New Orleans as a Recovery Model: Ned Sublette

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Ned Sublette. (35 minutes, 16 mb mp3)

Ned Sublette: new conditions… new music

The conversation here, on the eve of the great deliverance at noon on Tuesday, dwells on one of the signature scars of the Bush era, the wounded city of New Orleans. One last swift kick on the Bushniks’ way out the door is the least reason for engaging the resonant Ned Sublette. More to the point at the start of the Obama regeneration is Ned’s take on New Orleans as an endlessly absorbing pattern of American complexity — this most African, most Caribbean, most European and most peculiarly and expressively American of all cities (not least, Ned writes, because it has been for so long “the pride of American music.”) At a national turning-point New Orleans is a model of how battered societies, even enslaved people, re-discover the human essentials and re-invent themselves… how we learn to make music again. “Music is so much more than entertainment,” as Ned says:

Something I have learned concretely at various times in my life (most graphically after the flood that took out New Orleans in 2005) is that after a rupture, when things come back and they’re not the same, the new conditions will ultimately create new music. But in the short run, what you want is to hang on to your past. You want to find a continuity with what went before. The first thing we wanted to know after the flood was if Fats Domino was okay? Would there be a second line again? Would there be another jazz funeral? Would the Mardi Gras Indians come out on Mardi Gras Day? It was of key importance for the survival of New Orleans — not just black New Orleans, but New Orleans as a whole — that that happened. That is a small reflection of the feat that enslaved Africans accomplished in the new world pretty much everywhere they were taken…

Ned Sublette in conversation with Chris Lydon for Open Source, January 16, 2009.

Ned Sublette’s foundational history, The World that Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square, has just been named 2009 Book of the Year by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.

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  • The way Mr. Sublette goes about the story of New Orleans, the history, the music, the line of demarcation, is the way I wish so many non-fiction authors and historians would do their work. He seems genuinely excited about the city and there’s no faking that.

  • hurley

    Ditto to josephmoyer, but then it’s not difficult to get excited about New Orleans, or Cuba, or the connections between the two, so ably drawn here in this conversation, a great follow-up to the last.

  • nother

    I lived in French Quarter for almost a year. $450.00 for a dilapidated one bedroom apt. I had no TV because it seemed ridiculous to watch TV when just out my window was a ticking clockwork of ravenous human drama. Don’t need no stink’n network stories when Storyville is around the corner.

    Ahh Storyville, where the gutter met the glitz. To me that is what makes New Orleans unique, it’s a witches brew in the bayou, of high and low brow. You can taste the concoction when they blow those low-down blues through shiny high-and-mighty French horns. And Second-line drums lay the beat for unspeakable acts above on Spanish wrought-iron balconies. Alas, not nearly enough of those acts happened in my humble abode, but just to backup my theme here, my place was only a block away from the mansion that Nicholas Cage lives in today. The Vieux carre is a commune of the high-life. In this town, even the prostitutes eat exquisitely. When people meet you, they don’t ask what you do for work, they inquire as to your tastes. Culture pervades.

    “There were all kinds of thrills for me in Storyville. On every corner I could hear music. And such a good music! The music I wanted to hear! It was worth my salary – the little I did get – just to go into Storyville. It seemed as though all the bands were shooting at each other with those hot riffs. And that man Joe Oliver! My, my, that man kept me spellbound with that horn of his…Storyville!”

    -Louis Armstrong “SATCHMO My life in New Orleans”

    Even more than Congo Square, the story of Storyville is the story of New Orleans. People confronted with Faustian deals on every corner. A den of sin and pleasure, and each soul playing out individual dramas of indulgence and will. Heaven and hell may be different places but it turns out the soundtrack is the same.

    The locals say that New Orleans is the most northern Caribbean Island because it is surrounded by water on three sides. New Orleans is not part of Louisiana, (although Louisiana and it’s Cajun influence is part of the New Orleans). It has it’s own etiquette, and it has it’s own heroes. The aforementioned King Oliver, but also Buddy Bolden, Buck Johnson, Professor Longhair, Jelly Roll Morton, and (still kicking ass today) Kermit Ruffins.

    Thank you for this program and the incite into the Diaspora. We could talk about this for weeks. I had the pleasure of visiting Brazil during Carnival and I will always remember those drums – the beat of which echoes of eons. It’s as if the African Rhythm is a bush and each one of these locations of the Diaspora (Brazil, Cuba, Jamaica, New Orleans, ext) have carved out their own image in that bush.

    In New Orleans they are still carving, and I can’t wait to go down there and dance to the new beat.

  • aq.battle

    great piece, although i think that more needs to be done now, not just plans for future agendas. Anyway, i thought you guys would be interested in this NO piece I came across concerning what’s happening now a days, with a focus on specific parishes.