Monday, June 12, 2006

Congo Square New Orleans, LA

"All that New Orleans is - is a result of Congo Square" -- Tommye Myrick, Assistant Director of the Center for African and African American Studies at Southern University at New Orleans.

Congo Square 1810



In 1804 Fort St. Ferdinand was demolished, leaving an area of land, used for the commonwealth, called "Circus Place", and later called "Congo Square". Even before 1800, it was a place, where slaves gathered on Sundays. There was a law that stated, "slaves must be free to enjoy Sundays, or they were to be paid fifty cents a day if they worked." In 1817, the slaves were only allowed to gather for games, dances, weddings and funerals.

When they gathered, hollowed drums were used. They were hit with all body parts. Primitive banjos joined the instrumentation. The music, influenced by Creoles, was not monotone, and at times lovely and subtle.

The dance was creative. Sensual movements, without arms or legs, were particular to slaves owned by Latino masters.

Congo Square 1910


After slavery was abolished Afro-Americans, continued to meet there on Sundays. the music was varied. A new form was heard. This form was played on Sundays, and the sound reverberated all over the city. It was the birthplace of JAZZ.

Pre-Katrina Congo Park



Now Congo Square is part of Louis Armstrong Park in New Orleans. If an outdoor concert or political demonstration, in New Orleans, needs a gathering place, with a story to tell, there is Congo Square.

Congo Square survived Katrina.RENEGADE EYE

28 comments:

John Brown said...

Great post, Renegade. Very interesting.

The Pagan Temple said...

I had never even heard of Congo Square before this. Very interesting.

folkrockgirl said...

Yes, very interesting. I just spent a virtual weekend in New Orleans, through photo-emailing. The beauty and spirit of the place has certainly survived.

Redwine said...

Excellent post, Ren. I did not know about Congo square.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Informative stuff.

Cool.

ramo said...

Never would have known about Congo Square and birth of Jazz. Love such historical posts.

the flying monkeys said...

Ren,
This is just too excellent. I would like to comment further shortly.

jams o donnell said...

Thanks for this post ren. I had not heard of Congo Square either. Live and learn!

glenda said...

Thanks, My grandmother grew up in the old french Quarter, so I have heard stories of New Orleans all my life.
But I neer heard about this.

sappho said...

Very interesting post! I had neve heard of this before, thank you!
-Was wondering what your thoughts were on the eviction of farmers/supporters from the South Central Farm, in Los Angeles today. The capitalist pig, Horowitz, plans to tear down the farm (which feeds 350+ families & provides a safehaven for children) & either turn it into a Wal-Mart, or a warehouse of some kind, which by the way, are many abandoned ones in the same area.

Fresh Ink said...

Oh wow! Thanks Renegade...really interesting stuff.

Fontaine said...

New Orleans is my hometown, and I've been to parties in Armstrong Park dozens of times. Great place!

GraemeAnfinson said...

First time I have heard of this as well. Jazz is america's greatest gift to the world (well, that and blues)

great post

Tina said...

I lived in New Orleans for a year. I have many wonderful memories, one of which is having an artist sketch a chalk portrait of me in Congo Square.

artie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Angels and Infidels said...

Every year the NOLA Jazz and Heritage Festival has a Congo Square Stage that is a tribute to its place in the history of Jazz in New Orleans.

the flying monkeys said...

Thank you for this post

the flying monkeys said...

"Jazz is america's greatest gift to the world (well, that and blues)"

GraemeAnfinson, hello.

Jazz evolved from the categories of "Nigger music" and "race records" to the more lofty status of an American art form, as an American treasure.

It was the invention of Africans in America under the pressures and limitations of an oppressive society, but remains America's premier indigenous art form.

Pekka said...

Wonderful stuff for a jazz fan. My only wish is that you had included some sources where to get samples of this drum/primitive banjo music. Until then I just keep playing my Ella and Miles records and cd's. :)

Sangroncito said...

Interesting post, as always.

beatroot said...

I bet you have an interesting record collection, Renegade. I love music too.

I just worry that the ethnic make up of the place has gone now...how many will come back? And that's bad for music.

Renegade Eye said...

It seems to me, all the charities, help Louisiana musicians first. I think it's great to help the artists. Other people had losses too.

Commercially New Orleans needs the jazz scene. A post Katrina New Orleans Jazz Festival, took place this year.

I want to be clear. I'm not for taking anything from jazz cats, just remember the less talented too.

BZ said...

Nice to get away from politcs for a post or two.

beatroot said...

I am one of your 'less talented jazz cats'...guitar, voice...so I will take your advice seriously, Ren.

the flying monkeys said...

Perhaps there is a political element to jazz and the music is inherently connected to leftist politics?

Dave said...

Just been watching videos of that Ken Burns documentary series 'Jazz', talking about Congo Square.

Glad it's still in one piece, as I've yet to visit New Orleans. Anyone know what happened to the other main sites associated with the city's jazz heritage?

Jim Denham said...

"Congo Square, one of the cradles of jazz, was hardly more than a field edging a swamp (prior to the Civil War), where blacks, both slave and free, mingled, danced, and played their music. Even at this early date, the dances mingled African and European elements, prefiguring the mixture that would become jazz. The scene attracted many white visitors, and one left a vivid description of the astonishing energy and transforming power of the spectacle:

"'The favourite dances of the slaves were the Calinda, a variation of which was also used in the Voodoo ceremonies, and the dance of the Bamboula, both of which were primarily based on the primative dances of the African jungle, but with copious borrowings from the *contre-danses* of the French...for the evolutions of the latter, the male dancers attached bits of tin or other metal to ribbons tied about their ankles. Thus accoutred, they pranced back and forth, leaping into the air and stamping in unison, occassionally shouting, "Dansez Bamboula! Badoum! Badoum!" while the women, scarcely lifting their feetfrom the ground, swayed their bodies from side to side and chanted an ancient song as monotonous as a dirge. Beyond the groups of dancers were the children, leaping and cavorting in imitation of their elders, so that the entire square was an almost solid mass of black bodies stamping and swaying to the rhythmic beat of the bones upon the cask, the frenzied chanting of the women, and the clanging of the pieces of metal which dangled from the ankles of the men'

"The rites of Congo Square gradually became more sophisticated. The music incorporated French quadrilles and military musical motifs. The instruments evolved as well; black musicians traded their primative, homemade drums and horns for for European drums, woodwinds, and brass. They began to play the bugle and then the cornet. They played with Creole musicians, who excelled in the clarinet, the musical eqivalent of a French accent. French folk songs collided with field hollers and improvised shouts of levee workers, all of this music slowly evolving into rags, shouts, stomps, rambles, and what was later called, simply, jazz"
(Louis Armstrong: An Extravagent Life" by Laurence Bergreen, pub: HarperCollins, 1997).

For another (albeit semi-fictional) insight into the birth of jazz in New orleans, I recommend 'Coming Through Slaughter' by Michael Ondaatje (pub: Bloomsbury 2004), based upon the life of the "first jazz musician", the mysterious and un-recorded Buddy Bolden. For examples of that music as it is played today, and general information about traditional jazz, visit the "Riverwalk" website.

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