Edwin Buggage Editor-in-Chief
Celebrating and Honoring A Rich Cultural Heritage
New Orleans continues to be a City rich and amazing in its heritage; one where people from across the globe keep coming to experience its awe. In its over three centuries, it has given the world many gifts in food, music, culture, and a way of life that merges Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and South America into a rich gumbo. It is the drumbeat of Bamboula, that began at Congo Square, and continues to be the heartbeat of the City.
On August 8, 2021, from 1-7 p.m. at Congo Square, Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra will host the Inaugural Jazz at Congo Square, a FREE celebration of New Orleans music, culture, and traditions at Congo Square in Armstrong Park.
“Congo Square is important not just for Black folks in the City, but it is important for the entire country, and what it represents is not something we should only cherish, but we should also respect it and pay more homage to it,” says Delfeayo Marsalis, emphasizing the global, cultural importance of the Square’s sacred grounds. “Less political, it is like you can never honor your parents enough. This is a place we cannot honor too much. It is more about how our ancestors were and honoring community,” he adds.
Preserving Community and Building for Future Generations
The festival will feature a variety of artists who have contributed tremendously to the City’s local scene and international music community. Jazz at Congo Square was created to promote and maintain the significance of Congo Square, while highlighting why the space is and should remain a Historical Landmark in New Orleans. The festival will also feature local art and merchandise vendors, food from local restaurants, chefs and non-profit organizations that are working to preserve the culture and heritage of New Orleans.
This year’s Jazz at Congo Square Festivities will kick off with a VIP Patron Party at Gallier Hall on Friday, August 6th, with a private and exclusive performance by Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra at the Ty Tracy Theater inside Gallier Hall. VIP guests can bid on the original artwork created for the official festival poster and other items. The Sunday festival lineup will begin at 1:00 PM with a Call to the Ancestors, led by the Congo Square Preservation Society Drum Circle and Master Percussionist Luther Gray, and will feature poetry by acclaimed Activist Sunni Patterson, along with music by the Vegas Cola Band, Kyle Roussel, Mykia Jovan, Tonya Boyd Cannon (from the hit TV show “The Voice”), the Stooges Brass Band, and a performance by Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra featuring music from their “Best of the Beat” award-winning CD, Jazz Party. The festival will open with a Call to the Ancestors led by the Congo Square Society Drum Circle and will culminate with a jam session and a second-line parade led by the Stooges Brass Band.
Proceeds from Jazz at Congo Square and the VIP Patron Party will benefit two other community-based organizations founded by Marsalis: the Uptown Music Theatre—an award-winning organization that empowers youth through musical theatre training; and Keep NOLA Music Alive (KNOMA)—founded in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic for the purpose of providing emergency relief to native New Orleans culture bearers.
“Uptown Music Theatre has been running for 20 years and the kids have been doing a phenomenal job. And that is more like a family. We’re hoping that it would inspire them to do community-based organizations that will help people,” says Marsalis. “Being a resource and helping young people, the Uptown Jazz Orchestra, is more of youth playing music and learning jazz.”
Family, The “Rule” of a Life of Purpose
Marsalis’s greatness is rooted in family. Frequently, he speaks of the influence of his parents and brothers, and how it’s impacted his life. “My father Ellis Marsalis and older brothers Branford and Wynton influence what I do today, and it grew into something that’s amazing.” Speaking of his father, the late Musician and Educator Ellis Marsalis, he says, “My father was real. It was his greatest attribute. He had a great impact on us. He loved what he was doing and lived a life of purpose that’s been a part of how I live my life to today.”
The Flavor of New Orleans…. The Secret Ingredient
While some leave the City to pursue greatness, Marsalis continues to call New Orleans home. “There was no reason to leave a great City. There are great musicians, great people, and a way of life like no other place in the world. I am proud to call it home,” says Marsalis.
Perhaps it’s the mystique, the enchantment or the uncertainty that intrigue and continues to draw people across the globe to New Orleans. Because visitors and locals often can’t quite explain the phenom, many ask, what is the special ingredient that gives it such a unique flavor.
“The secret ingredient? In New Orleans it is those African traditions, the uniqueness, the idea of community, people and celebrations, and the joy and optimism in the face of adversity, the flavoring in the food, the dancing… these are things we trace that come out of the African traditions and other cultures too, but what makes it special,” says Marsalis of what gives the City its Je nais se quoi.
And even though traditions evolve throughout generations, Marsalis maintains that “we have an obligation to teach the tradition that even if they decide to take it in another direction or build upon it, at least they know where it came from and its significance. Young people need to develop a relationship with Congo Square and our culture. It is spiritual and to feel rooted and build bridges to connect generations of the people of New Orleans and our importance to the world in what we’ve created.”