusses on this information report from December.
Be a part of me within the feedback for tons extra music from NOLA, and make sure to share your favorites!