Wednesday, April 18, 2012

OMNI, the Big Easy, & an old interview newly translated

As I have done each spring break for 5 of the past 6 years, I spent the last 10 days in New Orleans, Louisiana, leading 25 of my top students on a service-learning (aka, trabajo voluntario) adventure.

Here are my students standing atop the levee on the London Avenue canal 
(one of the ones that failed during Katrina)!

We dined in style at Dooky Chase's Creole restaurant in the historic Tremé neighborhood and visited the site at Press and Royal Streets where Homer Plessy attempted to board a segregated passenger train in 1892 (leading to the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson "separate but equal" ruling and 60 years of Jim Crow).

We also did a guided tour of the city's infamous levee system, worked on an organic urban youth farm (Grow Dat! in City Park), and helped build the foundation of a home in Central City with Habitat for Humanity.

I'll have more to report on all that later, but here I want to briefly report on some of the "after hours" highlights of the trip. The first was the Pigeon Town Steppers Easter Sunday second line parade on April 8. You've never experienced the New Orleans spirit or the true neighborhood roots of what we like to think of as a Mardi Gras parade until you witness (and participate in) a second line parade!

The second "after hours" event of note was a fabulous Saturday night concert by the New Orleans Creole vocal sensation John Boutté at dba on Frenchmen Street - winding up both my trip and the day's French Quarter Festival activities.

Boutté's unmistakable voice is featured in the opening credits to the HBO series Tremé singing the appropriately titled "Tremé Song" - which I think he also wrote.  Thought of as "the voice of New Orleans," he has been voted the city that care forgot's best male vocalist the last 6 years in a row.

To learn more about his Creole background and why he gave up a lucrative but boring banking career to become a musician, I highly recommend a two-part interview he did late last year with Bob Edwards (Part 1 and Part 2).

If you like what you hear, you might want to check out his newest album, "All About Everything" which was officially released today, Tuesday, April 17 (though I managed to score an early release copy of it - yes I bought an actual, physical CD - at the Louisiana Music Factory).  Incidentally, during the concert on Saturday night, I discovered to my very pleasant surprise that none other than my fellow Cuba/Nola-file friend Ned Sublette did the translation of the title track from Chico Buarque's original "Sobre Todas as Coisas."

The third "after hours" event that will remain with me for some time to come, and my personal favorite, was the Stooges Brass Band Thursday night jam that takes place every week at the Hi-Ho Lounge.  As you can see from the photo below, a pair of Cuban friends - Amaury Pacheco and Luis Eligio d'Omni of Omni-Zona Franca - had just arrived in town and were able to join us at the ear-ringing, high-energy event.

(You can check out their blog for their tour dates in NOLA, but I recommend their Thursday, April 19, 7:30 p.m. performance @ The Backyard Boogie, 215 South Clark Street,  Mid-City, contact e-mail: and phone: 504-616-1888).

While soaking up the wall of sound at the Hi-Ho, Omni gave the Stooges the best musical compliment possible when one of them screamed at me over the multiple blasting horns on stage and amid the frenzied footwork of the many dancers on the floor that he felt like he was back in Cuba (culturally speaking, of course)!

Finally, let me add this: As readers of El Yuma might remember, a few weeks ago I put up a 19-minute video interview (with English subtitles) that Yoani Sanchez did late last year with three members of Omni.  I also provided a link to the text of an extended Spanish-language interview she did with them back in 2007.  Well, now that first interview is available in English as:

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