New Orleans and Africa have clear historic ties, but musicians are forging even closer connections through bridges of music and commerce.
Self-appointed cultural ambassador, Damon J. Batiste, who frequently travels between the United States and South Africa, recently took a musical contingent to Johannesburg where they belted out New Orleans’ favorites at two major festivals and music workshops. At every stop, they received overwhelming appreciation and excitement.
“New Orleans music is hot,” said James Andrews, leader of the Crescent City Allstars, who has twice accompanied Batiste to South Africa.
“Everybody was diggin’ that sound,” he said.
New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, but its roots are African.
“Even if you are not musically educated, you can feel it in your body, your spirit and your mind,” said Max Moran, who played bass with Donald Harrison at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival in Johannesburg.
If Joburg crowds were enthusiastic about New Orleans’ R&B, traditional and contemporary jazz, African-American players felt ecstatic landing on the continent.
“Being in the motherland, I was in heaven,” Andrews said.
Damon Batiste is well known on the Cape where he has visited more than 70 times, developing strategic relationships to enhance trade, music, art and tourism through the New Orleans South African Connection, Inc.
“Our Katrina days are gone. Our city is up and coming back to the New Orleans we know and love, but more innovative,” Andrews said.
New Orleans’ music was performed August 22-24 at the Joy of Jazz Festival. In addition to the Batiste Sons of the New Millennium - Damon, Jamal and Ryan, Terence Blanchard, James Andrews, Kid Merv, Marlon Jordan, Donald Harrison, Max Moran and Joe Dyson were among the city’s musical ambassadors.
Terence Blanchard opened Friday in the Newtown cultural district on the same stage as pianist Abdullah Ibrahim.
In the Market Theatre, Donald Harrison, Moran and Joe Dyson backed up South African trumpeter, Lwanda Gogwana, as he broke into a traditional South African song, igniting audience members to shout.
However, this group holds such a get-off-your-feet delivery to the music, it’s almost a sin to sit down,” according to South African singer-songwriter Pilani Bubu.
“Kid Merv kills you with nostalgia as he summons the spirit of the great Mr. Louis Armstrong, as he effortlessly delivers this sound while dancing an old school groove,” Bubu said.
Hugh Masakela, two-time Grammy winner and one of Africa’s premier jazz musicians, sat listening to Kid Merv all night long, James Andrews said.
At South West Gauteng FET College and Bassline jazz center, the Satchmo Trumpet Summit comprised of Andrews, Kid Merv and Marlon Jordan, improvised performances with young South African musicians, “providing a perfect example of intercultural collaboration,” said Dr. John Rowett, a South African scholar.
“There was a distinct willingness from the New Orleans musicians to share their vast knowledge and this kind of knowledge sharing is priceless,” said Brad Holmes, producer of Jazz on the Lake.
Tens of thousands attended that free concert in the township, sat on blankets, clapping along. Crowds stampeded the gate, grabbing for Mardi Gras beads, Andrews said.
The group toured the region sharing “les bons temps.” They formed a second line in the Executive Mayor Cir Mpho Parks Tau’s office, visited the Nelson Mandela house in Soweto and played for the King of the Zulu nation, Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu.
“New Orleans’ enthusiasm was left permeating like strong Italian espresso in a small coffee shop in Paris,” Holmes said.