Monday, October 24, 2016

Black Men of Labor rolling in 2016

My first experience joining New Orleans Second Line celebrations was last year around this time, when our good friend Matt took us to the annual parade for the Social Aid and Pleasure Club Black Men of Labor.

It was an amazing experience, one that introduced me to the traditions of authentic street celebrations, that drew me into New Orleans neighborhoods I had never visited, and that helped me understand the vital forces of family, music, tradition and celebration that abide here.

It's been a year now, and this weekend I went again to join the Black Men of Labor Second Line parade. They started at Sweet Lorraine's Jazz Club on St. Claude Avenue, and rolled through the Seventh Ward and Treme.

Now that I've attended over a dozen other parades, I can see that this one is a little different. I remember our friend Matt described it as "old school," and the Black Men of Labor celebration certainly did have a more courtly and historical feel. The Men pose for group photos in front of a large mural, beneath an array of flags from past years' parades. 

Unlike many of the other groups, there were no floats with kings and queens, accompanied by a booming PA sound mix. There were just a quartet of standard bearers holding up the BMOL banners.

The group is all gentlemen - there were no ladies' auxiliary groups joining in. Their garb was richly embroidered and bright turquoise. The marchers did not did not carry huge feather flags and stylized baskets; they carried smaller pieces in hand, shaped like the Egyptian symbol the ankh.

Just like last year, he balances his hat upside down!
As in previous years, the Men came out from the club door dancing, down a cleared pathway between police barricades. They carried beautifully embroidered parasols against the sun which, though it's October, is still hot on the height of a Sunday afternoon. 

And the band - the Treme Brass Band - has a more old-fashioned appearance, with their black pants, crisp white shirts, and white hats with the group's name embroidered on the hatband.Their music, though powerfully rhythmic, was less driven by hip-hop styling and more by the old New Orleans brass-band feel.

Not that it wasn't righteously awesome, like this trombone solo burning it up.

The media presence here was huge. A film crew rode ahead of them in the bed of a pick-up truck. There were drone-cameras circling overhead. 

The tourist presence here was huge, too, since the parade route is within a short walk from the French Quarter with its tourist hotels. The crowd was a teeming mixture of young and old people, locals and tourists, black and white. 

The route rolled down Rampart Street. Last year, the street was still messed up, torn up by construction of the Rampart Streetcar line. This year, the street is smoothly paved perfect asphalt, the neutral ground planted with new sod, punctuated by car stops with benches and new cast iron lamp-posts.

It's a little amazing to me that I've now spent over a year in New Orleans, and that I've become so familiar with these celebrations I can actually compare them one to the other. I see familiar faces at these parades - there's a woman photographer named Freddy I've become friendly with, I see her regularly, and even some of the vendors - Miss Linda the yakamein lady, and the lady who sells jello shots - now smile in recognition when I greet them. 

Thought I am still a newcomer, it feels like home.

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