Edwin Buggage Editor-in-Chief
Taking a Journey Through History
New Orleans is a City with a history and cultural heritage that is a rich gumbo of cultures that makes for a rich tapestry that draws many to explore the mysterious jewel that makes it one of the world’s most interesting and international cities.
It is a place that intersects the old and the new world; and at the roux giving it its unique flavor and the heartbeat that gives it life arguably is the Black people, who create and today continue to build upon centuries old music and dance traditions.
Many of these such as the Brass Bands, second line, marching clubs, the Black Masking Tradition (Mardi Gras Indians), Jazz, R&B/Funk and more recently, Bounce music showcases a City and its people that’s revered around the world.
New Orleans Voices of Congo Square an Amazing Production Gives a True and Authentic Look at some of the Traditions of Black New Orleans (Bold)
“New Orleans Voices of Congo Square is a vibrant and brilliant production of New Orleans’ magical music, colorful dance, and mysterious chants. This artistic creation shares the unique culture of the indigenous people of New Orleans and those who arrived from Africa, Haiti and other Caribbean Islands all culminating on the sacred grounds of Congo Square in the heart of New Orleans’ historic Tremé Neighborhood. It is the Sunday gathering of these people that shaped the current day Black Carnival Traditions of New Orleans.
This sacred backstreet culture presents the pulsating Live New Orleans Jazz Second Line Band, the mystical beauty of the Masking Black (Mardi Gras) Indians, the rhythmic traditional movement of electrifying dancers and all things that make New Orleans unique to any other part of the United States,” says Shaka Zulu, the producer, who is also a “keeper” of the culture who believes telling the story of New Orleans accurately and from a practitioner who also studies the culture is important in painting the picture of the true essence of Black New Orleans.
Due to the crisis of the Corona Virus Pandemic, the World Tour launch for New Orleans Voices of Congo Square came to a screeching halt, confining its staff and performers to their home base. This virtual premier provides the opportunity to present to the World, the powerful hidden history that spiraled into the current day cultural gumbo of New Orleans.
The show is a two-hour spectacle that is entertaining as well as educational and inspiring. Giving a glimpse into the many facets of New Orleans Black Cultural traditions.
The Griot and the Search for a True Voice
While being subjugated to slavery and other institutions that attempted to strip away the culture and humanity and voice of a people, but the traditions of Africa continued in modified forms to create new traditions that continue to be built on to this day. This production explores this phenomenon throughout.
“Voices of Congo Square is about us having a voice, our true and authentic voice. Our story told by us and in this day is very important to note because many have told our story, but I feel I bring a unique perspective as someone who is a practitioner and keeper of the culture. It gives me valuable insight in a way that sometimes well-intentioned people often miss the target when attempting to tell our story,” Shaka explains.
“We wanted to bring our story not just to New Orleans or Louisiana but bring it to the world. We wanted the world to know those Carnival traditions has a historical context and we wanted to tell our story to the world about our culture ourselves. And we realize that anything that is about us is not for us without us. So, we’re telling the whole story through music song and dance. The full story being told for the first time in history.”
Speaking of his bona fides, he paints a picture of his life as a cultural practitioner and keeper and that the production in many ways mirror many aspects of his own life.
“It’s almost bio-pic of my life, I come from a masking tradition, I come from a family of stilt dancers, I have been a masking Indian for over 20 years and is one of the Big Chiefs of the Golden Feather Hunters and we have a company that deals African and Caribbean Drum and Dance called Zulu Connection we started that in 1995. My wife Naimah Zulu, is a dancer and I was in a Social Aid and Pleasure Club “9 Times” and I played with a lot of jazz cats, so it was a no brainer to put all the things I was involved in in my life together on the stage. My wife is the playwright, we kicked it off in 2015 with all the shows sold out except one. Story about lives.”
Telling the Story of New Orleans to the World
New Orleans is a City many across the globe have questions about. It is one that is fascinating that many come to visit, read about, or watch documentaries and films. But often times the point of view shows a skewed and sometimes inaccurate portrayal of what the City is.
Shaka Zulu, with his immense and varied talent has become an ambassador in some ways for the City telling the story of New Orleans that is true to life. And with New Orleans Voices of Congo Square, his audience reach is one that is global.
“I have been to six of the seven continents as an ambassador of our culture and way of life not just a show but a way of life. Authenticity cannot be questioned because we are the practitioners of the culture, we live it, and who better to tell the story someone who is living the story.”
“I go to different parts of the world to lecture on the culture, my suits are exhibited in the Netherlands and Berlin, museums all of the world and I have been to Africa and the Caribbean and I love being able be one of the many people who represent our city and the culture it produces.”
Speaking of the times the show will be streaming he says, “It will be streaming Dec. 11th in the North America Canada Market and Japan, India and all of Europe on Dec. 12th, so they don’t have to leave their living room to get a glimpse of these amazing cultures.”
Coming Full Circle…The Future of the Black Cultural Traditions in New Orleans
In these changing and challenging times for the City, some believe that much of what is in “New Orleans Voices of Congo Square” are withering away in a sea of gentrification, something that’s changing the face of the City and its neighborhoods.
While Shaka understands this, he is optimistic about the “traditional” culture surviving and even prospering in this changing landscape.
“Today I see young people keeping it alive by continuing these traditions and most importantly they are building on them and innovating. I see this as a good thing. They are using their voices to pay homage to what they have been given and letting their own voices be heard. That is what ‘New Orleans Voices of Congo Square’ does; giving us a voice for the world to hear and know some of the story of New Orleans through music, song, and dance.