"Crack House" - New Birth Brass Band

“Crack House” (PDF) from the New Birth Brass Band album, New Orleans Second Line!
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No other song speaks to both the economic injustice and the swagger of the black American experience at the turn of the 21st century better than “Crack House” by the New Birth Brass Band:

“Living in a crack house on Frenchmen Street,
It’s my house, my house”

Known as the modern hotbed of authentic New Orleans music, Frenchmen Street is a destination for more-culturally-adventurous tourists by providing a non-Top-40 experience of music performed both in jazz clubs and on the street corners, where musicians can make a moderate living from passing the hat. Frenchmen Street is unlike any other place in America, full of life and diversity, and those who call it their home, either physically or spiritually, never want to leave.

But history has shown that gentrification, instead of preservation, is the cheaper solution to a growing market. The original appeal of Frenchmen Street was that it was where artists lived when not bustling on the busier Bourbon Street. In Chicago, artists, punks, and “alternative” populations once rallied behind the love-able losers of the Wrigleyville when the rents were affordable but have since been forced out in place of hotels and white-collar shopping experiences. Speaking of the tech-boom in his own city, Seattle musician John Roderick Tweeted:

As a result, the product of gentrification is a “culture” where authenticity is a chosen labor rather than a creative recreation.

Furthermore, the undervalued working force is resigned to shared living spaces among those affected by systemic inequities, those dependent on special care, and those struggling with addiction as a means of survival. The effects of poverty are a shameful example of a city’s cultural contribution.

Yet, the beauty within the music of New Orleans is a spirit of survival through the harshest conditions of bondage. Indeed the lily of the valley shall overcome. It is the feeling and rhythm of perpetual motion, the funk, that can only be created within a community that supports and sustains itself. Say it loud, Frenchmen Street is the only place in the world that the music of New Birth Brass Band can call its house.

And yet, here is a YouTube video of a news report regarding the recent arrest of trumpeter Eugene Grant of the Young Fellaz Brass Band on Frenchmen Street, only to add more tension between New Orleans musicians and property owners.

Recommended reading: Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans by Matt Sakakeeny. Published by Duke University Press.

Alex Leong