PODCAST: Sean Johnson performs “I Will Rise Again” as Wild Lotus Band gears up for 6th Annual New Orleans Sacred Music Festival

Wild Lotus Band

6TH ANNUAL NEW ORLEANS SACRED MUSIC FESTIVAL
WHAT: Nearly 20 artists performing a range of spiritual music, with additional activities
WHEN: Sat. (March 11), 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
WHERE: New Orleans Healing Center, 2372 St. Claude Ave.
ADMISSION: Free
MORE INFO: Visit Facebook event page

The idea was to conduct a brief interview with Wild Lotus Yoga’s Sean Johnson about the 6th Annual New Orleans Sacred Music Festival on Saturday (March 11) at the New Orleans Healing Center. (Johnson co-founded the festival along with Sallie Ann Glassman.) And then Johnson would perform a tune from the Wild Lotus Band’s 2014 CD, “Unity.” But then full band wasn’t yet available, and so Johnson did the next best thing, and gathered a bunch of about 10 friends in a semi-circle to help lend their voices to a song that Johnson says is tailor-made for a call-and-response engagement with the audience on Saturday.

The song, “I Will Rise Again,” which Johnson wrote in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, includes an invocation of the Hindu mantra, “Om Namah Shivaya,” which, Johnson noted, speaks to the power of transformation. Recording the rehearsed version of the song was so fun, the moment so peaceful, it felt more appropriate to focus the podcast interview planned for Saturday’s episode of “PopSmart NOLA” (3 p.m.-4 p.m., WHIV 102.3 FM) on the song alone and how it spoke to some of the “volunteer” singers in the semi-circle.

Johnson also spoke to the song’s potential, as well as that of the festival itself, with some additional insight from some of the volunteer singers and festival co-coordinator Brandon Curran.

“It’s intentionally participatory,” Johnson explained. “And whenever we play, the whole room is a choir. … There’s so much freedom for folks to just really connect to their own heart and sing from that place.”

The New Orleans Sacred Music Festival spans the spectrum of the city’s spiritual communities, with nods towards Western Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Japanese drumming and much more. Check out the lineup below. There also will be rituals, art and altars, crafts, food, prayers, and workshops, according to its Facebook event page. Curran noted that the festival is in its second year without charging an admission fee, thanks to underwriting support from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, Call and Response Foundation and Wild Lotus Yoga.

LINEUP
*Deacon John Moore Spirituals
*Mantra Rock with Sean Johnson And The Wild Lotus Band
*Rasta Reggae by Ben Hunter
*Vodou Ceremony with La Source Ancienne
*Tibetan Buddhist Chants and Dance by Tsering Phuntsok
*Japanese Taiko Drumming by Mayumi Shara & MaDeTo with James Singleton
*Big Chief Gerald Page and the Great Spirit Warriors Black Masking Indians
*Poetry with Chuck Perkins and Claudia Copeland
*Jewish Cantorial singing by Enzo Ashar
*African drumming with the Djakpa Ewe Ensemble
*Moroccan Gnawa music
*M’uu T’uu Pueblo Indian Hoop Dancers
*Tarantella Dance with Alessandra Belloni
*Storytelling with Kalpana
*Liturgical Dance with the Chosen Vessels Dance and Performing Arts, INC
*Hip Hop with Sonny D
*Muslim Call to Prayer
*Hindu Fire Sacrifice with Yogindra Vandana Dasa
And more!

Hosts include;
*Kelly Osbourne
*Morgan Molthrop
*Rockin’ Ron Phillips

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INTERVIEW: Stephanie V. McKee and Sunni Patterson discuss “Gomela,” at Ashé Powerhouse Theater

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“GOMELA”
WHAT: Junebug Productions’ presentation of dance, spoken-word and music as an examination of space and place
WHEN: Jan. 19-22 & Jan. 26-29
WHERE: Ashé Powerhouse Theater (1731 Baronne St.)
TICKETS: $30
MORE INFO: Visit the Facebook event page

“Gomela/to return: Movement of Our Mother Tongue” is an intriguing collaboration developed by poet Sunni Patterson, dancers Kesha McKeyKai KnightJeremy Guyton, and drummer Jawara A. Simon and directed by Stephanie V. McKee. The show runs this weekend and next (Jan. 19-22 and Jan. 22-26) at Ashé Powerhouse Theater. Billed as a a journey through time and space, “Gomela” is another intriguing exploration of the African Diaspora one comes to expect from Junebug Productions.

Pulling from the Bantu word “gomela,” meaning “to go back to/to return,” the show promises a mix of percussive music and storytelling that connects Africa’s past and present traditions that include the use of spoken word, hip-hop and jazz. There are two dual themes at work here: “It illuminates ‘Place Matters’ — gentrification and the ‘Right of Return’ of New Orleanians displaced after Katrina; and Black Lives Matter — the beauty and resilience of black people, past and present,” the release states. The show, it continues:

… is an experience of collective memories passed down from generation to generation, a tapestry woven by a group of multi-disciplinary artists who represent the diversity of African Americans who call New Orleans home. “Gomela” is based on hope, survival, courage and the resilience that exists in the face of oppression. It is about the heartbeat of a people that will never die, the culture and traditions that continue to evolve, grow and survive the test of time.”

The production crew features lighting designer Evan Spigelman, sound designer Muthi Reed, projection designer Jason Foster, costume designer Janese Brooks-Galathe of Aya Designs and recorded music by trumpeter Troy Sawyer and singer Sula Janet Evans of Zion Trinity.

Here McKee and Patterson discuss this collaboration.

There are a lot of great moments in the interview, but Patterson in particular was eloquent when speaking about the duality of trauma and celebration in the show: “There’s still a lot to celebrate, and I don’t think that, that has to get lost while we are remembering trauma, while we are addressing trauma, while we are calling out oppression, while we are calling out injustice … I’m always reminded of Lucille Clifton and her poem (‘Won’t You Come Celebrate with Me’: ‘Every day something has tried to kill me and has failed.’”

Patterson was also kind enough to recite her mesmerizing poem “Black Back.” Check out the video of that in this post.

NOTES: The podcast audio incorrectly states the second weekend runs through Jan. 26; it runs through Jan. 29. Also, McKee and Patterson will discuss the show as well as artistic and creative expression in a Trump presidency on the next episode of “PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV (102.3 FM), from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV (102.3 FM) looks back at 2016 with theater critics Brad Rhines and Ted Mahne and music writer Alison Fensterstock

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Earlier in the month we reviewed the year 2016 in New Orleans culture, providing a carefully curated set of the top stories as reported by local media (including PopSmart NOLA).

To advance the discussion, I welcomed theater critics Brad Rhines (New Orleans Advocate) and Ted Mahne (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) and veteran New Orleans music journalist Alison Fensterstock to go over their own top stories in theater and music on the radio show “PopSmart NOLA” — our first pre-recorded show, to air on WHIV (102.3 FM) from 3 p.m.-4 p.m. You also can listen online at whivfm.org. (Note: This episode originally was to air last week but had to be moved to this week due to scheduling and production issues.)

Here’s how I set up the year in review back on Dec. 20:

As New Orleans continued to shift into what could be called a “post-post-Katrina” period — that is, moving past the 10-year commemoration of the devastation, or recovery mode — evidence of a new New Orleans culture continued to reverberate all over. Sometimes we see that reflected in trends identified in other cities, like a more diverse (and ever-shifting) restaurant scene, or (more dramatically) the legalization and hopeful regulation of short-term rentals. Then there was, for a variety of reasons, a shrinking of the Hollywood South imprint and its seeming rejection of a film industry in the state. Yet there continued the boundless proliferation of festivals as New Orleans continued to almost manically celebrate itself. To be sure, the changing face of the city’s culture remained ever changing. There are those who believe that, with so many of these changes, New Orleans’ unique and often quirky culture might be threatened — that the reasons that make the city so special and so inviting to the rest of the world are shrinking like the Louisiana coastline. But 2016 also represented a year of amazing and exciting moments that reconfirmed a city’s passion for its cultural life — even when commemorating the lives of famous cultural figures not from New Orleans. Last week I posted an overview of many of these moments, a carefully curated round-up of stories pulled from several local media outlets (including PopSmart NOLA), as well as national outlets where appropriate. The year is broken down into categories, with a subjectively chosen lead story followed by links to lots of others.

In this episode I’ll go back over the year-in-review post, highlighting the top stories, and then I’ll bring on:

    • Brad Rhines, a freelance arts and culture writer. Brad regularly contributes theater coverage and criticism to The New Orleans Advocate. When he’s not at the theater he’s probably spending time with his family at one the city’s various parks, museums, or music festivals.
    • Ted Mahne. A New Orleans journalist for more than 30 years, Ted Mahne has spent a lifetime as a devoted theater-goer. He has covered the local theater and arts scene for more than 20 years, now serving as a freelance writer and chief theater critic for The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com. When not in a seat on the aisle, Ted can be found teaching sophomores at Jesuit High School.
    • We’ll also chat with veteran music journalist Alison Fensterstock, with whom I’ve worked at three different media outlets — Gambit, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune and the New Orleans Advocate. Alison also has been published in several national media outlets, including NPR (where she posted a relevant piece on the David Bowie memorial parade) and Pitchfork. Alison was one of the first New Orleans journalists to cover the city’s emerging bounce scene in general and the breakout career of Big Freedia in particular — a story that became even more intriguing in 2016.

I also want to remind you that if you like what you’re hearing on this, the radio show version of “PopSmart NOLA” you can “like” PopSmart NOLA on Facebook. We’re also on Instagram at @popsmartnola, and I’m on Twitter as @dlsnola504.

Happy New Year, y’all!

(P.S. Big thanks to Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré for collaborating with us on our special ticket giveaway for Friday’s Sweet Crude concert, and congratulations to the winner, Stephen Schaefer!)

The year in culture: New Orleans 2016 in review (a curated roundup of news)

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(NOTE: This round-up will be updated as comments are added, and any notable news is reported, after the end of the year.)

As New Orleans continued to shift into what could be called a “post-post-Katrina” period — that is, moving past the 10-year commemoration of the devastation, or recovery mode — evidence of a new New Orleans culture continued to reverberate all over. Sometimes we see that reflected in trends identified in other cities, like a more diverse (and ever-shifting) restaurant scene, or (more dramatically) the legalization and hopeful regulation of short-term rentals. Then there was, for a variety of reasons, a shrinking of the Hollywood South imprint and its seeming rejection of a film industry in the state. Yet there continued the boundless proliferation of festivals as New Orleans continued to almost manically celebrate itself.

To be sure, the changing face of the city’s culture remained ever changing.

There are those who believe that, with so many of these changes, New Orleans’ unique and often quirky culture might be threatened — that the reasons that make the city so special and so inviting to the rest of the world are shrinking like the Louisiana coastline.

But 2016 also represented a year of amazing and exciting moments that reconfirmed a city’s passion for its cultural life — even when commemorating the lives of famous cultural figures not from New Orleans. Here’s an overview of many of these moments, a (hopefully) carefully curated round-up of stories pulled from several local media outlets (including PopSmart NOLA), as well as national outlets where appropriate.

The year is broken down into categories, with a subjectively chosen lead story followed by links to lots of others. I hope to continue the discussion on “PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV (102.3 FM) on Saturday (3 p.m.-4 p.m.).

What was the biggest cultural moment in New Orleans in 2016 for you? Please add any of your important moments in the comments section.

MUSIC
Irvin Mayfield resigns from the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (WWL-TV)
“Calling the last months ‘trying and difficult,’ Irvin Mayfield responded for the first time to the 14-month scandal surrounding his use of public library donations by resigning as artistic director and board member at the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, a nonprofit he founded in 2002.”

ALSO: Beyonce’s “Formation” video, with New Orleans references, is released (Curbed) … New Orleans Airlift’s Music Box finds a permanent home in Bywater (My Spilt Milk) … Trombone Shorty performs at the White House for 50th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Arts (WGNO) … Bayou Country Superfest to relocate to New Orleans in 2017 (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Skywriting turns heads at Jazz Fest (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Bayou Boogaloo policy has neighbors feeling fenced in (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Musicians rally for Lil Queenie (My Spilt Milk) … Michael Cerveris releases “Piety” (PopSmart NOLA) … Lil Wayne makes news (not all of it good) … Fats Domino documentary airs on PBS (New Orleans Advocate) … Boyfriend breaks out (My Spilt Milk) … French Quarter Festivals, Inc.’s Marci Schramm steps down (New Orleans Advocate) … David Kunian takes over as director of New Orleans Jazz Museum (New Orleans Advocate) … Local acts warm up for national acts at Jazz Fest (My Spilt Milk) … Delish Da Goddess breaks out with video (Gambit) … Solange’s “A Seat at the Table” album debuts at No. 1; album’s videos have “stunning power”; Solange pens letter after Orpheum incident; and Solange plays New Orleans tour guide for Vogue … Big Freedia crowned queen of Krewe du Vieux (PopSmart NOLA) … Big Feedia experiences legal trouble (New Orleans Advocate) … and Big Freedia saves the holiday with “A Very Big Freedia Christmass” (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Tank and the Bangas break out (My Spilt Milk)

FOOD
Shaya wins James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

“Shaya opened in Uptown New Orleans in February 2015. The restaurant, which is co-owned by John Besh, has been a sensation from the get-go. The food pays tribute to chef Shaya’s native Israel. Reservations to taste that food have been unusually hard to come by. Several national food outlets named Shaya among the country’s best new restaurant openings of the year. I gasped over the restaurant in a four-bean review in July. ‘Who woulda thought hummus in New Orleans?’ Shaya said when he accepted his medal. ‘What was everyone thinking?’”

ALSO: Nellie Murray Feast honors Leah Chase, remembers culinary legend (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Fried Chicken Fest debuts, to move to bigger venue (New Orleans Advocate) … Isaac Toups expands to SoFAB with Toups South (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Dryades Public Market opens in Central City (Biz New Orleans) … Restaurant Closings: Booty’s (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Dinner Lab (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Kyoto (New Orleans Advocate) … O’Henry’s Food & Spirits (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Tony Angello’s (New Orleans Advocate) … Horinoya (New Orleans Advocate) … and Restaurant Openings: Caribbean Room (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Dook’s Place (PopSmart NOLA) … Rosedale (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Wolf ’n’ Swallow (Gambit) … Dunbar’s Creole Cooking (New Orleans Advocate) … Brett Anderson’s top five new restaurants (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune).

BOOKS
Author Michael Tisserand releases “Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White” to universal praise (PopSmart NOLA)
“The subtitle is more than a clever pun, for Tisserand reveals the racial subtext of Herriman’s life, which often seeped into his comic-strip hero of the same name; Herriman, an African American, “passed” as a white man. The praise for Tisserand’s book — years in the making — already is overwhelmingly positive on this, its release date (Dec. 6). … “Seamlessly integrating the story of Herriman’s life, he executes an impressive history of early-20th-century race relations, the rise of Hearst and the newspaper boom, and the burgeoning cross-continental society life of New York and Los Angeles,” writes Kirkus Reviews.”

ALSO: Michael Allen Zell releases “Law & Desire” (New Orleans Advocate) … Illustrated edition of Danny Barker memoir “A Life in Jazz” is released, with forward by Gwen Thompkins (NPR) … New Orleans Poetry Festival debuts (WWNO) … Mary Badham appears at Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival (Deep South magazine) … Tulane hosts traveling “First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare” exhibit; holds second line (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … New Orleans Public Library adds new hours (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … New Orleans Public Library’s new Mid-City location opens on Canal Street (New Orleans Advocate) … Michael Murphy releases “Hear Dat New Orleans: A Guide to the Rich Musical Heritage and Lively Current Scene” (WWNO).

BARS/NIGHTLIFE
Louisiana stripper age-limit law challenged (New Orleans Advocate)
“Three dancers from New Orleans and Baton Rouge filed the suit claiming the state law robs them of their right to express themselves, a violation of the state and federal constitutions. They also said the ban is too broad and discriminates against dancers based on gender and age. Further, the dancers said there’s no evidence the new restrictions will have any impact on human trafficking, even though the state lawmaker who introduced it, Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, said it was ‘strictly an anti-human trafficking bill.’ All three dancers said the ban would hurt them financially. Two dancers said their income already had been sliced by at least half.”
ALSO: Polly Watts takes Avenue Pub staff to Belgium (PopSmart NOLA) … Bar Openings: Three Keys, Ace Hotel (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Bar Closings: Bellocq (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Fox & Hound (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune).

THEATER/PERFORMANCE
Tyler Perry presents nationally televised “The Passion” live in New Orleans (Deadline)

“Equal parts sermon and Super Bowl halftime show, Fox’s ‘The Passion’ live event from New Orleans tonight was an Easter basket overstuffed with sincerity, good intentions and hammy musical performances, all melting into a big batch of goo faster than a chocolate bunny in the sun.”

ALSO: Faux/Real Fest drastically reduces footprint (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … New Orleans Opera presents “Dead Man Walking” (Louisiana Life) … Richard Mayer closes Old Marquer Theatre (NOLA.com| The Times-Picayune); opens Valiant Theater & Lounge in Arabi (New Orleans Advocate) … InFringe Fest debuts, sort of (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Theater gets wet: “Waterworld: The Musical” (NOLA.co | The Times-Picayune) and “Exterior. Pool – Night” … Trixie Minx presents “Cupid’s Cabaret” at the Orpheum (PopSmart NOLA) … Transgender artists reclaim their identity (PopSmart NOLA) … Bella Blue voted No. 8 burlesque performer in 21st Century Burlesque poll (PopSmart NOLA) … Le Petit Théâtre celebrates 100 years (Biz New Orleans) … Snake Oil Festival draws huge crowds for burlesque, circus and sideshow performances (PopSmart NOLA).

MOVIES
Hollywood South turns South with tax-credit limitations (New Orleans Advocate)
“Louisiana’s film and television industry — popularly known as Hollywood South because of the large number of movies and shows filmed here over the past decade — has suffered a sharp downturn since mid-2015. Industry officials are blaming a law passed a year ago by the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal — a law that aimed to control ballooning costs for a generous incentive program that independent analysts say has not provided much bang for the buck.”

ALSO: New Orleans Film Society’s Jolene Pinder steps down (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Deepwater Horizon movie debuts (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune); so does memorial “ELEVEN” (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Broad Theater opens in Mid-City (Gambit) … New Orleans’ own Bianca Del Rio stars in “Hurricane Bianca” (PopSmart NOLA) … Architecture and Design Film Festival debuts, sponsored by the Louisiana Architectural Foundation, at Carver and Broad theaters (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie sell French Quarter house as marriage ends (ET).

ART
Artist Brandan Odums opens StudioBE with new exhibit in Bywater (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
“The powerful installation features mural-scale graffiti-style portraits of Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Muhammad Ali, plus paintings of victims of police violence, New Orleans’ past political activists, and world peace advocates. The theme of the exhibit bridges the mid-20th-century Civil Rights era and the recent Black Lives Matter movement. The title, Odums said, is meant to imply both change and continuity.”

ALSO: Bob Dylan exhibition opens at New Orleans Museum of Art (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … “La Femme” at New Orleans Arts Center captures diversity of women (New Orleans Advocate) … “Avian Aviators” sculptures dominate Poydras Street (New Orleans Advocate).

CULTURE
City Council approves short-term rental rules (New Orleans Advocate)
“Council members who supported the rules — along with officials from the Landrieu administration and Airbnb — cast the package of regulations as a model for regulating the roughly 5,000 properties in New Orleans now listed on short-term rental sites, despite a longstanding citywide ban on the practice. And, pointing to data the city would require from Airbnb and similar platforms, they argued the new rules would provide a foundation that can be made more or less restrictive if problems develop.”

ALSO: Confederate memorials spur “Take ’Em Down” movement (Curbed) … National World War II Museum commemorates 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor  (WDSU) … Ellen DeGeneres earns Presidential Medal of Freedom (PopSmart NOLA) … National Museum of African American History and Culture, with New Orleans references, opens in Washington, D.C. (NPR) … Musee Conti wax museum closes (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … One kiss goes viral at Southern Decadence (PopSmart NOLA) … Sinkhole de Mayo becomes a thing (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

SPORTS
NBA moves 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte to New Orleans over HB2 controversy (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
“The NBA … gets a chance to make a powerful political statement by placing its midseason classic in one of America’s most socially progressive cities. New Orleans ranked fourth among American cities with the highest rates of LGBT population, according to a 2015 New York Times study. It ranked as 12th most ‘LGBT-friendly’ city in the U.S, in a study by nerdwallet.com, which based its rankings on statistics from the FBI, Gallup and Human Rights Campaign.”

ALSO: New Orleans Zephyrs renamed as Baby Cakes (Washington Post).

IN MEMORIAM
Musician Pete Fountain remembered (New Orleans Advocate); second line (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Keith Spera: “In their glory years, he and partner-in-crime Al Hirt lived large, laughed loud and drank a whole lot. But when it came time to toot — at his club, during a Super Bowl halftime show, at the White House, wherever — Fountain inevitably delivered. He could make a clarinet sing with a deep, rich, bluesy tone all his own. Styles may change — in a publicity photo from the 1970s, he rocks a toupee, collars the size of eagle wings, and a scarf — but his sound was timeless.”

ALSO: Musician and restaurateur Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr. remembered (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Herb Hardesty, longtime Fats Domino saxophonist (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Buckwheat Zydeco, music pioneer and Jazz Fest favorite (OffBeat) … Sharon Litwin, arts journalist, promoter, activist (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) … Prince remembered through the years, at Jazz Fest, at Essence Fest, and with second line … David Bowie remembered with tributes, second line (Alison Fensterstock/NPR) … Mercedes “Miss Mercy” Stevenson, Big Queen, Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indians, remembered (WWOZ) … Helen Koenig, Carnival costume supplier (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune).

UPDATE: NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune weighed in with a list of 10 highlights, which included noting that Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest happened again.

What were some of your most memorable cultural moments in 2016? Tell us what is missing in the comments section, and we will add them at the beginning of the year.

Alan Cumming to return to New Orleans on Jan. 21, 2017, with new show, new album

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Tony Award-winning performer Alan Cumming will make a return to New Orleans, and the Joy Theater, with a Jan. 21, 2017 show, promoter and producer Daniel Nardicio announced Tuesday (Dec. 20).

And this time, Cumming’s coming with a new album: “Sings Sappy Songs — Live at the Cafe Carlyle.” Tickets went on sale immediately.

Nardicio noted in the press release:

Backed by Cumming’s longtime musical director Lance Horne on piano, Eleanor Norton on cello and Chris Jago on drums, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs premiered in Spring 2016 for a limited run at the iconic New York supper club Café Carlyle, garnering such critical praise that Nardicio approached Cumming about bringing the show to Carnegie Hall and then New Orleans for a one-night-only performance. … (The album) includes his singular interpretations of pop hits (Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon,” Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb,” Rufus Wainwright’s “Dinner at Eight”), musical theater songs (“The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company, “You, You, You” from Kander & Ebb’s The Visit, “If Love Were All” by Noël Coward) and numbers that Cumming has collected from around the world (“Mother Glasgow” from Scotland, “La Complainte de la Butte” from France, “How Do Humans Live” from Germany).

Tickets range from $45 to $150; there also are seats available that include admission to Cummings’ personal after-party “Club Cumming,” which was his nightly post-show performance dressing-room celebration during the recent Broadway production of “Cabaret.”

Cumming last performed at the Joy in April 2015. Check out his most recent appearance on NPR, as well as his appearance on “Dinner Party Download.” Check out a review of his tour here.

Cumming has long been known for his versatility. Time Magazine has called him one of the most fun people in show business. A Tony winner for his role as the MC in “Cabaret,” Cumming more recently has gained fame for portraying political operator Eli Gold on CBS’s “The Good Wife,” which has gained him honors including Golden Globe, Emmy, SAG and Satellite Award nominations. Earlier in 2016, he finished his most recent turn in “Cabaret.” He also is host of PBS’s “Masterpiece Mystery” and appears opposite Lisa Kudrow in Showtime’s “Web Therapy.”

Debbie Davis, Alex Rawls bring their holiday cheer to “PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV (102.3 FM) on Saturday (Dec. 17)

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Baby, it’s not even close to cold outside, but there’s still plenty of Christmas cheer in the air as “PopSmart NOLA” — an intelligent discussion of New Orleans culture — presents a Super-Sized Holiday Episode on WHIV (102.3 FM) on Saturday (3 p.m. to 4 p.m.).

Joining us in the studio will be special guest co-host and DJ Alex Rawls of My Spilt Milk, and special guest vocalist Debbie Davis!

If there is a Father Christmas when it comes to holiday music in New Orleans, it’s Alex Rawls, whose obsession with and coverage of the seasonal genre includes a 2004 cover story for Gambit Weekly (my first clue into his twisted psyche). More recently he penned a holiday-music piece for NOLA.com | The Times Picayune. Back home at My Spilt Milk, Rawls noted that Big Freedia has released a Christmas EP, “A Very Big Freedia Christmazz,” and a track on the “Office Christmas Party” soundtrack. Earlier in the week, he ran news of her releases along with news of this Friday’s release of “Merry Christmas Mr. Fields” by Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos. He also reviewed the EP as well as Christmas albums by She & Him, Kissing Party, R. Kelly and David Bazan, among others.

For the angel atop the tree, Rawls assembled his own special free Christmas music mixtape for you to download. “We guarantee it’s 99 percent sentiment-free and snark-free,” Rawls told readers, “as indie rock and electronic artists commit to their own songs and covers with the same passion and intelligence they bring to their music the other 11 months of the year.” Rawls will discuss his obsessions and play from his stash.

Our special guest vocalist, Debbie Davis, has become a New Orleans music treasure. Whether performing with her husband, the great sousaphonist Matt Perrine, the Mesmerizers or the Pfister Sisters, Davis has been one of the most consistently wonderful voices of New Orleans. Her 2014 Mesmerizers album, “Linger ’til Dawn,” was a critical smash. And of course her holiday release with Matt, “Oh Crap, It’s Christmas!,” is a seasonal favorite. She’ll join Rawls and me to discuss her work and favor us with some of her work.

You can listen on the radio or follow along online at http://whivfm.org. Join us, and help us keep the intelligent discussion going!

OperaCréole sings out against gun violence with “Concert Across America”

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Music lovers might have missed out on OperaCréole’s performance at the Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday (Sept. 25) for the “Concert Across America,” co-sponsored with Ashé Cultural Arts Center, and part of a nationwide musical response to gun violence at more than 200 venues.

OperaCréole is a beautiful group to witness as it covers classical music across the African Diaspora, so it’s sometimes puzzling to see what at least feels like a lack of greater popularity in the New Orleans area. (I first saw, and wrote about, them at the 2015 New Orleans Jazz Fest, and with better photos.) But Sunday was a delight, if a somber one, given the tone of the evening as leader Givonna Joseph rooted the music in our nation’s long history with gun violence — stretching all the way back to the beginnings of slavery.

The performance was broken down into four major themes:“Mourning Our Ancestors: Africa to Reconstruction,” “Freedom Fighters,” “For Our Children” and“Change for the Future.” Working in collaboration with the Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church’s Chanel Choir, OperaCréole provided a space for each of its members to shine. OperaCréole opened with a beautiful team effort on “Great Creator” from Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s long-lost work, “Thelma” (rediscovered in 2012, a century after its debut), and then deftly blended “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” with the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”

Tenor Prentiss Mouton delivered a stirring version of Hall Johnson’s “Po’ Moner Got a Home At Last” (with accompaniment by pianist Marcus St. Julien). Bass-baritone Ivan Griffin dug deep on his take on Glenn Burleigh’s traditional “Go Down Moses.” Soprano Kenya Lawrence Jackson wished a sweet “Prayer” from Langston Hughes by way of Ricky Ian Gordon. Mezzo-soprano Aria Mason (Joseph’s daughter) had to literally compose herself for her personal tribute to a former student, George Carter III, a local third-grader, who later became a victim a gun violence as a teen, with her “Being Good” from “Hallelujah, Baby!”

Kathleen Halm paid lovely tribute to Verdi’s “Requiem” (1st movement) and then joined OperaCréole on Moses Hogan’s “Walk Together Children.” Everyone chimed in on the finale, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” with members hoisting signs marking the cities that have experienced the most recent tragedies of gun violence. While the program encouraged the audience to contact legislators and community advocates to speak out against gun violence, the song was an apt coda on peace: Let it begin with me.

 

DJ Soul Sister’s Top 5 “dream invites” to her 10th Annual Birthday Jam — living and dead

 

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DJ Soul Sister’s 10th Annual Birthday Jam, featuring Chuck Brown Band, New Breed Brass Band
WHEN: Fri. (Sept. 9), 10 p.m.
WHERE: Tipitina’s, 501 Napoleon Ave.
TICKETS: $20 advance, $25 at the door
MORE INFO: Visit event page

Melissa Weber, as DJ Soul Sister, has been that rare New Orleans musical artist, connecting the dots between New Orleans music to the rest of the nation in her never-ending passion to expose audiences to the deepest cuts and the rarest grooves of funk music — without ever lifting an instrument. That is, of course, if you don’t consider a turntable an instrument.

Whether as the host of WWOZ’s “Soul Power” or her “Hustle” shows at the Hi-Ho Lounge, DJ Soul Sister goes far beyond the obvious stars and hits of the genre and digs a little deeper, but always keeping the party going. Her star power has grown over the past decade to the point where she’s become a presence at festivals more known for live music, and to the point where her annual Birthday Jam has become one of the early highlights of the fall music season

On this, the eve of her 10th Annual Birthday Jam — featuring the Chuck Brown Band, backing musicians for the late go-go legend out of Washington, D.C. — we asked DJ Soul Sister for the artists, living or dead, she’d love to have on the guest list.

Chuck Brown — This is an obvious choice but, as the “Godfather” and creator of the go-go sound of Washington, D.C., that I’m dedicating my party to, he will be present in spirit. Like my Birthday Jam last year, I’m having a huge specialty birthday cake created that everyone can enjoy. I was gonna keep it a secret, but I’m too excited to hold it in any longer. This year’s cake, created by Dat Cake Place, will include 100-percent edible conga drums with a painting (again, edible) of Chuck Brown. He’s got his own lottery tickets, memorial park, statue … now he’ll be on a cake! Seriously, this is how much Chuck Brown is loved, and his music and style is so influential to me. I’m thrilled that his band (the Chuck Brown Band) and all of the other go-go bands and musicians in the D.C. area keep his sound alive some 40 years after he started it.

George Clinton — Why? Because George Clinton. Actually, now that I think about it, George has been to one of my birthday parties. Here he is with my mom at a birthday party that I threw at the New Orleans Hard Rock Cafe with other P-Funk Virgos back in 1997. (See slideshow photo.) The Funk must always be present when it comes to a birthday party of mine.

Questlove — Being that Questlove is the music lover’s ultimate music-loving artist/performer/historian/critic/writer/badass that I aspire to be when I grow up, it only makes sense that I’d invite him. Besides, any serious lover of funk music can’t resist D.C. go-go, and I know he loves it. Several years ago, I opened for The Roots at a concert in the New Orleans Main Library on Loyola, of all places. One of the songs I mixed in my set, as it came to a close, was a go-go cut called “4th Gear” by Trouble Funk (1983). When The Roots took the stage, Questlove incorporated that go-go beat in the intro. I was jumping up and down.

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Slick Leo (Photo courtesy Leo Coakley)

Slick Leo of New Orleans — I’ve been talking a lot about DJ Slick Leo lately, but he is such an influence on me, even though I was pretty young when I was really exposed to him. I was too young to go see him play at the Famous Disco or places like that. But I learned about Washington, D.C. go-go music from his live on-air mixes on the long-defunct WAIL 105 FM in the mid 1980s. The station regularly had this music in rotation, songs like “Meet Me at the Go-Go” by Hot, Cold Sweat and “Let’s Get Small” by Trouble Funk. I never forgot that sound and how much I loved it, so I credit him with introducing me to go-go. Thanks to him, and my love of funk music, I’ve developed a lifelong appreciation of the music and culture of D.C. go-go, and I just want to share it with others — just like he shared it with me. People should know that he’s a legendary music figure in this city, and the fact that we can trace many New Orleanians’ knowledge of D.C. go-go directly to him is one of the reasons why.

Teena Marie — “Lady T” is my favorite female vocalist of all time, hands down. I’ve just loved her my whole life, since I was very young. It’s hilarious that I had no idea she was white until I was approaching high school. She’s one of the most soulful vocalists of all time. I opened for her a few times, but was scared to death to meet her. I don’t get very star-struck, but she’s someone I just viewed as untouchable. But, funny enough, in the months prior to her passing, we became Twitter friends — out of the blue! Like, she started following me, and we’d chat back and forth about music. And sometimes she’d DM (direct message) me, too. It was all about our appreciation of music — Linda Lewis, Linda Jones, New Birth, you name it. She loved and knew her music. After all of this communication transpired, I always thought we’d have a great time meeting in person. I do think she’d love D.C. go-go music, especially since she also played congas, which is a key instrument in the go-go sound. Plus, she loved New Orleans so much.

Read more: Check out Keith Spera’s article on the event in the New Orleans Advocate.

Trixie Minx at Jazz Ascona: Time tripping with the Treme Brass Band (Field Trip)

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As part of our “Field Trip” series, New Orleans burlesque producer and performer Trixie Minx continues her travelogue at Switzerland’s Jazz Ascona, which features a celebration of New Orleans music that includes the Treme Brass Band, Tom McDermott, Aurora Nealand, Glen David Andrews, Shamarr Allen, Topsy Chapman, Anais St. John, Lillian Boutté and Shannon Powell. Here she checks in at the midway point.

The other day I realized I had been in Switzerland for exactly one week, marking the mid-point of the Jazz Ascona Festival. It was a strange realization, because ever since I got to the festival time hasn’t been used as a unit of measurement so much as a pleasant reminder to see or work with another musician. It is difficult to describe but so clear to everyone that is here that Jazz Ascona is not merely a music festival but a music experience.

My days and nights have blurred together into a single thread of artistic and very human consciousness. When I first arrived I had a very grand plan of waking up early, working on projects with my friends, seeing the sights and then performing all night. I love the calm of a scheduled routine, but the environment of the festival led me to relax my “plan” and truly live the experience I am so lucky to be in. So my typical yet not scheduled day starts by waking up early to the sound of church bells (which are on every corner; seriously, it’s like Starbucks) since they hate the idea of me sleeping in. In a zombie-like state, I leave my room in search of coffee. This is where my adventures begin… .

I’m half a block from the piazza, which is the main street on the lake and the location of most of the stages for the festival. I’ve taken dozens of pictures of the piazza, but photos don’t seem to capture the unimaginable beauty of this view. The street is lined with little cafes dotted with brightly colored, umbrella-covered tables looking out on to a lake swirled with crystal clear blue and green water. Swans gently glide by, and in the distance the snow-tipped Alps are as far as the eye can see. I joke that it is like “The Truman Show” because it truly looks to heavenly to be real.

On this beautiful street, I run into different musicians each day. They are either drinking coffee at a cafe, smoking under the shade of a tree, playing music on their balcony or even stumbling home from the night before. I’m very fortunate to have worked with most of these artists for years in New Orleans, but we very rarely get to hang outside of a gig; however in Ascona we have this unique bubble where we can both work and hang. Of course we go see shows, castles, waterfalls and mountains, but my favorite part continues to be the conversations we have with one another.

My evening starts around 8 p.m. parading with the Treme Brass Band. As the only burlesque lady dancing through the streets in sparkly drawers amongst a festival that is primarily made up of musicians and people who love jazz, I bring a little extra NOLA magic to the mix in my role as an ambassador. The crowds truly love music and New Orleans, so marching down the cobblestone streets each night with Treme is more than just a “gig” but truly an honor to be sharing what we do locally on an international level. Afterwards the guys and I get drinks, eat dinner and see more music. After all the stage shows, everyone meets up at the late-night jam session.

These jam sessions are perhaps one of the strongest defining points of Jazz Ascona. While each artist is amazing at their craft and kills it on their individual stage sets, at the jam session you have an incredible mix of all the artists playing together. It’s a very interesting game of musical chairs where people are continuously jumping on/off the stage to play the next song. I even got to get in the mix on bass for a couple tunes and did a pop-up burlesque performance as well.

With music in the air, booze in most everyone and an electric energy of happiness, the night fades into morning, and the process is all repeated again.

As I said earlier, time has not been a unit of measurement but a pleasant reminder of music each day. So while I am halfway through my “time” at Jazz Ascona, I’m not counting the minutes but loving all the moments, a concept I hope to bring back with me.

 

Los Lobos performs “La Pistola y El Corazon” at New Orleans Jazz Fest

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One of the many beautiful things about Los Lobos is how, after so many decades, they can still turn on different audiences in different ways. One of America’s greatest roots-rock bands, “just another band from East L.A.” can take fans old and new through a tour of genres — Mexican or American folk, roadhouse blues, Louisiana swamp pop, or straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll, you name it, they can play it, and leave ’em wanting more. Having seen them play in different venues over the past 20-plus years, I’ve marveled at how they can tailor their set to a given show, from an all-encompassing set that spans their four decades, a tight compilation that includes their few hits (“La Bamba,” anyone?), or something more precise.

That latter approach is what Los Lobos provided fans at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell on Friday (April 29) at the Sheraton Fais Do Do State. Playing off a 2014 tour that celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Grammy Award-winning “La Pistola y El Corazon,” Los Lobos easily tore through that landmark work (an EP that clocks in at 25 minutes) while also delighting the audience with a range of other Mexican and Latin works — often introducing each one for a cultural context befitting a festival with the word “heritage” in the title. So instead of looking forward by showcasing their excellent new album, “Gates of Gold,” Los Lobos took a look back — way back.

There in a row stood the original members: Cesar Rosas (sporting his ubiquitous black shades), bassist Conrad Lozano on guitarron, Louie Perez, and David Hidalgo working his way through the guitar, the accordion and fiddle depending on his mood. Steve Berlin, a longtime member, remained frequently on the sidelines, occasionally popping out to add some beef with his massive, silver baritone saxophone.

For a 25-minute work of Latin folk, “La Pistola y El Corazon” covers a lot of ground, dipping at various times into conjunto, mariachi, Tex-Mex and Chicano rock at any given moment — every song feeling distinct and fresh from the other. Part of that is due to the dual threat of Rosas and Hidalgo trading lead on both guitar and vocals. This is where they have to each trim down their repertoire, Rosas shelving his passion for roadhouse blues and Hidalgo refraining from some of his more ruminative folk colorings. And yet they still breathe new life into vocal moment.

This is where their instruments serve them well, for if nothing else, Los Lobos could possibly be America’s greatest acoustic act — Hidalgo strumming his sturdy requinto jarocho when not on fiddle or accordion, Rosas plucking his huapanguera, and Perez sometimes furiously attacking “Howard,” his trusty six-string jarana. When they were all in full strum, the crowd practically swooned, especially on such memorable versions of “El Gusto,” “El Canelo” and the title track.

It became so blissful, the band holding the audience so easily in their hands, that when they broke into a more traditional version of “La Bamba” — which Richie Valens had compressed more accessibly into his 1958 hit — and the Cuban folk classic Guantamera (with Lozano taking his lone lead turn on vocals), it felt like Los Lobos were running up the score.

(Trivia: It should be noted that “La Pistola y El Corazon” was the band’s follow-up their amazing success performing “La Bamba,” and other Richie Valens tunes, for the movie soundtrack. While most fans and observers suggested they build on this rare moment of mainstream success, Los Lobos went in the completely opposite direction. Maybe this is why they failed this year to get voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)

With barely an appreciation of the lyrics, it was easy to weep out of joy.

I watched as my wife swooned from song to song, caught up in an EP she had discovered years ago, in a department store of all places, and had spent the past couple weeks playing on a loop in anticipation of the show. I had proudly boasted of being the big Los Lobos fan in the household, but it was fun to sit back and watch her fall madly in love with this band on this, her second time seeing them live. The first time was more at a distance, on a double bill with Los Lonely Boys at an amphitheater outside Atlanta. This time was up close, practically at the barrier, behind other hardcore fans who’d camped out during the preceding set by the Honey Island Swamp Band to get into position. When her eyes weren’t closed, her face was beaming as Los Lobos strummed their way permanently into her heart.

Or corazon, if you will. As the opening of the song says (in English, anyway), “I don’t know how to tell you, don’t know how to explain that there is no remedy for what I feel inside.”

With Los Lobos, the only remedy is to keep rediscovering them, over and over again, in whatever way possible.