Personal and Professional Music Mobility: An analysis of “Roll with It.”

The devastation of New Orleans by the Hurricane Katrina in 2005 brought with it many social innovations to restore hope, ensure survival and resilience on the affected New Orleans. As a social movement, music took the center stage of the counter catastrophe intervention.  Musicians such as Jason Berry with his 2009 Up from the Cradle of Jazz, the 2011 New Atlantis by John Swenson, and Lewis Watt and Eric Porter with the 2013 New Orleans Suite, joined the post-disaster music movement. However, no deep accounts of the after Katrina mobility has been provided as comparable to Matt Sakakeeny in his Roll with It. Sakeeny provides different accounts of brass music including the challenges facing the brass community and social problems such as poverty, racism, violence, and economic problems. He documents his personal growth, and how the society has shaped his brass band. His documentation is based on his observation as an ethnomusicologist.  He took an interest in assessing and documenting band activities and influencing socioeconomic factors. Among the themes that emerge from Sakakeeny’s rendition is the theme of mobility, professional and personal mobility.

In the Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans, Sakakeeny follows contested and celebrated economic environment where the brass brand becomes the music of the city. In the ethnographic study, the author illustrates the "utilize voices and instruments as technologies for producing subjectivity, identity, and culture" (6). His descriptions are accompanied by drawings of Willie Birtch. The ethnography goes beyond the debatable brass issues to reflect on personal and social life. He provides textual, cultural evidence through his engaged with artists such as Birch. His emphasis is the revolution of the mobility of brass music through revolutionists such as Soul Rebels, Rebirth, and Hot. He shows how the music has continued to transform against radicalized and violent neoliberalism that has reshaped the New Orleans’ life.

Mobility is the essence of separation between the contemporary New Orleans culture, and Sakakeeny’s understands of the brass bands. He notes that in any parade, the band is destined to move the crowd. The second lines outline the participatory nature; the band improves the relationship between people by “providing a sense of place in which the social is enmeshed with the political, and the present is entangled in the past" (24). The participation claims public spaces through the black cultural practices including jazz funerals, creating solidarity through musical instruments, bodies, and voices.

Mobility is key to the black community of New Orleans who has relentlessly fought gentrifying neighborhood challenges. Sakakeeny links the current social environment to the urbanization histories such as the New Orleans black music was performed in Congo Square. Slave gathered in the square to dance, socialize, and offer various performances. The history is dated back to the colonial period when the Spanish and French colonialists would capture and enslave the black communities. It was during the time when Treme was born. It became the first free blacks and colored neighborhood. He argues that is would be simple to trace the lineage of the Congo Square music and the contemporary music. However, the line might be problematic to draw considering the "the ongoing persistence and dynamic vitality of outdoor festival traditions" (19) of the black community. The festival activities are a revolt against violence and history of bondage.

Sakakeeny utilizes charts to illustrate how the construction Interstate 10 in central Treme and construction of cultural center eliminated the neighborhood racialized remapping (28). The 1980s saw people of color and low-class communities move into Treme cultural community to purchase houses. Through the foundation of Historic Faubourg Tremé Association, the new entrants hoped to tackle grime, plight, and crime (29). In his account, Sakakeeny documents how the association came up with a zoning system, new laws, which led to the closure of recreation areas such as bars and blocked live music performances. Brass and other indigenous music performers lacked playing grounds. The result was a decrease in performances. According to the author, the new dynamics caused ripple effects such as increased second line policing and funeral grounds. He alludes the strategy to Treme gentrification.

Sakakeeny illustrates Treme development tension with an example of Kerwin James, an artist with Rebirth Brass Band. James suffered a stroke that sent him into a coma soon After the Hurricane Katrina. He passed in 2007. As part of celebrating their partner, an impromptu musician procession advanced the funeral venue, but was accosted by police. The author says, "At eight p.m., in response to a noise complaint, multiple police cars—lights ablaze, sirens drowning out the music…. officers arrested Derrick Tabb and trombonist, Glen David Andrews, as they were playing the traditional spiritual I'll Fly Away” (56).  The arrested were charged with parading without a permit and disturbing the peace.

With high levels of gentrification, most brass music players cannot survive in Treme. The new residents came up with policing which arrested the traditional activities such as live performances. While it is possible the new entrants were attracted by the rich Treme culture; they have no interest in the cultural practices and the music. Such environmental claims such as quality of life have transformed the neighborhood silencing its rich music, which was ones its pride.

After the Hurricane Katrina, the city authorities mobilized musicians to become part of the rebuilding process, but with no appreciation of music labor. Sakakeeny draws a reflection upon Jazz and Heritage Festival that market itself through local music and cultural practices, but pays the local musician meager income while providing hefty payment to national music groups. The role of brass contribution in Orleans rich history and culture is noticeable. Jazz Fest has featured Rebirth Brass Band in a festival poster, connecting the band and the city reconstruction. Despite the role, the band was paid $3,000 as compared to $75,000 of the national bands. According to Roll with It, the goal of marketing Jazz Marketing Jazz Fest is never realized. The goal has been to support the music community following the Hurricane Katrina devastation. However, it has become a lucrative ground for national artists. The author draws attention on low permanent employment for brass artists with the only company that provides them with the opportunities as Harrah’s Casino in French Quarter. Based on the author’s documentation, one is left to wonder the feature of local musicians, considering the low economic trends and the unfavorable political conditions.

Sakakeeny highlights the contradiction upon the contribution of musicians as workers within Treme culture who promotes the economy of New Orleans. Historical, music was an important New Orleans economic product and social mobility. He says, "the precarity of insecure and flexible labor that is so often linked to the rise of the neoliberal state has been a state of perpetuity for black musicians" (77). Blacks in New Orleans have constricted opportunities in the present hyper-incarcerated environment. Statistics shows that in every group of fourteen, a black man is arrested in the metro region of Treme.  Through illumination of various brass bands, the author shows that conditions that allow the success of others while imprisoning another group should be analyzed in the context of economic restructuring and deindustrialization. Towards the end of 20th century, New Orleans economy was hugely boosted by cultural tourism with music as topping the list. The musicians themselves have not gained; however have become known as service workers. The outcome is a twist with culture defined by the cultural worker, and cultural economies are derived from the same individual. While the cultural workers contribute to the economy, they have little to pride themselves with (86).

In conclusion, Roll with It is ethnographic that effectively paints New Orleans cultural ground. It highlights how political temperatures have reshaped the once vibrant cultural epic. Through the ethnographer’s eye, gentrification has been enhanced by governmental policies, which have ensured some people become more successful than others in the same communities do. Roll with It is written in a sympathetic and remorseful tone to the local brass artists, who works relentlessly but are occasioned with policies, which thwarts their success. Sakakeeny has produced an intriguing and interesting ethnographic story in the post-Hurricane Karina New Orlean’s backyards.

Works Cited

Sakakeeny, Matt, and Willie Birch. Roll with It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans.           Print.