My students write raps about the 2016 election (Vice. Nov 2016).

When I saw the election, I saw Drumpf winning /
And after that my head got to spinning.
Drumpf is bad / Drumpf is sad too
Drumpf look like Hitler from World War Two.
He won the election because he cheated /
It’s the only reason he didn’t get beated.
–Jaylon, fifth grade

At the Spanish-language immersion school where I currently teach kids to write rap songs, most of my students are black or Latino. The school’s staff is made up almost exclusively of immigrants from Mexico, Spain, Honduras, and other Spanish-speaking countries. And so I felt extra nauseous on Wednesday, the day after Election Day, going into work. They all must have been wondering who in their American midst could have possibly voted for that racist monster. I, the only white man, would be the only real possible suspect.

But instead of calling off work and sautéing myself in red wine and white tears, I got in my car. New Orleans’s unusually silent, lonely streets felt a lot like Ash Wednesday, the day after every Mardi Gras: like a bomb went off. Like the party was clearly over.

At school I was still greeted warmly. And after taking roll and passing out snacks and joking with the fifth graders about their very real election frustrations, I slowly began to realize… no other day would be better for writing raps. America’s Reagan years had worked like steroids on both hip-hop and punk rock. Rap was first forged specifically as a tool to express the kinds of feelings so many of us shared. Hip-hop was made for today.

As we sat down with our drum machine, paper, and pencils, I made a point not to tell the kids my own political opinions. I wanted the thoughts and words in their couplets to be wholly their own. But since not a lot of Drumpf voters send their kids to Spanish immersion schools, my students’ opinions weren’t very surprising or dynamic. Kids like Evin were as mad and let down and worried as any of us:

Tuesday was Election Day / On that day, I lost my way.
He dislikes the way I look / Sometimes I think he is a crook.
Donald Drumpf is a clown / I hope he doesn’t let us down.
Clinton is a great lady / We all know that Drumpf is shady.

Hillary Clinton should have won / After that election, I think I’m done.
I feel bad for my country / I thought this was the home of the free.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of my students’ raps about the election at Vice…

Or watch this cute music video my students made some years back during summer camp:

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Interview with New Orleanians who have met or worked with Prince (OffBeat. June 2016).

Here in the world’s music capital, many of us, whether we knew it or not, lived just one or two degrees separated from The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.

I myself have always made a point to shake any hand that has shaken Prince’s. Prince meant so much to me in fact that I’ve performed his music in one form or another since 2002, most recently singing and playing guitar in Fleur de Tease’s burlesque tribute to the man I considered the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll musician.

All four of Prince’s grandparents were born in Louisiana, and one of his grandfathers sired 11 children. I once taught a music student who claimed to be Prince’s niece. But rather than attempt to climb Prince’s family tree, I chose to gather memories from New Orleans musicians, and others who have worked with, or even just met, His Purple Majesty.

 Michael O’Hara

In the ’70s and ’80s, singer Michael O’Hara led legendary New Orleans band, the Sheiks. After moving away for many years, O’Hara recently returned to live in New Orleans. A two-time Grammy and American Music Award nominee, O’Hara wrote for Patti LaBelle, Jody Watley and Bobby Brown, among many others:

“Prince’s manager Jaime was a friend of mine from St Louis. When Prince toured here in New Orleans she wanted me to come see him. But then the night before he actually snuck into Jimmy’s club to see us. Afterwards he told Jaime, ‘Tell him to come to my show and I want to speak with him afterward.’

So I went to the concert and sat with Jaime and afterward she said, ‘Prince wants you to ride in the limo back to the hotel with him.’

Jamie had left with him an 8-track recorder and a tape of his show, and he found the spot he wanted to listen to that said, ‘Down with politicians that want to send us off to war.’ And he kept rewinding it, over and over, to hear that one certain thing: ‘Down with politicians that want to send us off to war.’ To this day I don’t know if he was getting some kind of inspiration… Whatever was in that statement he made at his concert, it meant a lot to him, and he just kept rolling it back and back and back…

And finally I said, ‘Turn that off. Talk to me.’

And he just kind of smiled.

He said, ‘I loved your performance last night.’ And he went on to ask me how I wore my sheik scarves and my makeup and stuff like that.

I said, ‘Do you really wanna know?’ And I said, ‘Wash your face.’ Cause he had on makeup.

And I did his face. CLICK HERE to read the rest of this article at OffBeat Magazine, featuring interviews with Trombone Shorty, Ani DiFranco and more…

Or watch this awesome 20-minute interview with Prince, featuring some great concert footage. RIP to the GOAT:

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An oil lease sale in the Gulf, and a protest (Guardian UK. March 2016).

On 23 March, around 300 protesters in New Orleans aimed to shut down a reading of oil company bids for 44m acres (180,000 km², the size of the entire state of Missouri) in the Gulf of Mexico.

At grassy Duncan Plaza near New Orleans city hall, groups from all over the southern US gathered for a protest called New Lease on Life. “I have really bad sinuses and I hate smoke,” said 18-year-old Howard Johnson. The young activist from Biloxi had boarded a bus and rode for hours to be in New Orleans by sunrise to join dozens of other members of green coalitions, local churches and members of the Houma Indian Nation.

Zipping all around Duncan Plaza in bright green safety vests were the protest’s de facto hosts, members of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. Bucket Brigade founding director Anne Rolfes had written a letter to Barack Obama, a desperate last-minute prayer, asking him to cancel this Gulf lease sale and halt drilling in the Gulf, as he had in the Arctic region and more recently in the Atlantic.

Her prayer unanswered, Rolfes promised me: “We will engage in civil disobedience at the lease sale. We’re going to try and stop the auction.”

Unfortunately for her cause, all the bids had been finalized that past Tuesday. Open public meetings had been held on the issue, but no protesters had shown up. The groups on hand at the day’s event would essentially be booing the movie as its credits rolled. CLICK HERE to read the rest of this piece at The Guardian UK…

Or watch this great video compilation of footage from that day:

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A series on famous New Orleans DJs past and present (Louisiana Weekly. Summer 2016).

I was honored to be assigned this Louisiana Weekly series on famous New Orleans DJs past and present, but mostly past. I wish I could continue writing this series; there are SO many important DJs I’d love to include. This is just the very, very tip of that iceberg..

Dr. Daddio and Larry McKinley: http://www.louisianaweekly.com/making-the-music-spin-in-new-orleans/

Papa Smurf and DJ Chicken: http://www.louisianaweekly.com/making-the-music-spin-in-new-orleans-2/

Slick Leo: http://www.louisianaweekly.com/making-the-music-spin-in-new-orleans-4/

Gina Brown: http://www.louisianaweekly.com/making-the-music-spin-with-a-feminine-flair-in-new-orleans/

Fresh Johnson and T-Pot: http://www.louisianaweekly.com/making-the-music-spin-with-a-feminine-flair-in-new-orleans-2/

Or watch this great interview with DJ Slick Leo about the origins of New Orleans’s Congo Square:

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Still Racist After All These Years: Why David Duke Won’t Go Away (Vice. October 2016).

“White people will be a minority in America soon. Every minority has a spokesgroup, except European Americans. We’re not allowed.”

That’s Michael Lawrence’s pitch for David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan big shot and perennial political candidate now running for the US Senate in Louisiana. Lawrence ran Duke’s campaign before quitting, he told me, to deal with flooding on some properties in Baton Rouge he owned. “For a long time now, David has been the sole spokesman for white people. And he has paid an incredible price for standing up,” lamented Lawrence, who still supports Duke, “in being labeled a racist.”

The news isn’t that Duke has crawled out of the marshes to run for the seat left by fellow embarrassment David Vitter. The news is that Duke recently somehow polled the requisite 5 percent needed to land him in an upcoming televised debate—the most legitimacy the notorious racist and anti-Semite has had in a long, long time. As an added irony, or insult, he will enjoy this honor at New Orleans’s historically black Dillard University.

Duke has haunted Louisiana’s conscience since the 70s, when he became a regular spouting his rhetoric on Louisiana State University’s “Free Speech Alley.” To fund his larger ambitions, in 1976, he wrote a pseudonymous sexual self-help book for women titled Finders Keepers. In 1979, he founded the National Association for the Advancement of White People. After failed Senate and presidential bids as a Democrat, Duke turned Republican and in 1989 was elected state senator in a special election. Following a short and uninspired term, Duke ran for governor and lost, though he garnered more votes than he ever would again in his many other failed political attempts.

After his partner Don Black (who married Duke’s ex-wife Chloe Hardin) left to start the white nationalist site Stormfront, Duke founded the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) in 2000. Following a short stint in jail for lying to his own supporters in order to fundraise from them and cheating on his taxes, Duke remained mostly in the shadows until this past September when he came to New Orleans to ostensibly stop protestors who were threatening to tear down the city’s famous statue of Andrew “Trail of Tears” Jackson. The mostly black crowd reportedly ran him out of Jackson Square with chants of “Racist, fascist, anti-gay! Right-wing bigot, go away!” CLICK HERE to read the rest of this piece at Vice…

Or you can watch the entire INSANE senate debate, wherein David Duke freaks out like a desperate-for-screentime castmember of MTV’s The Real World:

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Cage-farmed oysters in Grande Isla, LA (Louisiana Cultural Vistas. Fall 2016).

As the first day of summer approaches, farmers arrive at Louisiana State University’s Sea Grant oyster farm in Grand Isle to pick up their seed. The farmers express gratitude that Dr. John Supan has, with the help of his team, grown their oyster seeds a bit bigger than required.

“I don’t drink beer,” Supan announces to the farmers. “So you can pay me back with a bottle of wine. Or two.”

Dr. Supan benevolently lords over a slice of paradise on Caminada Bay, including a massive waterfront laboratory for breeding genetically perfect oysters, and a private floating farm in which to grow them, consisting of rows and rows of what look like miniature shark cages. Only Supan has official clearance to trout fish between the cages, which he does, alone, at 5:30 every single morning. “I only throw top water lures,” he tells me when I express jealousy. “You don’t catch as much but when you do they’re the biggest and best.”

The pinky-nail-sized larval oysters look like a pile of mushy sand until Supan’s crew rinse and separate them from each other. The tiny oysters yearn to attach to anything, but each of these will live its entire life autonomous and untethered from rocks and fellow oysters.

In the process of packing the seeds into small sacks of 50,000, three of the tiny larvae fall to the ground. This goes unnoticed by no one. The farmers purchase the two-millimeter larvae through the Louisiana Oyster Dealers and Growers Association for $300 per million, or $11 per thousand. Traditional oyster larvae face all manner of challenges, and most never make it to adulthood, but the cage farmers expect almost all of these seeds to grow.

Marcos Guerrero and his son Boris return their triploid oysters to Caminiada Bay to continue growing. Photo by Rick Olivier

LSU’s hatchery is designed to produce around a billion larvae each year. Seed is what Supan and company focus on, because seed is what’s been desperately needed. Jules Melancon, a third generation oyster fisherman, was the first Louisiana farmer to adopt this cage technology six years ago. “We still get a few hundred acres of wild oysters, but only about every three years, “says 58-year-old Melancon, who joined the family business at age 11. “So, we have to have a seed crop too every year to have the big money. And usually you’d lose a lot to predators, so you need a lot of seed. This way, LSU grows the seed, and the cages protect from predators.” CLICK HERE to read the rest of the piece at Louisiana Cultural Vistas… 

Or watch this demo about how to grow oysters in cages:

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Four different Cajun/Creole/Zydeco music profiles (Acadiana Profile. 2016)

Joe Hall and the Cane Cutters (band) http://www.myneworleans.com/Acadiana-Profile/December-January-2016/Joe-Hall-and-The-Cane-Cutters/

Zydeco Radio (band) http://www.myneworleans.com/Acadiana-Profile/February-March-2016/Meet-Zydeco-Radio/

The Jolly Inn (music venue) http://www.myneworleans.com/Acadiana-Profile/August-September-2016/Family-Band/

Blackpot Festival (fascinating!): http://www.myneworleans.com/Acadiana-Profile/October-November-2016/Musical-Gumbo/

Or watch this sweet lil vid of musicians jammin at Blackpot:

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