Part IV: New Orleans Shares Unique Music with the World


Most of the people reading this blog post know that in terms of size, population and depth of economy, New Orleans may not be able to compete with the top 40 or 50 cities in the country.  But musically, it is one of a small handful of towns that can and does offer a unique palette that is full of passion and excitement.

We stated in last week’s posting that what makes the city’s music distinctive has always been the way New Orleans musicians use and vary rhythms. In the music composed by New Orleans natives, the rhythmic variance is an integral part of the musical composition.  This was apparent in the compositions of Louis Moreau Gottschalk and many others who followed him.  (Listen, for example, to his composition, “Bamboula”.)

There were letters written as early as 1786 that describe slaves dancing the bamboula in Place du Congo, which is now Congo Square.  Some 62 years later, Gottschalk composed a piece with the same name.  Gottschalk was born in 1829, and it is noted how at a very early age, between 1831 and 1833, he could hear drumming and singing from the house where he lived and was captivated by the repeated melodies and sometimes melodic fragments.  He would listen until a family member put him to bed.  Also through a nanny, he became intimately familiar with song melodies that were sung by Creoles and slaves.  Later he made several trips to France where he received conservatory training in Paris, and during those visits he was never without a lively recollection of Creole and slave chants.  Some of those chants became full compositions, enriching the work of his unfortunately short life.  He died on December 18, 1869, just over the age of 40.

The bamboula is still the underlying rhythm in musical pieces from native New Orleans musicians.  Many of Professor Longhair’s compositions as well as music from The Meters are based on that rhythm.

You can arrive at the realization of the bamboula by first establishing and repeating a cycle of 4 beats several times: “one-two-three-four; one-two-three-four; one-two-three-four…” As we noted last week, between the numbered beats, we add the word, ‘and’ so it becomes “one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and-one-and two-and-three-and-four-and-one-and-two-and-three-and-four…”  Within that latter cycle, we create three accents, the first on beat one, the second on the word ‘and’ after beat two, and the last on beat four.  Now it  becomes “one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and-one-and two-and-three-and-four-and-one-and-two-and-three-and-four…)  Try this rhythmic experience right now – no one’s listening – and let us know how you fared in creating your rhythm.  Your comments are always welcome.  I’m having fun with this and I hope you are too!

H. B.