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Friday, February 17, 2012

Show us your joie de vivre: Mardi Gras in the Rinzler Archives

 Photo by David Hobson
It's Carnival season! In celebration of Mardi Gras weekend, the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives  present an assortment of bons temps-themed resources available in our collections.

Amidst the indulgent fêting the next few days demand, one thing is absolutely essential: party music. From field recordings of the street festival atmosphere to fiery and wailing brass band records fit for your Friday night, Mardi Gras is alive and well in the stacks.

Music of New Orleans, Volume 1: Music of the Streets/Music of Mardi Gras, recorded by Samuel B. Charters (Folkways Records FA 2461)
Music of Mardi Gras offers a glimpse of carnivals past. Side two of this record is a "musical portrait" of Mardi Gras day, March 5, 1957. "Every spring, the day before Lent, New Orleans noisily rises to shout its individuality," observes Samuel Charters in his liner notes. His recording begins at dawn with the Mardi Gras Indians and ends with the Krewe of Momus parade later that night. The juxtaposition of the two events is fascinating: this album represents one of the first commercially-available recordings of Mardi Gras Indians, and the Mistick Krewe of Momus has not held a parade since the New Orleans City Council passed an ordinance barring social clubs from excluding people based on "race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, age, physical condition or disability" in 1991.

While this album technically refers to the Mardi Gras Lounge in New Orleans, the music is evocative of a ball during Carnival season. Recorded live on a Saturday night circa 1955, this high-energy, wonderfully wild dixieland jazz recording retains all the applause, hoots and hollers. It's a party in a record sleeve. In the liner notes, Emory Cook sets the scene: "It was like the night Beethoven died--thunder, lightning, and all a manner of cosmic disturbances on Bourbon Street. But the cash customers were there anyway...adding their part to a storm brewed indoors at the Mardi Gras Lounge."

Photo by Jeff Tinsley
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival Records have a few Mardi Gras-related materials as well. The 1985 Festival of American Folklife featured a program on Louisiana and a Mardi Gras-style parade, drawing huge crowds to the National Mall to witness the elaborate floats (pictured at right) and boogie with the brass bands . Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indian Tribe (pictured above) performed at the Been in the Storm So Long evening concert series at the 2006 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which featured musicians from a Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. Photographs, video and audio recordings of these events are available to use for research in the archives, but the 1985 and 2006 program books are accessible in their entirety through the SIRIS catalog.

Now go forth and eat your weight in king cake! May your Mardi Gras be loud and covered in beads!

1 comment:

  1. Ooo this is indiana carnaval ;)) amazing cultural art