Nobody was the same after the storm. Whether you lost your home or didn’t, there was no going back. Immediately after floodwaters of Katrina began to recede, even with the city in ruins, music became one of the first places for political statements of outrage to surface, the place where those that felt they were left behind and left for dead had a place to freely speak their mind.
Often attempted, only a few artists did it well -- John Boutte was one, stunning a crowd at the Jazz Fest and leaving no dry eye in the jazz tent with his heartbreaking rendition of “Louisiana 1927” – Dirty Dozen Brass Band was another.
Enlisting Chuck D, Ivan Neville, Bettye LaVette, and even the voice of then-Mayor C. Ray Nagin, Dirty Dozen chose to rework Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” - an album Gaye wrote to put the spotlight on the shameful conditions of American ghettos - and to make their Katrina statement.
Ignored by FEMA, ripped off by insurance companies, missing relatives, burying loved ones, lyrics like, “Mercy, mercy me / Things ain’t how they supposed to be,” found a meaning once again and spoke to all of the emotions of Katrina – from loss to outrage to sadness to regret.
Released on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it all fits too. Haunting horns create a somber atmosphere, the same atmosphere of despair that people faced as they tried to put their lives back together, and the artists that made this record were putting theirs back together at the same time they made the recordings.
For some it may seem odd that a brass band could create such a powerful protest record, but looking at the connection between brass bands and the people of New Orleans, no one has a closer connection.