". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, May 30, 2008

An Interview With Vaquero Re New Orleans

The link to the "Bomb" magazine site is here:

Ned Sublette by Garnette Cadogan

WEB EXCLUSIVE! Musician turned musicologist Ned Sublette unravels the histories and sounds that shaped New Orleans, our most “American” city. Out now: The World that Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square.

Brings together the many aspects of the Vaquero Gentleman.

This is Part 1 of two parts.

Includes performance video clips and photographs.

Here's a sample of what they talk about.

[ NS Well, the word “Creole,” which can almost function as a red flag, has multiple meanings. Especially in Louisiana, where words often don’t mean the same things they mean elsewhere. The word Creole, from the Portuguese or Spanish criar — to raise, as in a child — became crioulo, a person born in the New World. It doesn’t imply anything about the skin tone of the person. The criollos in Cuba were the people born in Cuba at a time when the concept of Cuban nationality didn’t exist, as opposed to the peninsulares, from Spain. The idea of creolization is a fundamental concept of New World cultural theory. Certainly, writing about Cuban culture would be meaningless without it. In Louisiana this word got flipped around to where it meant something rather different. It came to mean French-speaking people. Some Louisiana historians of a bygone era insisted that Creoles were only white. More typically, the word has come to mean a lighter-skinned, and often more highly educated, person of partly French or Spanish, and partly African descent, versus the darker-skinned people of English-speaking descent. For example, Jelly Roll Morton, whose real name was Ferdinand LaMothe—a classic example of a New Orleans Creole. This was the successor class to the free people of color of slavery days.

In New Orleans, it’s a very confusing word that reaches directly into one of the fundamental dramas of the city: racial mixture.

GC Certainly, the word Creole is fraught with misunderstandings, and the way in which people argue over it—especially in New Orleans, where that argument has been going on since the early 19th century—points to the central role that race plays in the meaning of New Orleans. Indeed, it reveals something you hinted at: New Orleans is both a place and idea. As idea, people like to think of it as difference. You, however, by describing it as an “alternative American history in and of itself” have latched onto it as a different and quintessentially American spot.

NS Not merely a peculiar spot, but the logical outcome of competing international forces.

GC Your argument, then, is that New Orleans is not merely a small, different city, but is a city at the crux of America’s…

NS At the absolute crossroads of American history! Over and over again. Including now.

GC New Orleans—at once very American and very un-American! ]


Renegade Eye said...

Really interesting post.

The more you read about Creole culture, the more confusing it's to define.

I think Vaquero has done the best you can do, by defining it in terms of evolution, as in this period it meant this, etc.

I'm sure it means less now, considering assimilation.

Most importantly do you have a good gumbo recipe?

K. said...

One New Orleanian told me that a Creole was a French-speaking Catholic born in Louisiana, with no distinction by color. Do Catholicism and Louisiana birth figure into it?

Foxessa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Foxessa said...

Ren -- The most important element of a good gumbo is the roux. Which takes hours, of standing and stirring as the flour and oil mixture works its way into being roux.

As well as the freshness of the local ingredients as crab, shrimp, and sausage. The only time I had a gumbo worthy of the name outside of its birthplace was a few weeks back, up on Jumal Terrace, at a New Orleans dinner party thrown by a friend, one of whose best friends worked for two days to create it with all the ingredients he brought with him from Louisiana, from his annual trip there to visit his relatives -- he lives in Paris, and has a small Louisiana menu restaurant there, and is the chef.

Love, C.

Foxessa said...

K --

Somehow I forgot to include the link to the Bomb site that has the whole interview, and the photos and the performances. But it's there now.

That's one definition of creole, but it's not the only definition, and it's not really applicable today.

Creole today mostly means "African" as opposed to either French or "American," i.e., white.

Creole vs. Cajun cooking: okra as the thickening agent = African, meaning Creole (okra is an African vegetable and an African word); filé (French word, as in the Filé Gumbo so lovingly invoked in the Hank Williams' faux Cajun song,"Jumbalya" in the line, 'jumbalya, crawfish pie and filé gumbo, gonna have big fun tonight on the bayou') as the thickening agent meaning Cajun = white/French/American, depending on.

This is even more confusing when you because 'gumbo' is an AFRICAN word, from the ki-Kongo, which then provides you with a whole lot more other information as to the heritage cultural matrix that this comes out of.

But here. in this Cajun-flavored good times roll song they thickened the gumbo with the filé powder,(french word) not okra, encapsulating, along with the rhythms, etc. a whole other cultural heritage matrix.

In the earlier Spanish and French eras -- and English too, though not so formally codified, and they didn't use that word, throughout the New World a creole was someone born in the New World, and therefore not allowed the sorts of honors and advancements as someone born on 'native' soil of France or Spain. This explains why Governor Generals, etc., sent their preggers wives back to Spain and France to give birth. Thus the founder of New Orleans, Canadian born Iberville, could not be a Governor General, aetc. -- or Washington, for that matter, could never rise in the British army, which contributed no little to his choosing Independence over the Tory side of things.

In New Orleans, in particular, a primary, self-defined creole is a person of descent from the African-heritage people, whether slave or free, who arrived in the diaspora from the Haitian Revolution, with French-language heritage as well. Mayor Nagin is a typical New Orleans creole, for instance, as is our friend, the brilliant academic, Felipe Smith, from the Tulane English dept.

It's complicated as well as fluid, making it a ripe area for people to think they know something that they don't, or at the best, have just plain wrong, as with so much about New Orleans.

Love, C.

Renegade Eye said...

After this post, I convinced my comrades to have a Louisiana party. We have a dinner/music party monthly with an ethnic theme.

Graeme, Aaron and Nadia were at our Venezuelan food event.

Foxessa said...

It's easier to make jumbalaya than gumbo. Especailly if you can find the Zatarain brand rice packages (Louisiana brand) with the recipe on the package.

Basis of New Orleans and Louisiana cooking is mountains of chopped celery, green pepper and onion.

They also use tubs of butter and bins of salt, making this perhaps the most unhealthy diet in the world.

Scilian Italian style is also authentic New Orleans food.

Love, C.

K. said...

A friend of mine who taught at LSU used to make jambalaya with venison sausage. At the risk of sounding like a 15-year old girl...Oh...My...God. He would work on the roux for as long as it took while the rest of us stood around drinking beer and telling him what a great job he was doing.

Foxessa said...

O, Ren -- There's another essential for a New Orleans / Louisiana meal -- Tobasco Sauce. It's made there, on Avery Island. This pepper sauce product was how the Averys recouped their fortunes post slavery, btw.

Hot peppers do play a role in creole food for sure, though not as in Mexico.

Love, C.

Foxessa said...

So if you are able to find some Zatairin rice and you certainly can find Tobasco, you will do well.

Particularly if you can find a sausage that in some way resembles the essential local sausage known as boudin.

See here, what we mean by boudin. Oh, it is so good!

This also helps explain why jumbalaya is considered cajun cooking while gumbo is considered creole cooking.

Love, C.

Foxessa said...

K -- roux is for a sauce, i.e for gumbo.

Jumbalaya is a 'dry' dish, so to speak.

Love, C.

Foxessa said...

However, K -- this discussion, just as it is, is very much the conversation you will have in New Orleans, all the time, no matter how short a time or how long a time you live there.

And just because people live there doesn't mean they get all the finer points of what is what -- or even agree on what the finer points are -- and the most important thing for people like me to keep in mind, is that in New Orleans everyone considers herself and himself an expert in all of it, and nobody agrees, except at a certain lofty level of scholarship -- and even then ....

I've never lived any place where there was such constant talk of food and heritage.

Which in many ways made it the most attractive place I'd lived, because history is a state industry, and for someone like mel that is paradise.

It is also the most evil place I've ever been.

It's like the person with whom you should never have gotten involved, because they destroyed your life in so many way, and you never ever forget them.

The love affair you shouldn't have had ....

Love, C.

K. said...

He cooked the roux down and used it as a base for the rice. I prefer jambalaya that way myself.

Foxessa said...

K -- Every way possible, that's the way!

As long as it's delicious, o.k., right?

But I still firmly am convinced that you can't do it even approximately unless you've got the local ingredients of crab and sausage and crawfish, if indeed, your gumbo goes there.

Love, C.

K. said...

Yes, I'm getting the idea that trying to define "gumbo" and "jambalaya" in absolute terms is like trying to define "Creole." Which is one of the many things that makes New Orleans and Louisiana so awesome: You just can't put your finger on either. Just when you think you know what they're like, something comes along to add to your understanding. I always tell people who have never been to Louisiana that I can guarantee them without a doubt that they have never been to any place like it.

Looking forward to the Dr John CD's release tomorrow!

Ren: I can't reemphasize F's point about the roux enough. It's key, and you just have to put the time into it. There are shortcut recipes that don't rely on a roux, but they are nowhere near as good.

K. said...

P.S. This has been a great discussion.

Heritage and the, what a subject. One of my brothers and his family moved to Richmond 20 years. Their oldest -- who was about one at the time -- would never be regarded by the old families as a Virginian no matter if he lived there the rest of his life. I suppose they had to have something to hold onto after the Civil War.

It's not always the South, though. There's a good story about Franklin Roosevelt's parents declining a dinner invitation from the Vanderbilts because that would having to reciprocate to a common tugboat captain!

Foxessa said...

I like being where people care about where they are -- love their place and are proud to be a part of it. Cuba is like that too.

In North Dakota, no discussion about it other than to regret how "nobody cares about Nordakota, coz we're all just poor dumb farmers," etc.

I think that may be changing there too. One thing that came out of black pride, etc., is that over these last decades people, at least some people, everywhere have become more conscious of where they are and where they have come from. Amateur genealogy has just exploded in the last 3 - 4 decades. The internet and digitization of local records and newspapers has helped this enormously, of course.

Love, C.

Foxessa said...

K -- We've been listening to this latest Dr. John for a while now -- I forget who sent it.

It's excellent.

Of course.

Love, C.