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Riffing On the Tradition: Clarinet Road Summer Report - A call for cultural diplomacy


For me, the summer of 2012 has been one of the most interesting even if not the most profitable. From slashed arts budgets here at home, to fewer bookings abroad, what is painfully apparent is that, we, the cultural workforce, have not done nearly enough to leverage our indispensability in a recession economy. In spite of that, I had some great adventures and was not want for reasons to appreciate the currency of New Orleans musical culture abroad.

I’m pleased to report that we have made some good progress in Paris. There is serious talk about a New Orleans festival there as early as next summer and in advance of that I will finally start the radio program I’ve been wanting to do. The weekly program for TSF Jazz Radio will showcase the many strong independent recordings that have been coming out recently. I'll let you know more soon, but in the meantime, please make sure I have your latest work for the show.

By far, my expedition to Somaliland in the Horn of Africa was the most interesting part of my summer. The 5th Hargeysa International Book Fair was mostly about literature and promoting literacy, but in this place where most music and poetry was banned until about 20 years ago, all of the arts were well represented.

The parallels I discovered between the Somaliland diaspora post-civil war and the New Orleans diaspora post-Federal levee failure were remarkable. Huge differences to be sure, however the important role that culture plays in empowering people, defining community, and bolstering resolve to face adversity has never been more clear. Somalilanders, including the musicians I met, were extremely generous with their appreciation that I tried to learn some of their music, and I was honored to be involved in what may have been a first for cultural diplomacy between New Orleans and Hargeysa, Somaliland.

I plan to write more on this theme because I am realizing, more than ever, how important it is for us to commit to a leadership role in not only stewarding our culture, but also exporting the message of our music. It was obvious while I was traveling, but also when I returned to New Orleans late last Sunday and went early Monday to Uncle Lionel Batiste’s interment. I’m glad for everyone who felt the spirit of our great city and the spirit of Unc at that morning’s second line, but for me, the deficiencies of musical leadership were disappointingly apparent in the chaos of those proceedings.

Next weekend, we will celebrate the legacy of the original New Orleans musical ambassador at Satchmo Summerfest. I’ll miss it this year because of the festival in Newport, so do me a favor? When you see them, please say a warm hello for me to all of our good friends who will be here, like George Avakian, who produced Armstrong’s great work for Columbia Records; Michael Cogswell, who curates the archives at the Armstrong House in Queens, NY; and Armstrong scholars Dan Morganstern and Ricky Riccardi, among many others.

When I come back, let’s start finding ways to work harder to make our actions reflect our respect for cultural diplomats like Louis Armstrong and Uncle Lionel. The quality of the culture we profess to represent and the sustainability of our careers may depend on it.

Evan Christopher, a noted member of the New Orleans music community, writes “Riffing on the Tradition” for NolaVie. His showcase at the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival will be Saturday, August 4. All of his columns also are archived at Clarinet Road.com.

Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and advocates for the cultural workforce. Click here for his performance schedule. He writes MAC-Notes for NolaVie. Email him with your comments about cultural issues, particularly in the music world, at [email protected]