The Year Before The Flood: The Ponderosa Stomp

How can my two weeks of guest boinging be over already? I was just starting to get my blog on, and now it's time to bail. Thanks to Rob, and big big thanks to Xeni. I'll drop one last excerpt of the book on my way out the door. The Year Before The Flood replays the last year the city of New Orleans was whole, 2004-05. As such, it's about the way time passes in the city. (My previous book, The World that Made New Orleans, was about the unique space of the "Crescent City"; constrained from expanding by the swamp, New Orleans was dense and urban from early on.)

The party schedule gets intense. I write elsewhere in the book that New Orleans is "ruled by the year-long cyclical rhythm of festivals, saints' days, parties, and holidays. To relax in between, and to pay for everything, you have a job. It's a relief to go back to work after a big weekend." There's always another Sunday parade coming up. The whole year is modulated by the crescendo toward Mardi Gras, but then come what I heard a WWOZ announcer refer to as "the high holy days between Mardi Gras and Jazzfest."

It's something of a cliché that the past is always present in New Orleans. I used to think that was an overly romantic notion, even as I could feel its truth. Then I learned that cultural historians have a word for this: chronotope, which refers (among other things) to a community's concept of time. Read the rest

Photos from "The Year Before the Flood"

I beg your pardon for missing my post yesterday. I was struggling to get the first Postmamboism T-shirt manufactured, celebrating the publication of "Principles of Postmamboism." Looks like I'll have 'em sometime between Monday and Wednesday. The graphic that accompanied that article -- "Abre kuta güiri mambo" (open up your ears and listen to the important matter") -- is going to be the T-shirt image, only printed in red on black instead of black on white. Damn, I haven't made a T-shirt since the last Muñequitos tour.

Today's post is pictures, specifically from New Orleans, and more specifically from my book The Year Before The Flood. To my delight and astonishment, my publisher (Lawrence Hill Books) gave me a 16-page color glossy insert for my photos, along with the black-and-whites sprinkled through the text. Most of them were taken during the almost-year we lived in New Orleans, which is the slice of time the book is about: from August 2004 to May 2005. Here are a few of the pix, though I do think they look better bigger, on paper:

Above, Aldo "Michael" Andrews, of the Bayou Steppers Social Aid and Pleasure Club, in front of the entrance to the Mother-in-Law Lounge in Tremé as their anniversary parade drew to a close on January 16, 2005. Moments after this picture was taken, the police turned on their sirens and ordered the area cleared.

Read the rest

The Year Before the Flood: Idelber's Accident

(Boing Boing guestblogger Ned Sublette is a writer, historian, photographer, and singer-songwriter who lives in New York City.)

Excerpt from The Year Before The Flood

To hear me reading this excerpt (in a shout, as I tend to do in clubs) at Joe's Pub, click here. Oh, and if you want to get on my e-mail list, send an e-mail saying "subscribe" to ned.sublette at

Fully conscious and quite annoyed, Idelber was lying on the sidewalk on Magazine Street, bleeding from a long window-glass cut on the side of his head. It looked dramatic, but he wasn't badly hurt.

You can easily get creamed driving across Magazine. You have to creep way out into the street until you can see around the parked cars. Then you have to look both ways and go! In the time it took Idelber to look left and right and turn onto the street, an SUV came barrelling down the road from behind the phalanx of parked cars, outside his field of vision. It was going at least fifty when it made impact over Idelber's left front tire. Had he started out from the intersection a half-second earlier, he would probably have been dead. Read the rest

Principles of Postmamboism

Postmamboism is a portable theory that places music at the center of understanding and uses music to interrogate other fields of study.

While the premises and methods of Postmamboism are applicable across a wide variety of musics, the discipline begins with the study of African and African diaspora musics, given their historical centrality to the music of the world and their deep connection through slavery, neoslavery, and liberation struggles to fundamental questions of colonialism, capitalism, and civilization. Postmamboism calls for a thorough knowledge of music of the black Atlantic, and implicitly has much to do with the emergent field of Atlantic studies, but its techniques and perspective can work with any musical culture.

Postmamboism is urgently interested in the ancient history of all civilizations, including both that which is documented through archaeology in the dry, heavily excavated zones of the Mediterranean Rim and Asia, and that which rotted in the humidity and archaeological neglect of sub-Saharan Africa and must be studied by other means. The term Postmamboism derives from the Kikongo word imbú, likely used in Cuba from the 16th century on, that is variously translated as "word," "law," "song," or "important matter," and which is pluralized as ma-imbú, or mambo. The prefix "post" is understood to mean not "what replaced," but "what happened after the world was transformed by." Postmamboism says with Arsenio Rodríguez: Abre (open) kuta (ear) güiri (hear) mambo. Read the rest

They Came as Explorers: Listening to Omar Sosa's "Across the Divide"

(Boing Boing guestblogger Ned Sublette is a writer, historian, photographer, and singer-songwriter based in New York.)

I heard some good records this year, but one stands out for the way it compelled me to listen over and over: Cuban pianist Omar Sosa's Across the Divide: A Tale of Rhythm & Ancestry.

I don't listen to all that much recorded music, though you wouldn't know it from the way my apartment is bulging with recorded music in every format known to man or woman. About an hour a day, usually, not counting my work, which entails studying music. I prefer my music live, in the presence of other people hearing it with me. And if I play a recording, I listen to it. I don't play recorded music while I'm doing something else, unless it's a routine task.

I must have thousands of CDs, but there are about thirty I play repeatedly--my comfort records, so to speak. By which I mean, when I want to relax with an old friend, I put this one on. My idiosyncratic, impulsively personal selection goes beyond the constant parade of r&b and salsa oldies on my computer to albums that have an arc, an identity, and a context of their own.

João Bosco's Zona de Fronteira. Big Sam's Funky Nation. Lecuona plays Lecuona. Alicia de Larrocha plays Albéniz's Iberia, though I wish I could hear a ripping new interpretation of it with close miking. Everything by Dr. John, and Coco Robicheaux's Spiritland. Read the rest

The Year Before The Flood: "Getting to town"

(Boing Boing guestblogger Ned Sublette is a writer, historian, photographer, and singer-songwriter based in New York.)

This week and next I'm presenting excerpts from my new book, The Year Before The Flood (Lawrence Hill Books). One of Amazon's categories for it is "21st-century history," which I like.

It's a memoir of the last year New Orleans was whole, 2004-05, the way I saw it when my wife Constance and I went to live there for ten months. (We returned to New York in May 2005, though I came back to New Orleans for a visit three weeks before the city went underwater as of August 29.) It's not that deadly publishing category, the "Katrina book." (For that matter, I don't call what happened to New Orleans "Katrina." It wasn't a vengeful goddess that took the city out, it was a social and infrastructural failure.) The book is about the music, from Fats Domino to Dr. John to the Nevilles to world-class local bands like - I don't want to mention just one or everyone'll be mad at me, and there are so many -- to Lil' Wayne, but there's a lot of death in it, too, because murder and music were both in the air, all year long.

It's got multiple narrative threads, but one of the ideas it proposes is that it's a mistake to ignore hiphop when we talk about New Orleans music, just as it's a mistake to talk about New Orleans hiphop as if the rest of New Orleans music didn't exist. Read the rest

Rhythmic Truth to Power: RIP Luis "Terror" Días, 1952-2009

(Boing Boing guestblogger Ned Sublette is a writer, historian, photographer, and singer-songwriter based in New York. His latest book: The Year Before The Flood.)

"Singer/songwriter/guitarist, musical anthropologist, and one of rock and roll's pioneering forces in the Dominican Republic, Luis Días, passed away from a heart attack and other health-related complications on the morning of Dec. 8th, in Santo Domingo."

That's from an obit at Kiko Jones's blog, written by someone who knew Luis Días and felt what he was about.

I borrowed the photo from writer-photographer Eliseo Cardona's fine music blog Blue Monk, which also has an appreciation of Luis's life and work.

In the Santo Domingo daily paper 7 Días, Alfonso Torres writes a eulogy (in Spanish):

Nadie como él desafió la muerte, la noche terrorífica del último cuarto del siglo 20 dominicano, con su lírica estremecedora, su irreverencia, sus acordes exóticos tan lejanos y tan cercanos de nuestra cultura popular.

Which I crudely translate to (though I have to repunctuate):

Nobody could defy death—the terrorific night of the last quarter of the 20th century in the Dominican Republic - like him, with his shake-you-up lyrics, his irreverence, his exotic chords so far away from and so close to our popular culture. Read the rest

The Year Before The Flood: Chapter One excerpt (text and audio)

(Boing Boing guestblogger Ned Sublette is a writer, historian, photographer, and singer-songwriter based in New York. Embedded audio in this post: Ned reads an excerpt from chapter one of his latest book, The Year Before The Flood, live at Joe's Pub in New York City. After the jump, the full text of that chapter, republished in entirety here on Boing Boing.)

New Orleans is a subjective town that demands a point of view. Depending on where you're coming from, you have a different vision of the city. So I felt it was necessary to tell people where I was coming from, so to speak, before I could tell my story of New Orleans.

I'm not from New Orleans, but I lived in Louisiana until I was nine years old--in Natchitoches, Louisiana, which is 282 miles northwest of New Orleans and four years older, the first town the French founded in what later became the Louisiana Purchase. That was back in the bad old days, the 1950s. In August 1960 (just before the desegregation battle erupted in New Orleans) we moved away, to El Paso. I never lived in Louisiana again, until 2004, when I was fifty-three. Returning to Louisiana all those years later, I was a kind of insider / outsider. As I tried to learn the ropes of living in New Orleans, all kinds of long-buried fragmentary memories came surging forward. Like, I already knew what it meant for a deliveryman to leave a package "under the house," because the houses are raised up off the ground. Read the rest

Chano Domínguez at the Jazz Standard in New York (photo-essay)

(Boing Boing guestblogger Ned Sublette is an author, historian, photographer, and singer-songwriter who lives in New York City. His most recent book is "The Year Before The Flood." Photo above: Chano Domínguez, Dec. 3, Jazz Standard. Photos in this post: (c) 2009, Ned Sublette]

In presenting his version of Kind of Blue . . . [pianist Chano] Domínguez came with a quintet format I have not seen before: bass (Mario Rossy), cajón (Israel Piraña Suárez), a wailing flamenco vocal (Blas Córdoba, also on handclaps), and a handclappper (Tomasito) who also contributed bursts of percussive dance on a wooden mini-floor set at the front of the Standard's stage. So there were only two harmonic instruments and a voice, set against a rich, brittle rhythmic conversation.
That's from a review I wrote Friday morning, posted over at, of Thursday night's splendid performance by Chano Domínguez at the Jazz Standard in New York. Now let me back up.

Last year I played the most amazing festival: the Voll-Damm Barcelona International Jazz Festival (Voll-Damm is the sponsor). That was the festival where I spent two days with Bebo and Chucho Valdés... Read the rest