Post-Katrina, Music Still Thrives In New Orleans Five years after Hurricane Katrina, DJ David Kunian says music in the city is back on track. He highlights his favorite music to come out of New Orleans in 2010, including Mardi Gras Indian group 101 Runners and funk band Galactic.
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Post-Katrina, Music Still Thrives In New Orleans

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Post-Katrina, Music Still Thrives In New Orleans

Post-Katrina, Music Still Thrives In New Orleans

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(Soundbite of music)

101 RUNNERS (Music Group): Let's go get 'em, y'all!


Now, we started today's show talking about the way business entrepreneurs have flocked to New Orleans in the five years since Katrina. Well, there's another entrepreneurial boom going on there, an explosion of music.

David Kunian has been taking it all in. He hosts a problem called "The Kitchen Sink" at Jazz and Heritage Radio Station, WWOZ, and he joins me from New Orleans with a stack of records.

Welcome to the show, David.

Mr. DAVID KUNIAN (Host, "The Kitchen Sink"): Great to be here.

CORNISH: So this music that we're playing right now, why'd you pull this from the stack, and what is it?

Mr. KUNIAN: This is the 101 Runners, "Let's Go Get 'Em." It's a Mardi Gras Indian funk band. The Mardi Gras Indians are a long tradition in New Orleans, in the Back O' Town, where black folks have dressed as Native Americans to honor the connections that have gone back since the beginning of New Orleans between Native Americans and African-Americans.

CORNISH: And people might be familiar with the imagery from sort of photos of Mardi Gras and these big, elaborate costumes, really gorgeous.

Mr. KUNIAN: Yeah. Mardi Gras Indians generally are a kind of percussion and chant music, call and response. But in the early '70s, a couple of the Mardi Gras Indian tribes got together with some great funk musicians and put the chants to funk music. And it took off, and it's been some of the greatest funk ever recorded. And this is kind of the latest and best version of it.

(Soundbite of song, "Let's Go Get 'Em")

101 RUNNERS: (Singing) Let's go get 'em...

CORNISH: And this is the group 101 Runners, and the song is "Let's Go Get 'Em."

All right, I want to switch gears and play a different kind of dance music. And this is from a band called Galactic. And they're joined on this track by a performer named Big Freedia, and there's a lot to talk about here. But first, let's listen to that collaboration on this song called "Double It."

(Soundbite of song, "Double It")

GALACTIC (Music Group): (Singing) Freedia...

CORNISH: Now, Galactic is a funk band that's been recording for a few years now. But Big Freedia is from a completely different universe, in a way, and I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about this artist.

Mr. KUNIAN: Big Freedia is a transvestite rapper. There's a subgenre of music around here. It's bounce music, but it's called sissy bounce music because it is performed by transvestites. It's basically rapping over something called the Triggerman beat. And it has a lot of call out to your neighborhood, and, you know, everyone from the Third Ward do this, and everyone from, you know, this neighborhood do that. And the beat is such that people dance in a very provocative way, may I say.

CORNISH: Oh, that's an understatement, my friend. I've seen some YouTube videos of bounce dancing.

Mr. KUNIAN: Yeah, people make their posterior move in a way that defies imagination.

CORNISH: Right, right. It involves basically bending over and grabbing your ankles, I think, and bouncing and shaking it in front of the crowd.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Double It")

GALACTIC: (Singing) Drop, gitcha. Drop, gitcha...

CORNISH: I mean, this term, sissy bounce, and sort of maybe gay or transvestite and rapper not being in the same sentence, are you surprised at how big this has gotten? Because I have to admit, sometimes I'm surprised the same place that gave us, like, Li'l Wayne is giving us Big Freedia.

Mr. KUNIAN: I'm not that surprised in New Orleans because New Orleans is also the place that Little Richard got his start. Bobby Marchan, who is a drag performer, sang with Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns, and some of the great "Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie-Woogie Flu" and those kind of songs in the '50s and '60s.

So I'm not surprised that it's popular. It's great music no matter who does it.

CORNISH: My guest is DJ David Kunian. He's introducing us to some of his favorite New Orleans recordings of 2010.

All right, so what's next?

Mr. KUNIAN: We have Meschiya Lake & The Little Big Horns with the title track to their latest record called "Lucky Devil."

(Soundbite of song, "Lucky Devil")

MESCHIYA LAKE & THE LITTLE BIG HORNS (Music Group): (Singing) I'd like to be that lucky devil who gets to burn with you. I'd learn to live on that lower level with a big box fan or two.

CORNISH: All right, she seems to be reviving the sound of New Orleans circa 1920, right, or the 1930s.

Mr. KUNIAN: Yes.

CORNISH: I mean, tell me a little bit about this artist.

Mr. KUNIAN: Meschiya's been in town for a couple of years. She sings on the street with this band, on Royal Street in the pedestrian mall during the day, and then has a couple steady gigs kind of downtown from the French Quarter each week.

She's in the tradition of Bessie Smith and Blue Lu Barker and Billie Holiday. And she brings out these great dancers who spin and do the kind of swing dancing you've seen that makes this whole terrific atmosphere that goes so well along with the music, to see people dancing like that.

CORNISH: I'm picturing like, '20s flapper dresses. Is that in the right ballpark?

Mr. KUNIAN: Flapper dresses and porkpie hats and suspenders.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KUNIAN: Or braces, as they say.

(Soundbite of song "Lucky Devil")

CORNISH: Is she reflective of something, though? I mean, is this a trend a little bit, or has she sort of seized on something here and made it her own?

Mr. KUNIAN: She is part of a great scene that's going on, a kind of revival of traditional jazz that's going on in New Orleans and has been since the flood.

There are a bunch of bands, folks in their 20s who have started playing traditional jazz and adding some Caribbean stuff to it and adding all sorts of other things but it's still traditional jazz.

And the thing about hearing traditional jazz in New Orleans is it's not museum music. It's vibrant and alive, and it's still a part of everyone's lives who like music down here.

(Soundbite of song "On the Road to Charlie Parker")

CORNISH: We're going to hear from another New Orleans transplant. And this is swamp rocker Anders Osborne, and the track we're going to play is called "The Road to Charlie Parker."

(Soundbite of song "On the Road to Charlie Parker")

Mr. ANDERS OSBORNE (Musician): (Singing) Yeah, you're a mighty, mighty fool, trying to keep up your cool, living on a ledge, you're afraid of the edge. Never think ahead, you don't get involved. You mess around with trouble that you can't solve...

CORNISH: Now, Anders Osborne, he has a pretty interesting backstory that I want you to get into. David, tell me about him.

Mr. KUNIAN: Anders is Swedish. He came here when he was 19 and played on the streets for a while before hooking up with assorted musicians and starting his band.

And he's a great songwriter. He has written number one hits for definitely Tim McGraw and I think a couple other of the country stars.

CORNISH: Wow. I mean, I don't think Sweden, country music superstar. That's not usually what comes to mind.

Mr. KUNIAN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KUNIAN: He's just incredibly talented. He's a great guy, and he's a really fantastic guitar player. And the whole record is a great guitar record.

The other guitar player besides Anders is a gentleman by the name of Pepper Keenan, who plays generally with a metal band known as Down and was in Corrosion of Conformity. So it's an interesting mix.

(Soundbite of song "On the Road to Charlie Parker")

CORNISH: So what does the music of 2010 tell you about where the scene is headed?

Mr. KUNIAN: I think it's the best year for recorded New Orleans music since the '50s or the '60s. There's been at least 20 or 30 amazing CDs that have come out, of everything from rock 'n' roll to traditional jazz to blues to folk music.

I think after the kind of shock of the last few years, people started to realize how important the music of New Orleans is. And when you almost lose it, you kind of realize what you've been taking for granted and start to value it more.

CORNISH: David Kunian hosts "The Kitchen Sink" radio program at WWOZ in New Orleans. David, is there a track that we should go out on?

Mr. KUNIAN: I would go out on the track "Boe Money" from the Galactic "Ya-Ka-May" record.

(Soundbite of song, "Boe Money")

CORNISH: And that features the Rebirth Brass Band, right?

Mr. KUNIAN: Mm-hmm. In the streets, that's what New Orleans sounds like.

(Soundbite of song, "Boe Money")

CORNISH: All right. David, thanks so much.

Mr. KUNIAN: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song, "Boe Money")

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