Wednesday, October 20, 2010

HBO revisits the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with a new series

This Sunday at 10pm on HBO, David Simon and co-creator Eric Overmyer’s, Treme will give viewers a trip to New Orleans that most haven’t seen past the beads, the booze, the boobs, and Mardi Gras floats. The storyline takes place three months after Hurricane Katrina and the Federal levee system failure, following an assortment of city residents as people use the weight of the area’s rich music and culture as affirmations amidst a government that has failed them.

The title derives from the neighborhood Treme, one of the oldest black neighborhoods in New Orleans and hailed as one of the birthplaces of jazz. There are the same crisscrossing storylines, rugged authenticity, insider’s viewpoint, regional dialogue, and the expectations that the audience will “get it” that made The Wire, alternately the “best show on television” and the most difficult to understand. In Treme, amidst circumstances like homelessness, government neglect, dead or missing family and friends, and being displaced, residents are determined to regain their footing, and that footing is a funky, dazzling dance infused with brass band music.

Viewers will recognize some faces from Simon’s critically acclaimed series, The Wire, including Wendell Pierce (who played the affable Bunk), and Clarke Peters, (the genius detective Lester Freamon)—both are accomplished musicians in real life. Pierce, a Julliard graduate, plays Antoine Batiste, a musician taking any gigs that will pay, including the seedy tourist traps and strip clubs on Bourbon Street. Clarke Peters plays the Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief, Albert Lamreaux, rendered homeless by the storm but determined to continue a tradition dating to when enslaved Africans were allowed to congregate in Congo Square and perform their homeland’s traditional songs and dances. The Mardi Gras Indians mask in Indian attire for parades, in part as homage to escaping enslaved Africans who were harbored by Native Americans.

Donald Harrison Jr., is a consultant for the show, a jazz saxophonist who has played with greats like Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Don Pullen, and is a Mardi Gras Indian chief in real life. He is the head of the Congo Nation, an Afro New Orleans cultural group. Each member creates ornate costumes each year for the parades that can happen throughout the year.

“Some people are honoring the Native Americans, some are honoring a day of freedom,” says Harrison. “You transcend to another state with the dances and music. When you have people who have been oppressed, they need those periods.”

Here Keith Frazier, a New Orleans musician involved with the series speaks about New Orleans after the storm and being involved with the series. Frazier is a bass player and cofounder of the Rebirth Brass Bandwith his brother Phillip and Kermit Ruffins.

-”We are playing ourselves in the series. Most of the band members went to school in Treme. In our scene we are negotiating a price for a second line procession that we had in New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina.”

-”Right after the hurricane I evacuated to Dallas. My band members were scattered—some in Houston, Baton Rouge, New York City, Baltimore, but we were still able to get together and make gigs happen.”

-”In New Orleans, Tipitina’s and the House of Blues were closed. But we still played at the Maple Leaf. We have a standing gig there on Tuesday nights. They stayed open after the storm, they used kerosene lamps because they didn’t have any electricity. We just continued playing music, that was one way for us to relieve the tension of everything else that was going on.”

-”I still live in Fort Worth, Texas. Some members came back, others are in Houston, Atlanta, because right now housing is not affordable to be a musician in New Orleans. Some people found the schools were better for their kids where they evacuated.Before the storm there were maybe 6 small ballrooms where you could play music, there’s probably only one left, the New Orleans Music Hall.”

-”A lot of people come to New Orleans and never experience that part of the city. They go to Bourbon Street or the Essence festival and they’re like, ‘Second lining..what’s that?’ I hope the series makes them want to investigate it and check it out for themselves.”

-”The Mardi Gras Indians use hand drums and tambourines—a lot of that comes from Haiti– African, Haitian culture. We went to Africa and they did a program and the guys were dressed as Mardi Gras Indians and we went to Cuba and saw the same thing, you can see where it came from Africa through the Caribbean to here.”

-”A lot of people in New Orleans feel like everything else has been commercialized we want to keep that for ourselves. They think this is something that belongs to me I don’t really want to share with anyone–if you want to come and enjoy it with me that’s fine. I think a lot of people in New Orleans feel like this is the last piece of Africa we have here and we don’t want to give it away. You can’t put a price tag on that.”

Treme premieres this Sunday at 10pm on HBO

By Ericka Blount Danois--reprinted from

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