New Orleans comes to the Perigord.
Not to put too fine a point on things, it has been warm. We haven’t had any wildfires or any of the intense heat other parts of Europe have had to deal with but, here in the Perigord Vert, the later days of August have seen us dealing with daytime temperatures of around 38C and only dropping down into the high 20s at night. Now, I’m not complaining; part of the reason for moving here was to have better weather and more sunshine, and we’ve certainly got that, but it’s hard to think of things to write when your brain is threatening to melt and start running out of your ears! On the positive side, last year here was worse, with four official ‘canicules’ (heatwaves) over the course of the summer. Much of this year’s summer has been relatively mild up to now, with this the only real stretch (4 – 5 days) of sustained high temperatures. I find it fascinating that there are still people out there who dispute the reality of Climate Change when you see what’s going on around the world. Perhaps one of the mistakes climatologists made, when first talking about climate change, was to talk in terms of ‘global warming’. That’s what it is, of course, but it gave people the idea that all that would happen would be that everywhere would be a bit sunnier plus, of course, every time there was a bit more snow somewhere, the deniers would say that it couldn’t be warming up if there was more snow! Hopefully, more people are now realising that, if you raise the average temperature of the whole planet by a degree or two, it disrupts established weather patterns and makes our weather more erratic, exactly as we’ve seen over the last few years. Good job I promised to lighten up for this month’s column!
Now for something hot that wasn’t the weather. I want to talk a bit about the French relationship with the music of Louisiana and what would seem to be some definite interest from this part of the country. Some of you will be aware that I also write the occasional ‘Cajun Corner’ feature and have long been fascinated by Cajun and Creole culture and, especially, the music it produces, so it was with some excitement I found out about MNOP – Musique de la Nouvelle-Orleans en Perigord. It was also with some frustration that I found out about MNOP because I didn’t find out about it until this year’s event was almost over. French promoters often seem to take an ‘if you build it, they will come’ attitude to events and the result can be that publicity is thin on the ground. There are, of course, plenty of websites where a whole variety of concerts can be publicised but, if you don’t know about them it’s not a great help. It turns out that MNOP has been promoting New Orleans related music in the region for the past 20 years, though in fairness to them, like all live events, their concerts have been disrupted by the restrictions brought about by the pandemic and this may be why we only became aware of the event this year.
Originally conceived as a Jazz Festival dedicated to the music of Louis Armstrong it has evolved into a touring concert schedule designed to celebrate all the music of the New Orleans region. Originally based in the regional capital of Périgueux, a disagreement with the town hall, where it used to be based, meant the festival became a touring event in 2011, playing in various venues around the region, a clever move which means that MNOP, under the guidance of its president, Stéphane Colin, schedules the musicians and let’s the various communes in the department get involved with hosting the events around their own event schedules for the summer months. The Dordogne being a big centre for tourism means that there is always something happening during the main tourist season wherever you are, giving plenty of scope to include MNOP concerts in venues throughout the region.
The concert we managed to see was one of the local French acts on the MNOP circuit, Raoul Ficel & Louisiana Bound (the festival mixes artists from around the world with French bands, all playing the music of New Orleans). They were brought to our attention because they were billed as playing Cajun music – which they didn’t do and which seems to have been an error of advertising. What they did do was play some good Zydeco music and some excellent New Orleans style R&B, Ficel being a very good blues player. The other impressive thing about the concert was the setting – it was held in the courtyard of a local chateau in the village of Jumilhac le Grand, an amazing setting for a concert of this nature. The only letdown was that the audience seemed a bit thin for such an excellent gig, around 50 people in total which, in such a grand setting and for such good music, seemed undersubscribed.
I’m still struggling to get to grips with the live music scene here, especially in the countryside. There’s a lot going on and the quality of the musicianship is excellent – but good gigs often seem poorly promoted and under attended. Perhaps because there is a lot happening and events can struggle to stand out from the crowd. At just 10 euros a ticket for the Raoul Ficel gig I expected it to be well attended, especially as he is Bordeaux based and well-known within the region. Those who did attend were enthusiastic and it was a great gig. Having discovered this touring festival, we’ll be much more on the lookout for it next year and it is encouraging to know that there is interest in the music of French-speaking America here in France – certainly enough to sustain MNOP over a twenty year period in this one department. That was something that had been perplexing me, because I had heard there was interest in Cajun, Zydeco and other music associated with New Orleans and Louisiana but hadn’t seen much evidence to support that. Clearly, I haven’t been looking in the right places.
All the music I’m featuring this time round is from bands who played as part of this year’s Musique de la Nouvelle Orleans en Perigord festival, starting with Raoul Ficel and his band at Jumilhac le Grand, with the zydeco-infused ‘Faut Qu’on S’aime’. Arnaud Fradin and his Roots Combo played the first gigs of this year’s festival and, on this track, a cover of Dylan’s ‘Well, Well, Well’, remind me a little of one of my favourite New Orleans bands, The Subdudes. Finally, I’m including the fascinatingly named Crawfish Wallet, who play New Orleans Jazz Blues in the Front Line style, in this case, the controversial Jazz dance song ‘I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate’ that may, or may not, have been written by Louis Armstrong himself (he claimed to have written it and sold it for $10 that he never received. The song is officially credited to Armand J Piron). I only wish I could’ve seen more of the bands that played the festival this year. Still, something to look forward to in 2024. Should you find yourself in the Perigord next summer you might just want to check out the MNOP website.