Hot 8 Brass Band headlined a great day of music in Congo Square. It was my first visit to this famous New Orleans landmark on the edge of the Treme district. It was originally a gathering place for enslaved Africans. During their one designated day off a week from work, they enjoyed singing, music and dancing. The music formed the basis of much of the jazz we hear today.
The rhythms of Congo Square in the early 19th century feature today in second lines, jazz funerals and Mardi Gras Indian parades. The name of the square changed over the decades, but the musical tradition remained. In 2011 a councilwoman campaigned to have the Congo Square name reinstated. Her statements were:
“By restoring the name, Congo Square will continue to be remembered for the birthplace of the culture and music of New Orleans”
“Jazz is the only truly indigenous American art form, and arguably its genesis was Congo Square, a true gift to the entire country and world.”
High School Brass Band Contest
We walked through the French Quarter on a late sunny afternoon in March and crossed over into Congo Square. High school brass bands from around Louisiana and the South had been competing in the Class Got Brass competition. Substantial prizes went to the winners. Speakers took great care to make clear that donations went into instruments for each of the successful schools.
The importance of music to the communities really came home to me. Speakers stressed playing music and being disciplined was the road to a real profession and career. The young men were not just playing in the school band, they were also striving for more in life.
Hot 8 Brass Band
The sun was setting now on a perfect day, a local crowd enjoying a spring evening. It was time for the last set by local band Hot 8 Brass Band. This more than twenty year old group was returning to the city after a long world tour. The band had returned once before. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has scattered the musicians across the USA, but they returned to the rebuilding city.
This evening they were happy to be home and their friends, family and home city embraced them. They played a great set. Music of true majesty and soft power permeated the air. My highlight was the tune in the clip below, which transitioned into Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”. A wobbly iPhone video could never do justice to the beauty of this tune, the crowd appreciatively swaying and singing.
It had to be in Congo Square, the home of jazz. It had to be in New Orleans, this flawed jewel of a city.
Also published on Medium.