Friday, January 4, 2008

Fats Domino: Rebuilding A Home

On the 23st of August Katrina hit New Orleans with a devastating force. When the levees broke, some 80% of the city was flooded. The lower ninth ward, home to much of the cities poor, Black and disenfranchised, was completely destroyed as president "bystander" Bush shamefully looked the other way, prompting Kanye West to speak the infamous words "George Bush doesn't care about Black people". But even before the storm hit the city, and matters became federal, the sights of New Orleans were shocking. I remember seeing people trying to get out of the city by foot, because they couldn't afford to go by any other means of transportation. Katrina not only destroyed the city, it laid America's poverty bare for the world to see. When I saw the photos shot in New Orleans after the storm for the first time at the World Press Exhibit I thought I was looking at a third world country. Only when I looked closer to see the post script I realized these pictures were shot in one of the richest countries in the world. The moral and humanitarian bankruptcy of America's brand of capitalism was naked to the eye of the world. Unfortunately the outrage about those images of poverty and the mismanagement of government was quickly put to rest. Katrina failed to kick start any real discussion in society about the measures needed to confront poverty. Such a discussion simply didn't fit in the neo-conservative and intellectual barren agenda of Dubya and his. Although the Fats Domino tribute "Going Home" isn't going to chance that sad fact, I do feel releases like that are important not only as a reminder of the disaster that hit New Orleans, but of what it made clear as well. Parts of America are closer to the Third World than to the rich West.

Aside from the humanitarian disaster, Katrina was a cultural disaster as well when most of the cities instruments and musicians were lost. La Nouvelle-Orléans was founded by the French 1718 and soon became one of the main ports of the south. As such it was an important import point of African slaves. Ironically New Orleans was also a city where free slaves could co-exists with the European populous for a long time. This created an environment where cultural exchange was possible in a way that was unique in the New World. "Gens de Couleur Libres", the Free People of Color, or the Creoles as they became popularly known, infused their culture in what was the most European city of America. New Orleans essentially defined what would become the American melting pot. Starting with Creole influences in European classical music through the likes of Charles Lucien Lambert or Edmond Dédé, New Orleans would soon be giving birth to Jazz, a musical form that in my mind is as much indebted to Creole influences as European influences. In New Orleans the European marching bands and other musical forms were transformed to something that was unique to the city. New Orleans has been funky with the sweat of its musicians from day, constantly cooking and swiping each other's recipes. That Gumbo has had an impressive roster of musicians over time, ranging from Kid Ory to Louis Armstrong, from Professor Longhair to Doctor John, from the Neville Brothers to the Meters and from Fats Domino to Allen Toussaint; to name but a few.

Fats Domino is one of those quintessential New Orleans artists that was long overdue for a tribute album. The Fat Man was at the cradle of R&R when his single with the same name made a national impact on the charts. Though not as flamboyant as Little Richard, his laid back rolling piano style was as instrumental in the development of the genre as the latter. When Katrina approached the city, Fats chose to stay home. While at first he was rumored to be dead, "R.I.P. Fats, you'll be missed was written" was even spray painted on his house, Fats survived the flood, losing his house. This giant of New Orleans was as homeless. Through charity Fats was housed again in 2006, choosing to stay in his old neighborhood and city. Undoubtedly an inspiration for other artists to slowly come back. Fats had already payed his debt by donating the proceeds of his 2006 album "Alive and Kicking" to the Tipitina's Foundation. As a charity organization Tipitina's focuses on rebuilding the cultural heart of the city by supplying the musicians of the city with new instruments amongst things. Proceeds of the Fats Domino tribute album "Going Home" will go to this fine organization as well. Charities like Tipitina's are instrumental in giving the city its old glory back, that alone should be reason enough to buy the album.

"Going Home" is not only a stunning tribute to the music of Fats Domino but a startling testament of New Orleans musical heritage as well. With the city of New Orleans still struggling to get its community back together, "Going Home" is a prime example of its cultural significance. In a sense the double CD transcends being "merely" a Fats Domino tribute, its a showcase of New Orleans culture and the scope of its impact. With artists as Joss Stone and Robert Plant teaming up with New Orleans finest as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Lil' Band O' Gold, with Neil Young mumbling his way through "Walking To New Orleans" or Tom Petty's rollicking version of "I'm Going Home" and Toots and the Maytals skanking version "Let The Four Winds Blow", New Orleans' melting pot is revisited once more. Tribute albums are often tricky things, most wind up being a messy hotchpotch of tributes, but "Going Home" is a mess of the glorious kind.

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