Mardi Gras Indians, African dance, dance, brass bands, luscious jazz, soul-funk, Garifuna music from Honduras and West African highlife – all these are in store for music fans at the 12th annual Congo Square Rhythms Festival, presented by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation March 30-31 in Armstrong Park.
Celebrating the New Orleans traditions that spring from the African diaspora, the Congo Square Rhythms Festival brings a joyful noise to the spot that those in the know consider the birthplace of American music.
Starting in the 18th Century and lasting for well over 100 years, Congo Square (or Place Congo) was where enslaved Africans were permitted to gather on Sundays – enabling them to carry on their ancestral traditions of drumming and dance. It was also a gathering place and market, quite famous around the world, which since 1993 has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It is arguably the location where African culture was implanted in the New World, influencing all of the jazz, gospel, blues and rock that put New Orleans on the map of the world’s most musically important cities.
The Congo Square Rhythms Festival combines live music, a large arts market and a Soul Food Court with special events to create a uniquely immersive experience.
The annual Mardi Gras Indian “battle” is always a favorite – with tribes from various neighborhoods gathering in the center of the square for a show of cultural unity (and a great photo op).
This festival is also is the location of the Class Got Brass competition. Now in its eighth year, Class Got Brass challenges Louisiana middle school and high schools to form traditional New Orleans brass bands, which then perform for an all-star panel of judges. By providing the participating schools with gift certificates for instruments or other supplies – the top prize is $10,000 – Class Got Brass is one of many ways the Jazz & Heritage Foundation supports arts education in the school system while promoting New Orleans’ traditional culture.
African dance is always a highlight of the Congo Square Rhythms Festival. This year, the festival will host its largest ever assemblage of New Orleans-based African dance troupes, all of whom will perform on Sunday, March 31.
African music will be well represented at the festival with a performance by the Kumasi Afrobeat Orchestra, super hot New Orleans group that specializes in Nigerian Afrobeat and “highlife” from Ghana – both of which funk and jazz with irresistible African rhythms.
Nayo Jones, the popular jazz singer who has performed frequently with Kermit Ruffins and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, will lead her own group at the festival. And jazz bass virtuoso Max Moran will showcase his newest project, Neospectric, which blends rock, funk, R&B, jazz and fusion.
For fans of authentic Caribbean folk music, don’t miss Garifuna Generation, playing the indigenous music of northern Honduras.
Big Chief Monk Boudreaux also returns to the festival. One of the pioneers Mardi Gras Indian funk rock, Boudreaux was named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2016.
And don’t forget the brass bands. The Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band will perform, as will local favorites the Original Pinettes Brass Band.
2019 CONGO SQUARE RHYTHMS FESTIVAL
SCHEDULE OF PERFORMANCES
Saturday, March 30
11:00 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. Dzakpa Ewe Ensemble
11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Bamboula 2000
1:00 p.m. to 2 p.m. Nayo Jones
2:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. Max Moran and Neospectric
3:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. Mardi Gras Indian Battle
4:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. Chief Monk Boudreaux
5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Kumasi Afrobeat Orchestra
Sunday, March 31
11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Open Drum Circle
12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Dance Performances:
Dancing Grounds Elite Feet Krewe
Chakra Dance Theater
Tekrema Dance Theater
N'Kafu and Culu African Dance Ensembles
Kumbuka African Drum and Dance Collective
N'Fungola Sibo African Dance Company
1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. Original Pinettes Brass Band
3:00 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. Class Got Brass Contest
5:00 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. Rebirth Brass Band