Our examination of the Clave
and the legacy of Africa upon the history of music comes to a close as does the month of June (which has proven to be a test of stamina with days upon daze of 96 degree air temperatures.) I would like to return to the old landmark of Nouvelle Orleans.
The year was 1718; nevertheless from a tape annotated, “5/4/76” we can forever hear Mr. Barker conduct a Q&A on New Orleans history with the Xavier University students – with characteristic side trips. I ask you, Dear Reader: How effective would an examination of New Orleans be without a questioning of the French, and of the slaves?
From 1719-1723 the number of West African slaves grew to 2083, and the turbulent first decades of the colony unfolded along a “beautiful crescent” of high ground only 100 miles from the Sea. It is said that: All that these Africans came with was the drum. The people were the drums.
How would I have answered Mr. Barker's question? Why were
African drums strictly forbidden in the United States of America...? The drums were the dream. While I myself cannot produce any credible evidence of how languages have developed, it seems safe to say that our ancient ancestors were expressing themselves on drums long before their descendants were to begin to express themselves with their tongues.
Less than 300 years ago after West Africans and their descendants continued to "survive under this system” – and then later, only less then 200 years ago when Afro-Haitians also emigrated to New Orleans following the Haitian Revolution, there was a particular manifestation of the African “language” which occurred on most if not every Sunday, just beyond the ramparts of the city. This manifestation is now what we call, Congo Square. The magic was no myth. Mr. Barker offers a rather simple explanation for why this occurred so openly and was, by historical accounts, quite the attraction. New Orleans was founded (and lost, and won, and sold) by Frenchmen.
Danny Barker had a unique way of summing up vast ideas. Nevertheless, here we are. This passed Sunday, I had the privilege and pleasure of standing out... dancing... in the blessed summer rain (I think it was #4 during this month of June,) in the middle of “Congo Square” – which is now a part of Louis Armstrong Park and also in conjunction with The New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park, while the drums of the Bichini Bia Congo Dance Theater
communicated with the forces of nature.
It was quite cleansing.
It sounds an echo in my soul.
Peace & Pops,
Maison Musique, New Orleans
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Danny (who obviously was quite a talker) told me to sing!