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Started by justafan, April 16, 2008, 10:05:17 AM

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     Here is a project in which Los Lobos drummer Cougar Estrada participated. This project is to raise funds for the medical care of the musicians of New Orleans and to increase awareness of the plight faced each day by the working musicians of The Big Easy.    There is a picture of Cougar in the gallery, image #17.



When Hurricane Katrina tore across New Orleans submerging 80% of the city in water it took not only lives and houses, it took the city's soul, its heart, its limbs and its appendages - a.k.a. its music. A city, the streets of which were once filled with the soulful sounds of blues and the delightful sounds of jazz, has been silenced. Although rebuilding has slowly begun, the population has thinned; with no patrons to fill the clubs, musicians suffer for lack of work and want of livelihood. Out of the tales of woe and devastation emerge shimmers of hope through organizations and individuals devoting time and resources to restore the lifeblood of Louisiana. Armed with the knowledge that New Orleans is a Mecca from which modern music of every genre stems, drummer and producer Fabian Jolivet created The Congo Square Project Foundation which is producing two double albums solely to benefit this once glorious city and its musicians. I was fortunate to sit down with Jolivet and listen to the albums while he explained the need to unite in times of turmoil, his passion for artistry, the history of New Orleans and its contributions to music as we know it.

"Without New Orleans there would be no Beatles. The Beatles were heavily influenced by Fats Domino. Without Fats Domino there really would be no Elvis; without Elvis there would be no Rolling Stones, there'd be no Beatles, there would be no Led Zeppelin, there'd be nothing. So everybody owes New Orleans."

Congo Square is a park in New Orleans that has served to foster the exhibition of music and performance, past and present. African Americans have congregated to play music there since colonial Louisiana and for thousands of years prior to their arrival, it served as sacred ground to Native Americans. To this day Congo Square remains a crucial area of New Orleans for festivals, parades, protests and concerts. Jolivet's Congo Square Project traces 300 years of history to show that although the decades have seen progression and change, music has continually been a constant and unifying factor.

"In the beginning they were Black, emotional musical and spiritual. Three hundred years later, they remain the same. And through it all they gave us beautiful grooves, the music that changed the world and made us happy. "

The first double album, "Sacred Ground" and "Saints of Congo Square", begins with the blessing of a free man in Africa. The two CDs tell the story of the capture and transport of slaves to America and their subsequent life in New Orleans through the corresponding history of music with a variety of percussion and beat poetry and culminating with be-bop and jazz. Seemingly disenchanted with the current music scene, Jolivet handpicked artists he sees as musically brilliant and will expose today's listeners to grooves that vary from those presently heard on the airwaves but are responsible for their origin.

For the past two and a half years Jolivet amassed a myriad of world class drummers and percussionists to help tell his story including, to name a very few, John Densmore (The Doors), Ndugu Chancler (Stevie Wonder, Santana), James Gadson (Frank Sinatra, Beck), Airto Moreira (Miles Davis), Jimmy Cobb (Miles Davis, John Coltrane), Levon Helm (The Band) and many others whose names may be unrecognizable but whose contributions to music are monumental. Jolivet also added legendary performers, composers and musicians to the impressive list of Project donors including street performers found during Jolivet's jaunts through New Orleans, the Mardi Gras Indians, the Congo Square Drummers, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Chester Whitmore performing a tap dance duet with Louie Bellson (Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman) on drums illustrating the symmetry of drumming rudiments and tap.

The second double album, "Drummers United", is a massive drum circle with drummers playing sixteen bar drum solos created specially for the album, linked by a recurring beat played by Jolivet. Jolivet spoke of the unity and accommodating nature of drummers, shown clearly by the commitments from heavyweights Charlie Watts (The Rolling Stones), Mitch Mitchell (The Jimi Hendrix Experience), Michael Giles (King Crimson) and Steve Jordan (Eric Clapton).

Although the recording sessions took place all over the world and coordinating schedules was a difficult task, the enlisting of the musicians was simple, as all contributed time and talent without hesitation or compensation because of the effect New Orleans has had on their field and the impact that the hurricane had on New Orleans. "Most of the musicians are people that lost their houses. Everybody was touched one way or another. No one worked for years, there's no work, there's nowhere to play."

The Congo Square Project Foundation exists to rectify that horror. Jolivet explains that his mission is "to be a better American than the one next to me. We need to correct the wrongs so we are all happier." In furtherance of this lofty goal, the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, a charity that exists solely to assist the musicians of New Orleans with healthcare, housing and work, will receive the majority of the proceeds from the first double album. The remainder of the income will go to Reverend Lois DeJean (a community activist) and the Mardi Gras Indians Hall of Fame. The proceeds from the second double album will go to Sweet Home New Orleans (an organization for the revitalization of the community), the Congo Square Drummers Foundation and the Preservation Hall Foundation; Jolivet won't see a cent from either.

Jolivet walked the streets of New Orleans as recently as five months ago and unfortunately reports that almost nothing has been accomplished in the way of rebuilding. He hopes that when the albums are released consumers will benefit from the history and culture found in the tunes and New Orleans will benefit from the monetary contribution. Those who wish to open their hearts and minds to a musical experience unlike anything on the current market, stand to gain important knowledge of the history of music and man; those who want to help their fellow Americans recover from a devastating act of God can contribute by buying the albums, all in an effort to answer the following question in the affirmative, "The world is better off thanks to New Orleans. Can New Orleans say the same?"

Release information:

The first double album is currently being shopped to record labels and the second double album is near completion. La2day.com will announce the release dates as they are available.

Websites to learn more and help:

By: Megan Karasch