2009 Congo Square Rhythms Festival

Nov 14–15, 2009
Armstrong Square Park
New Orleans, Louisiana
Admission: Free

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Tom Dent Congo Square Symposium

Congo Square: Crossroads of the
Afro-Atlantic World

Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009
At the Jazz & Heritage Center
Event Description
Workshop Schedule
Event Summary
Presentation Summaries
Panelists Biographies

Tom Dent Congo Square Symposium
Congo Square: Crossroads of the Afro-Atlantic World

Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009 at the Jazz & Heritage Center

Leading scholars on African and Caribbean culture, and their impact on New Orleans, will gather on Saturday, Nov. 14, for a symposium entitled "Congo Square: Crossroads of the Afro-Atlantic World."

The symposium, which is free and open to the public, takes place at the Jazz & Heritage Center (1225 N. Rampart Street, Map This Location), from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The event is presented by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation as a part of the Foundation's Tom Dent Congo Square Lecture Series.

The day following the symposium, the Jazz & Heritage Foundation will present the third annual Congo Square Rhythms Festival in nearby Armstrong Park. The festival is free and open to the public. It will feature music, food and a large crafts area. Performers include Ensemble Fatien (featuring Ivorian multi-instrumentalist Seguenon Kone, Dr. Michael White, Sunpie Barnes and others), the Kumbuka African Dance Ensemble and many more. More information.

"Congo Square: Crossroads of the Afro-Atlantic World" features Ned Sublette, author of "The World That Made New Orleans," Yale University African culture scholar Robert Farris Thompson, musician Alex LaSalle of the Puerto Rican group Alma Moyó and others in a day-long series of discussions and workshops.

The final hour of the symposium will feature a drum workshop and a cocktail reception.

The schedule of events is as follows:

1:00 p.m. - Welcome and Introductions
1:00 p.m. - Presentation by Ned Sublette, "Rocking the City, Cracking the Code: Bámbula at Congo Square"
2:30 p.m. - Presentation by Robert Farris Thompson, "Kongo with a 'K'"
3:30 p.m. - Break
3:45 p.m. - Panel Discussion: Perspectives on Congo Square
Freddi Williams Evans: "Congo Square Through the Years"
Connie Zeanah Atkinson: "Place Publique: The Historical Congo Square"
Herreast Harrison and Robert Farris Thompson: A Dialogue
Luther Gray: "Advocating for Congo Square"
5:00 p.m. - Drum Workshop (featuring Alex LaSalle and Luther Gray) and Cocktail Reception

Event Summary:

Congo Square was the popular but never official name for the commons that is now part of Armstrong Park, across Rampart Street from the French Quarter in New Orleans. It has the status of sacred space in African-American culture, and the gatherings that took place there constitute a singular and fundamental phenomenon in the musical and cultural history of the United States. Beginning as a Sunday marketplace, by the early 19th Century that commons had become the only place in the United States where enslaved people could gather en masse to sing, drum and dance. It was a place of memory and experimentation, a commercial center, and a party -- all in a city that would in many essential respects be recognizable to New Orleanians today. This symposium brings together a variety of scholars and cultural practitioners to consider the facts, meaning, and legacy of Congo Square.

Presentation Summaries:

Ned Sublette
"Rocking the City, Cracking the Code: Bámbula at Congo Square"
1:10 p.m.

One of the great frustrations in thinking about Congo Square is that we have no recordings of how it sounded. Contemporary accounts, most notably Benjamin Henry Latrobe's 1819 description with pictures, describe dense activity and loud, diverse sound, or, as another traveler observed that same year: the "African slaves" would "assemble on the green by the swamp and rock the city with their Congo dances."

But we are not confined to the stray written evidence handed down by culturally naïve passers-by. We also have a thriving oral culture to consult. While we might not be able to recapture the composite sound of Congo Square, we know some things about the music there. There was at least one element for which we have a pretty good living relative today: the bámbula. The bámbula one might have heard at Congo Square in 1819 bore no small resemblance to the way bámbula is played today in western Puerto Rico. Cousins of this style can be heard in eastern Cuba and Guadeloupe, among other places. This, in turn, is a consequence of one of the generative explosions of popular music in the Western hemisphere: the diaspora occasioned by the Haitian Revolution of 1791 to 1804.

Appearing with Ned Sublette will be Alex LaSalle, a specialist in the music of western Puerto Rico, who will demonstrate the way bámbula is played in the contemporary and historical context.

Robert Farris Thompson
"Kongo with a K"
2:30 p.m.

The presentation will consist of two sections, both bearing on Creole continuities of Kongo culture in the Americas. First are the well-known continuities, the conga drum, the conga line, the congo grind. But jug-bands in early jazz also trace back to Kongo, as do the twist [zka nitu], the ring-shout, and very likely the Charleston, being that South Carolina is famous for a Kongo house built in the late 19th Century by a former slave, Kongo-influenced face-jugs with inserted kaolin eyes and cut teeth, and a pond associated with the powerful Kongo water spirits, the simbi.

Kongo is famous for its writing system [bidimbu] and as a direct extension of that are time-resistant gestures practiced there and here over the past 200 years: arms akimbo, hands above head with fingers wide spread, right hand forward and left on hip. These echo and re-echo in art historical documents which we touch upon briefly. In sum, specific musical, choreographic and gestural traditions will be shown to link Black Americas with the noble civilization of the kingdom of Kongo.

Panelist Biographies:

Ned SubletteNed Sublette
Ned Sublette (born 1951 in Lubbock, Texas) is an American composer, musician, record producer and musicologist. Sublette studied Spanish Classical Guitar with Hector Garcia at the University of New Mexico and with Emilio Pujol in Spain. He studied composition with Kenneth Gaburo at the University of California, San Diego. He grew up in Portales, New Mexico, moved to New York City in 1976, and has worked with John Cage, LaMonte Young, Glenn Branca, and Peter Gordon. As a performer, Sublette is probably best known for fusing country-western and afro-Caribbean styles including salsa, cumbia and rumba, as reflected on the 1999 album "Cowboy Rumba". He is also a leading scholar of Cuban music. His label Qbadisc releases Cuban music in the United States and he has produced Latin musicians including Ritmo Oriental and Issac Delgado and has co-produced Public Radio International's "Afropop Worldwide" show. His book on Cuban music, "Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo" was published in 2004. "The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square," was published in 2008 by Lawrence Hill Books. Sublette is a 2005 Guggenheim Fellow.

Robert Farris ThompsonRobert Farris Thompson
Robert Farris Thompson (born 1932) is the Colonel John Trumbull Professor of the History of Art at Yale University. Having served as Master of Timothy Dwight College since 1978, he is currently the longest serving master of a residential college at Yale. Thompson is America's most prominent scholar of African art, and has presided over exhibitions of African art at the National Gallery in Washington D. C.

A member of the Yale faculty since 1965, Prof. Thompson has taught and written extensively on the visual traditions of West and Central Africa, and on Black Art in the Americas. His publications include Black Gods and Kings (1971), African Art in Motion: Icon and Act (1974), The Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Art (1981), Flash of the Spirit: African and African–American Art and Philosophy (1983), and Pygmees (1991). In 1994, "The Face of the Gods: Art and Alters of Africa and the African Americas," a major exhibition and book on African–Atlantic altars culminating 25 years of research, opened in New York City and traveled to museums throughout the United States. He published Rediscovered Masterpieces, printed in French, English, German, and Dutch editions by Musee Dapper in Paris; Mbuti Design, on the art of the women of the Ituri Forest in Central Africa, was published in English in Munich, and Tango: The Art History of Love appeared from Pantheon in 2005. In addition, he contributed an essay to the recent British Art Center volume covering Jamaica and its black culture, wrote a catalog on the African–American painter Wadsworth Jarrell (forthcoming), and wrote a catalog preface to a show by the Ivory Coast artist Ouattara. Prestel, the publishers in Munich, are preparing a volume called Aesthetic of the Cool, a reader of all his main articles published between 1959 and 2007.

Alex LaSalleAlex LaSalle
A researcher & lecturer of the oral history of Afro-Antillean traditions, Alex LaSalle is a skilled percussionist, songwriter and singer whose versatile musical talents lend themselves to singing Afro-Boricua, Afro-Dominican, Afro-Cuban and Haitian traditional music. As the founder/director of Alma Moyó, one of New York City's most powerful bomba ensembles, he works dedicatedly to honor the legacy and voice of the ancestors from the bomba communities stemming from Mayagez, Catao and Guayama. He is a member of Los Pleneros de la 21 and Juan Usera y La Tribu, and has performed with numerous groups both in Puerto Rico and throughout the United States.

Freddi Williams EvansFreddi Williams Evans
Freddi Williams Evans is an artist, therapist, educator, and administrator and author. She has worked with children of all ages and exceptionalities in various public and private settings. Her articles have appeared in local newspapers and her poems appear in several anthologies, including "From a Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets." She has traveled to Africa twice as a Fulbright Scholar (Zimbabwe in 1995 and South Africa in 2000). Her acclaimed first book, "A Bus of Our Own," is about her family and hometown. She is also author of "The Battle of New Orleans: A Drummer's Story."

Luther GrayLuther Gray
Luther Gray is one of the leading percussionists and arts educators in Louisiana. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Wisconsin in Radio, Television and Film Production, and has been active in the New Orleans arts community since 1984. He founded two major musical groups, Percussion Incorporated (in 1985) and Bamboula 2000 (in 1994). He received a Douglas Redd Fellowship in 2008 and has been working to organize African-American artists in New Orleans to utilize art and culture for positive social change in New Orleans. In 1989 he founded the Congo Square Foundation, which has been instrumental in the resurrection of drumming and cultural activities in Congo Square. In 1997, the Congo Square Foundation was successful in placing Congo Square on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, he with a team of drum makers including Doug Redd carved three Bamboula drums from a one hundred year old cypress tree that are now on display at the new Louisiana State Museum of History in Baton Rouge.

Connie Zeanah AtkinsonConnie Zeanah Atkinson
Connie Zeanah Atkinson is Associate Director of the Ethel and Herman L. Midlo International Center for New Orleans Studies at the University of New Orleans. She has worked for the Vieux Carre Courier, New Orleans Magazine and Figaro, and founded Wavelength: The New Orleans Music Magazine - all to draw attention to the often overlooked rhythm-and-blues musicians of the city. In 1997, she received her Doctorate of Popular Music from the University of Liverpool. In Great Britain, she served as editor for The Liverpool Sounds Series. She is co-founder and coordinator of the New Orleans International Music Colloquium and was director of the Louis Armstrong Centennial Conference in 2001. Besides serving on the boards of many charitable and civic organizations in New Orleans, Dr. Atkinson has worked as consultant for film, television, and radio, as well as recordings, videos, and documentaries on the city's music. Her forthcoming book is titled "New Orleans Music: A Reappraisal."

Herreast HarrisonHerreast Harrison
Herreast Harrison is dedicated to the preservation of Mardi Gras Indian culture. She speaks and teaches nationally, including at New Orleans' Tulane University. She works with school children doing expressive projects. Two of her costumes are exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution. She is the widow of Donald Harrison, Sr., a Mardi Gras Indian chief, the mother of well-known jazz saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr. and grandmother of Grammy-nominated jazz composer Christian Scott.

Congo Bamboula Dancers

The Third Annual Congo Square Rhythms Festival

Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009 at Armstrong Park

Drums ancient and modern beat at the third annual Congo Square Rhythms Festival, presented by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation on Sunday, Nov. 15, at New Orleans' Armstrong Park.

This free, day-long festival celebrates the historic role of Congo Square as the birthplace of American music. It was there that African slaves gathered on Sunday afternoons to practice their ancestral traditions - influencing all of the styles that would emerge from New Orleans' cultural melting pot.

"Congo Square is literally the place where it all began," said Don Marshall, executive director of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. "It is an honor for us to pay tribute to Congo Square's role in history - and to keep it relevant by presenting music that derives from those early traditions."

The day begins with a ceremonial drum circle that is open to all. So bring an instrument and join the communal rhythm.

With an emphasis on African drumming and dance, the Congo Square Rhythms Festival presents many of the top African dance troupes in the region, including Kumbuka Collective, Tekrema Dance Theater, Culu, N'Kafu and N'Fungola Sibo West African Dance Company.

Musical performers include Ensemble Fatien, which features Ivoirian master musician Seguenon Kone, jazz clarinetist Dr. Michael White, vibraphonist Jason Marsalis, Sunpie Barnes, vocalist Margie Perez and others. Also performing are Afro-funk fusion group Bamboula 2000, Afro-Caribbean sacred music group Moyuba and vocal trio Zion Trinity.

Congo Square Market

Harkening back to Congo Square's origins as a gathering spot and marketplace, the festival also features a Congo Square Market showcasing a large assortment of artisans and craft makers selling a variety of hand-made art and other products. Check out the complete list of craft vendors.

Food Vendors

Food vendors include Rainey's Restaurant, the Praline Connection, Miss Linda's Catering and Loretta's Pralines.


Parking is available at no charge in the Armstrong Park parking lot, located behind the Municipal Auditorium and Mahalia Jackson Theater of the Performing Arts. Enter via Basin Street.

Performance Schedule:

11:00 to 12:00 - Opening Ceremony and Drum Circle
12:00 to 12:20 - N'Fungola Sibo West African Dance Company
12:30 to 1:15 - Zion Trinity
1:15 to 1:35 - Culu African Dance Company
1:35 to 2:20 - Moyuba
2:20 to 2:35 - Tekrema Dance Theater
2:35 to 2:50 - N'Kafu African Dance Company
2:50 to 3:45 - Bamboula 2000
3:45 to 4:05 - Kumbuka African Dance Company
4:05 to 5:00 - Mardi Gras Indian "Battle"
5:00 to 6:30 - Ensemble Fatien

Congo Square Rhythms Festival Archive:

2019's Line-up and Festival Details
2018's Line-up and Festival Details
2017's Line-up and Festival Details
2016's Line-up and Festival Details
2015's Line-up and Festival Details
2014's Line-up and Festival Details
2013's Line-up and Festival Details
2012's Line-up and Festival Details
2010's Line-up and Festival Details
2009's Line-up and Festival Details

Check out what else we do.

2009 Congo Square Rhythms Festival gratefully acknowledges the following sponsors:

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation, Inc.