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Blues for New Orleans

Mardi Gras and America's Creole Soul

By Roger D. Abrahams. With Nick Spitzer, John F. Szwed, and Robert Farris Thompson

Publication Year: 2006

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as the citizens of New Orleans regroup and put down roots elsewhere, many wonder what will become of one of the nation's most complex creole cultures. New Orleans emerged like Atlantis from under the sea, as the city in which some of the most important American vernacular arts took shape. Creativity fostered jazz music, made of old parts and put together in utterly new ways; architecture that commingled Norman rooflines, West African floor plans, and native materials of mud and moss; food that simmered African ingredients in French sauces with Native American delicacies. There is no more powerful celebration of this happy gumbo of life in New Orleans than Mardi Gras. In Carnival, music is celebrated along the city's spiderweb grid of streets, as all classes and cultures gather for a festival that is organized and chaotic, individual and collective, accepted and licentious, sacred and profane.

The authors, distinguished writers who have long engaged with pluralized forms of American culture, begin and end in New Orleans—the city that was, the city that is, and the city that will be—but traverse geographically to Mardi Gras in the Louisiana Parishes, the Carnival in the West Indies and beyond, to Rio, Buenos Aires, even Philadelphia and Albany. Mardi Gras, they argue, must be understood in terms of the Black Atlantic complex, demonstrating how the music, dance, and festive displays of Carnival in the Greater Caribbean follow the same patterns of performance through conflict, resistance, as well as open celebration.

After the deluge and the finger pointing, how will Carnival be changed? Will the groups decamp to other Gulf Coast or Deep South locations? Or will they use the occasion to return to and express a revival of community life in New Orleans? Two things are certain: Katrina is sure to be satirized as villainess, bimbo, or symbol of mythological flood, and political leaders at all levels will undoubtedly be taken to task. The authors argue that the return of Mardi Gras will be a powerful symbol of the region's return to vitality and its ability to express and celebrate itself.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: The City in the Twenty-First Century


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pp. 1-22

There is no more powerful symbol of life in New Orleans and the region around it than Mardi Gras. The annual festival along the central Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama is an emblem of the area's historical...

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Strange Mergers and Deep Mixture Making

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pp. 23-28

It is impossible to comprehend Mardi Gras or New Orleans or, for that matter, the Americas, without confronting the concept of creolization. "Creole" is an adjective and a noun heard throughout Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, and it is widely associated elsewhere with that region through movies, advertising, and tourism. But the term has a...

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The Spanish Tinge, Second-Line, and the Black Atlantic Origins of Jazz

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pp. 29-36

While the sources of similarities between the musics of New Orleans,rural Louisiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Haiti, and French Guiana between Cuban and Afro-French music are not so apparent. But even a listen to their musical interactions uncovers an astounding amount of cultural ingenuity and confluence as cultures, musicians, and...

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A Festival of Liberation, Protest, Affirmation, and Celebration

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pp. 37-58

Mardi Gras is but one of many festivals that grew not only from the process of creolization, but also from the few ways in which slaves were able to obtain a glimpse of New World freedoms. Slave holidays flashpoints of revolt, or if not, of unbridled riots. Afterward, most of them served as archives of past indignities, fueled by a replaying of...

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Carnival Knowledge: Mardi Gras in and Beyond New Orleans

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pp. 59-74

Mardi Gras is historically associated with French and Spanish populations along the Gulf Coast. However, many groups such as AngloAmerican andJewish cultural elites in Uptown New Orleans, Gays in the French Quarter, and African American middle-class men and women in Mobile now...

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Carnival Along the Gulf Coast

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pp. 75-96

Although smaller in scale and less widely known than the New Orleans Carnival, Mardi Gras in Mobile has been celebrated in various ways since the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Cowbellions were formed in the 1830s and later began ordering their costumes from Paris, but...

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Conclusion: Mardi Gras Will Never Die

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pp. 97-102

The conditions after Katrina and Rita demand that vernacular creativity and the basic rules of creolization be brought to bear on the situation. Improvisation, community bricolage, breaking, and calling out provide the pattern for a future, whatever the details. The world is still there to be turned...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812201000
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812239591

Page Count: 112
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: The City in the Twenty-First Century
Series Editor Byline: Eugenie L. Birch and Susan M. Wachter, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 759158282
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Blues for New Orleans

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Carnival -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- History.
  • Creoles -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- History.
  • New Orleans (La.) -- History.
  • New Orleans (La.) -- Social life and customs.
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