Watching the Krewe of Zulu along Orleans Avenue is a study in New Orleans street culture, complete with huge crowds gathering on the streets, along the sidewalks, and up on porches while barbecue pits billow with smoke and speakers blast with music to help along the marching bands that are dotted along the parade.
I had the honor and privilege of helping to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Bunch Club, many of whom are in Zulu, and I also got to interview the Zulu king and queen — both for the New Orleans Advocate. Here are visual highlights the corner of Orleans Avenue and Miro Street, and trots along Esplanade and Claiborne avenues.
Back in the day, Claiborne Avenue along the Treme neighborhood was a constant hive of activity, until city leaders OK’d a routing of a stretch of I-1o directly over that area, casting a literal shadow over a unique culture and commerce for the African-American community.
Treme in particular and black New Orleans never fully recovered from that decision, but Mardi Gras day represents a kind of reclaiming of that territory, with music, vendors, artisans, families, Zulu members, and Mardi Gras Indians flooding Claiborne Avenue — both under the bridge and off to the side, spilling all the way down Basin Street. It’s as magical a scene as anything in the French Quarter, with DJs and performers blasting music and gumbo boiling in pots and offered at $6 a bowl.
(One vendor offered a free sampling of cracklin’ just to be nice.) Photographers offered to take photos with street-themed backgrounds awash in airbrush spray paint at $5 a snap.
There is an official “Mardi Gras Under the Bridge” event, but really, it’s just one massive street party.
Here are a few snapshots from that scene.
Watching the Zulu parade on Orleans Avenue has become a ritual, of sorts, setting up near Dooky Chase’s restaurant at the corner of Miro and enjoying an amazing street and neighborhood scene. Even though I’d parked my car two blocks away, I must have seen four neighbors smoking meats on the way up to the parade route.
Treme residents, vendors, tourists and even the occasional celebrity can be spotted along the route, and, before the parade proceeds, the king and queen each receive a toast from the Chase family perched on a grandstand outside the restaurant. When it’s all over, plenty of people head back in the other direction for Claiborne Avenue and an even more impressive street scene that includes “Mardi Gras Under the Bridge.” I’ll have snapshots from that in a separate post.
Check out my feature on Zulu King Jay Banks and his wife, Artelia, in the New Orleans Advocate, as well as a look inside their lovely Uptown home.
Profiling Zulu King Jay Banks and his wife, Artelia, for the New Orleans Advocate at their Uptown home was one of the highlights of the Carnival season — not just because it’s a chance to meet royalty, but because of the dedication to serve that fills their everyday lives:
If we can use this to benefit somebody, it’s worth it,” said the 55-year-old Banks, director of the Dryades YMCA School of Commerce. “It’s not about us. It all comes back to that basic idea of wanting to help people.”
Both Bankses make service and helping others a part of both their professional and personal lives. That includes his work with Zulu and New Orleans politics — totems of which permeate their modest residence. Keepsakes from Zulu balls and the Democratic National Convention share space on the walls, so I thought you might get a kick out of those images almost as much as the story itself.