New Orleans Fest Offers Exploration Of City's 'Spanish Tinge'

Role of Cuban, Mexican and Caribbean music in Crescent City is subject of colloquium.

Pianist Jelly Roll Morton came up with the "Spanish tinge" label to describe the Hispanic overtones that differentiated New Orleans jazz from ragtime. Now academics are going to dig into that label and reveal all its secret ingredients. The New Orleans International Music Colloquium and Jazz Workshop, held on April 14 in conjunction with the annual French Quarter Festival, which runs from April 14–16, will explore the role played by Cuban, Mexican and Caribbean music in the city's distinctive cultural mix.

"Because of our unique colonial experience, there was always an atmosphere here that cultures had a right to express themselves," said Connie Atkinson, interim director of the Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies at the University of New Orleans and an organizer of the colloquium. "In fact, New Orleans music is more about this attitude than any particular style. World music is not a new thing here."

This point is demonstrated in the music of the local artists who will perform at this year's French Quarter festivities. Only a few of these performers — Rudy and the Caribbean Funk Band, Ya Ya Soul and Los Calientes del Son — qualify as "world music" acts, yet the traditional jazz bands that dominate the festival feature musicians who are living the multicultural life.

"It's rare for a New Orleans musician to play in just one style," Atkinson said. "The drummer who plays traditional jazz on Friday may play modern jazz with Donald Harrison on Saturday, then at a gospel brunch on Sunday."

For information on both the festival and the colloquium, call 1-800-673-5725 or log on to www.frenchquarterfestivals.org.