In Spain, As In New Orleans, Culture Finds Trouble With The Law

Maybe brass band players in New Orleans should sit down and have a talk with the flamenco musicians of Seville, Spain. There’d be some shared rhythmic legacies to discuss, sure. But more to the point, some common and pressing problems with local governments and police.

As readers of this blog know, I’ve been writing consistently about tensions between the celebrated jazz culture of New Orleans and the powers that be in that city—about efforts to inhibit or even shut down cultural expression in ways that reflect not just the forces of gentrification and commercialization but also long-simmering political and social divides.

I’ve also been looking into similar dynamics in other cities—say, when the Giuliani administration in New York City began shutting down rumbas in public parks as part of its “Zero Tolerance” policing program.

A friend just forwarded an article at Truthout by Yossi Bartal that begins like this:

Recently recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and increasingly used by communities in southern Spain to attract tourism, flamenco music and dance seem to enjoy an unprecedented revival all around the world. But the public spaces and social centers that play a major role in the formation of flamenco culture are increasingly threatened by gentrification, newly legislated municipal ordinances and heavy policing.

I’d literally just written these lines:

Now—as a yet undefined “new” New Orleans rubs up against whatever is left of the old one—a revival of rarely enforced ordinances has met a fresh groundswell of activism. Brass bands have been shut down on their customary street corners, where they play for passersby. Music clubs have increasingly been hit with lawsuits and visited by the police responding to phoned-in complaints. All this has happened in the context of swift gentrification of neighborhoods such as Tremé, long a hothouse for indigenous culture. Continue reading “In Spain, As In New Orleans, Culture Finds Trouble With The Law”