Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Music Box, Reborn, Invokes St. Malo

The stellar trajectory of New Orleans Airlift's landmark project, The Music Box, began with a bang, when an antique cottage on bounce impresario Jay Pennington's Bywater property collapsed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A co-founder of Airlift, Pennington brainstormed with fellow founders, Delaney Martin and Taylor Shepherd, and the result was the transformation of the wreckage into a dozen or so shanties designed to function as oversize musical instruments. Christened The Music Box and often described as “a fairy tale in a junkyard,” it premiered to rave reviews amid the global coverage of the Prospect.2 art biennial in 2011, when it was often mistaken for an official biennial component. Since no zoning code exists for fairytale shanties in Bywater, the mythic structures became migratory, even turning up in City Park like a settlement of musical follies conjured by elfin troubadours, among other venues as far flung as Shreveport, Louisiana and Kiev, Ukraine. This year they were no less mysteriously reborn at a new permanent site on Rampart Street at the Industrial Canal. An inaugural concert, L'Union Creole, officially kicked off their Rampart St. reincarnation on November 4th and 5th. 
A big part of the Music Box mojo is the way the shanties resonate with a range of performers, and in L'Union Creole they became spirit houses as Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes and the Louisiana Sunspots, Martique-based singer Dédé Saint Prix, Cote D'Ivoire-born New Orleans percussionist Seguenon Kone and Nola's Opera Créole celebrated the extraordinary legacy of Jean St. Malo with blusey riffs, ecstatic drumming and incantatory Creole French vocals. A legendary 18th century freedom fighter who escaped plantation slavery and led raids to free other slaves who joined him at the maroon village on nearby Lake Borgne that bore his name, St. Malo and his followers were eventually caught and killed by Spanish colonial authorities. His memory lived on in the form of songs, legends and voodoo shrines. Remarkably, his shanty town was soon reoccupied by mutinous Malays from Spanish galleons who extended St. Malo's sanctuary status into America's first Asian settlement – proof, if any were needed, that shanties have a long and magical local history. ~Bookhardt / Rebirth of the Music Box by New Orleans Airlift, The Music Box, 4557 N Rampart St.

Related: Zacharie Richard Explains St. Malo and his World:

Related: Louisiana was a Spanish colony during St. Malo's time, but much of its culture was French Caribbean linked to our closest sister colony, St. Domingue, aka Haiti. A recent video, Les filles de Pantagruel, by Natacha Giafferi, evokes a sense of the culture from which St. Malo emerged.

Related: Common Edge on the Music Box as collaboration and community.