Thursday, May 18, 2006

Rebuilding Crescent Cities

The June Jazz Times brings news of an upcoming documentary, New Orleans Music in Exile from filmmaker Robert Mugge, funded by the Starz channel. Mugge has made many jazz and blues films, including Saxophone Colossus, a portrait of the legendary Sonny Rollins. According to Bill Milkowski’s “After the Storm” (currently not available on-line), Mugge filmed in Memphis, Houston, Austin, Lafayette, and wrapped in New Orleans. I’ve talked to many such musical exiles and I know how important it is to tell their stories right.

Mugge obviously has passion for this music, and I’m sure his intentions are good. I look forward to seeing his film, but I am frustrated by one of his quotes in Milkowski’s piece: “If they ever find that they have any money left for restoring New Orleans and the rest of the region, after totally dismantling the nation’s budget through the war in Iraq, maybe there will be some good reasons for optimism. But right now it’s just a mess down there.”

New Orleans was hit by a hurricane, a devastating natural disaster. Iraq, one of the oldest civilizations on Earth, was in effect, hit by a daily hurricane under the Saddam’s oppressive rule. As WATIV reported on in “Baghdad, New Orleans . . . Crescent Cities,” like in New Orleans, music played an enormous role in the region’s cultural history, but most of Iraq’s musicians were forced to take refuge in Egypt. As Katrina cut off power and supplies from New Orleans, Hussein deliberately imposed blackouts and privations on Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, and silenced their music.

Removing Saddam lifted the hurricane from Iraq, but as in New Orleans, the rebuilding will take a long time. The ideals of civilization demand we assist both NOLA and Iraq, for both have contributed greatly to the cultural wealth of our world. Throwaway lines carping about our involvement in Iraq will not help anyone, anywhere.

To help the Jazz Foundation of America bring back the music to New Orleans, go here. If Starz InBlack is part of your cable package, look for New orleans Music in Exile when it debuts tomorrow.