Graham Reid | | 3 min read
As I write this, large areas of
Louisiana have been under water this past week as the Mississippi
rose and authorities opened floodgates so as not put pressure on the
levees further down, notably around Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
And in nearly every report of the
events – caused by melting ice and run-off way up north – one
word has rung like a refrain: Katrina.
Hurricane Katrina is the shorthand for
the disaster that struck New Orleans in August 2005 but in the wider
world that has been reduced down to a mere knee-jerk about the
failure of the Bush administration to deal with the aftermath when
the levees broke and parts of the city were flooded.
The larger story is more historic and
complex, there had been a failure on the part of successive
governments to deal with the decades-long damage to wetlands by oil
companies, the failure of the levees (built by the US Army Corp of
Engineers), the lack of a coherent evacuation procedure of the many
thousands who had no vehicles to get them out. . .
Hurricane Katrina, in many ways, was
the least of the city's problems. The flooding and its immediate
consequences, then the aftermath as people moved away possibly never
to return, are the bigger matters.
The city that care forgot, as it used
to be called, is creeping back to life but no one would pretend it
will ever be quite the same.
This exceptional series – from the
creator of The Wire – drops you into New Orleans district of Treme
three months after Katrina where some locals are coming back to homes
with a tide mark halfway up their walls, others have stuck it out,
there are out-of-town security forces, kids who have no school to go
to, power cuts and food shortage, and people are struggling to make
debt payments while they wait for “IN-surance” claims to come
There is anger and resentment, but also
that spirit which made New Orleans unique is starting to be tapped.
The bands are starting to play again.
And music is at the core of this
series: real life musicians in the Rebirth Brass, Galactic, Trombone
Shorty, Elvis Costello (recording with Allen Toussaint in dry
self-parody) and many others play themselves.
There are plenty of in-jokes for those
who know this music: “You sound like Wynton,” from a young
trumpeter whose father says he might be able to play the new thing
but asks can he swing?
Two white street musicians – a keyboard
player and a violinist – encounter some young folk from
Wisconsin who have come down with their church to help rebuild the
9th ward. They'd like to hear some authentic New Orleans music and the keyboard guy asks if they
want When the Saints. (They do, but in a clever twist your sympathies
are with them for their optimism rather than with his cynicism.)
But the music doesn't take away from
the serious story here of a city which has seen its people, their
homes and its culture washed away.
If you know the background to the Mardi
Gras Indians, the role of brass bands and the distinctive New Orleans
“bounce” style of hip-hop then you will get even more from this.
Helpfully the DVD comes with an option which allows the titles of
songs/artists to pop up when they are played, even if just from a
radio or a stereo. Use it and keep a pencil handy.
Treme – correctly Fauborg Treme, a
predominantly black district of the city beside the famous French
Quarter and which was one of the most important historical and
cultural areas -- was badly affected by the flooding.
This first season of the series – 10
hour-long episodes – wasn't without its local critics who picked up
on matters of authenticity (although most locals seemed to approve of
it) and the sense of a city and a people gradually rebuilding is the
long arc here, peppered with telling small detail about how those in
different circumstances came to terms with their new lives.
The second series was much darker.
But here is where this story begins, to
a brilliant and diverse soundtrack which includes older jazz styles
alongside bounce and jazz-funk.
A series to turn the sound up for.
Like the sound of this? Then check out this.