WIB Listening Party #63: A Celebration Of New Orleans Music


Various Artists, A Celebration Of New Orleans Music

🍺 Yankee & Kraut Maracujizzle Brombizzle

Words & photos (except where Indicated): Vincent Abbate


Something unusual happened this morning. My adopted hometown made CNN.

Cologne is a large German city of over a million. But it’s not London, Paris, Brussels or Berlin. So we don’t often see international camera teams wandering around town. But they were here yesterday, capturing the images that surprised me today at breakfast: thousands of locals in their clown suits, young and old, filling one of the main squares, smiling, singing, swaying, and having a ball.

The occasion was Cologne’s famous Carnival celebration. As in Rio and New Orleans, the people here like to blow off steam in a big way in the days prior to Ash Wednesday and the start of the Lenten season. They’ve been doing so for roughly 200 years. I’ve been here for the last 30 of those and confess I have never truly warmed up to the tradition. Sometimes I join in, often I don’t.

The Carnival societies with their meetings and weird Colonial officer-looking uniforms; the swarms of visitors from other towns and cities who come here to make merry, booze it up and piss all over the place; the local anthems, sung in a dialect I will never learn, endlessly singing the praises of the Stadt am Rhing. All of it leaves me feeling like an outsider and a killjoy.

Photo (c) Festkomittee Kölner Karneval

Now if the streets and pubs were full of the sounds heard on A Celebration Of New Orleans Music, well … it might be a different story.

The same could be said of the beer. Kölsch flows like water year-round in these parts. So I can’t get worked up about swilling it for five or six days straight.

Into the breach steps Maracujizzle Brombizzle, an exotic and celebratory-looking fruit sour from German brewer Yankee & Kraut.

Now we’re talking.

Yeah, so it’s the beer and the music and it’s also the weather. Carnival shouldn’t be cold and damp, so that women are forced to wear shapeless winter coats over their sexy outfits. Carnival should be temperatures in the 80s and a dome of cloudless blue overheard, exactly as it is at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. (I’ve never been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but I imagine it’s something like JazzFest, just slightly cooler.) There’s nothing you can do to stop Carnival/Mardi Gras from happening in February or March, as the liturgical calendar dictates, but in order to cast off the weight of winter and really bust loose, I need it to feel like spring.

Let’s heat up this Fat Tuesday with some Walter “Wolfman” Washington funk.

Of course, the skies above New Orleans aren’t always friendly. A Celebration Of New Orleans Music was a post-Katrina release from 2005, with 100% of proceeds going to the MusicCares Hurricane Relief fund. Compiled by producer Scott Billington, it presents 16 gems from the Rounder Records vaults. If you’ve been to New Orleans at JazzFest, Mardi Gras or any other time of year, you’re sure to have come across a few of the artists featured.

My two visits at the turn of the millennium were nothing if not eye-opening. For some, even then, JazzFest had already grown into a commercialized beast of unmanageable proportions, where mainstream artists like Sting and the Dave Mathews Band drew huge crowds and were pushing the local niche artists to the side. For me, it was an invaluable opportunity to see literally dozens of outstanding genre artists all in the space of ten days, either at the fairgrounds where the festival proper was held or at one of New Orleans’ many clubs when evening rolled around.

(If I’ve failed to make it clear in my previous 62 entries: Taking time out from my workaday life to travel extensively around the American south is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I encourage anyone with a serious interest in American roots music to do the same.)  

Rebirth Brass Band upstairs at the original Mid-City Lanes Rock ‘n Bowl on South Carrolton Avenue remains a vivid memory of that city and that time. There are nights when you walk into a place unprepared for what’s about to hit you. That was one of those nights.

I’ve got a long slow number cued for our tasting. So let’s talk a little about the beer, shall we?

Maracujizzle Brombizzle comes in a decorative 440ml can typical of Yankee & Kraut, a fairly recent German-American joint venture. The beer’s name jazzes up the German words for passion fruit (Maracuja) and blackberry (Brombeer), the fruits added to this high-end fruit sour made with oat, wheat and barley malts.

The next song has had a few drinks.

Reddish like a cider, Maracujizzle Brombizzle, once duly swirled, unleashes an earthy wine-cellar aroma. It marries its tangy berry flavor with a dry and acidic mouthfeel. Light-bodied, bitter and prickly on the tongue, it possesses a pleasing fruitiness that remains subtle to the end. Does it have me high-stepping like a Tanzmariechen? No. But it more than does the trick at my Carnival party of one.

The music of New Orleans is many things of course; the city’s melting pot history has produced an unusually rich musical culture. New Orleans is ragtime and the Rhumba, rhythm and blues and funk and jazz and the second line. If but one musician embodies all that, it would have to be Professor Longhair, the seminal piano player whose playing was bright and buoyant and infectiously rhythmical.

Just words, right?

At the end of the day, music is there for the listening just as beer is there for the tasting.

One last thought before I go. I probably shouldn’t be such a Carnival hater. Because deep down inside, the people who partake in it do so because they want to forget their troubles for a few days and feel a part of something bigger than themselves.

It’s like Rebirth sings: Do whatcha wanna.

I’ll leave it at that and let Professor Longhair take us home with “Cuttin’ Out.”

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The Who Is Blues Listening Party is powered by Bierlager, one of Germany’s finest addresses for premium craft beer.

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