“The Soul of the City”

Jazz Sunday 2010

What would life be without music?  Can you even imagine such a loss?  So it was in Afghanistan in 1976 under the Taliban rule when music was banned from the country. The only music permitted was the religious Taliban “chants” and the only musical instrument allowed was the tambourine used with the chanting.  All other musical instruments were confiscated, destroyed, many of them burned publicly.  There were to be no love songs, no dancing songs, no radio or television musical broadcasts, no symphony, no orchestra, no concerts.  Conservatories were shuttered, musical archives destroyed, musicians were exiled, arrested, imprisoned, punished, tortured.  According to the Taliban’s fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran, anyone who listens to music will have molten lead poured in their ears on judgment day. By 1996 in Kabul, the suppression was especially severe; coupled with a 9 pm curfew, Kabul became, as one writer put it, “one of the world’s most joyless places.”  It was not until the American troops arrived in Afghanistan that music slowly began to trickle back into the country.  The first musicians performed in bulletproof vests and only after the building had been checked for bombs.  But, after 30 years of suppression, those first strains of music brought with it joy, hope, healing, life, and laughter once again. You see, the Taliban knew something:  if you want to suppress people, defeat their will to live, break their spirits, and crush their souls, then take away their music.  For music is the language of the soul.

It is the soul of this city.  And we know better than anybody else that if you want to empower people and give them a will to live, heal their broken spirits, and strengthen their souls, then give them music, give them a song to sing, an instrument to play, a means to express their deepest longings, hopes, dreams–the language of the soul.  I will never forget that first Mardi Gras after Katrina, the Mardi Gras that everybody else in the country said we had no right to have, seeing those high school bands marching in the parades in spite of all the odds,  in their donated uniforms with their donated instruments, and you knew in your heart that there would be no new New Orleans without this music, that it would have to be at the heart of any rebirth.  This is what the Tipitina’s Foundation, the Roots of Music program, the Musicians Village, NOCCA,  Jazz Fest, Preservation Hall, the Mark Braud Band, what today  is all about.  Music is the language of the soul of this city.  And I cannot imagine New Orleans without it.

Not long ago there was an article in the Times-Picayune about a report that had appeared in a scientific journal, the first ever of its type to quantify happiness, to ascertain by measurable scientific methods who are the happiest people in America today.  The results were shocking to the researchers who could not believe which state ranked number 1:   “Louisiana–home of Dixieland music and Creole cooking.”   Dixieland music.  I have often said it is the happiest music you can ever hear.  And so much of it deeply rooted in the songs of our faith, our hymns, and spiritual songs.

Someone once said, “A song will outlive all sermons in the memory.”   That’s why I want to sit down and let this band do what they do best.  And if you want to sing, sing.  And if you want to dance, dance.   And if you want to clap, clap.  And if you want to thank God, then thank God:   thank God for the happiest music in the world.