zum Inhalt.
zur Hauptnavigation.


English filmscript

The Keller Plantation in Louisiana. At one time, the radiantly white property of a white plantation owner. The paint is peeled off. Those days are gone. "You got to move ..."

The Mississippi, cotton plantations, slave labour. Here, on the shores of the mighty American river, the Blues was born. The Blues is still alive today. Corey Harris explains.

Harris: "Growing up as a black person, as an African in America, you hear a lot of stories that come through your family, you know, and that makes up your heritage and who you are. But I don't really much think about slavery per se, I think more about how much I have benefited from what my anscestors gave me and how much they sacrificed for me. You know, how they bled and they died and they just sacrificed everything for the future generations."

Elaine: "Welcome to Oak Alley. My name is Elaine and I'll be your tour guide. In 1837, a Mister Jacques Telespond Remont started construction on his mansion. It took two and a half years to complete. His father-in-law, Gilbert Pillier, was the architect. The home is a Greek Revival, depicting the 28 columns that surround the home. Columns are made of solid brick and the bricks were made here on the plantation by the slaves. Now folks, you're probably wondering what in the world is this. Well, we have it set up today the way that it was set up then. What they used to do was take some type of fruit - today we're using pears - float it into rum until it fermented and aged for quite a few months. Then, after dinner, the gentlemen would come out of the dining room into the parlour and have a small glass of brandy. And you were also able to use the fruit to spread on crackers. Those were the days."

Those were the days ... Today, one can still marvel at the splendid palaces of white plantation owners on the Mississippi. They are a part of the myth of the "Good Old South". These plantation houses were built by exploitation of the black slaves. Their labour on the vast fields provided the farmers with a wealth that was on display for all to see.

In contrast, the slave quarters have been kept hidden from view to this day. The destiny of Blacks was clear: work. And for that destiny, hundreds of thousands of them from a multitude of African and Caribbean peoples were carried off to America. Here, uprooted from their various homelands, the motley collection made up the so-called "Black Community".

Though robbed of their freedom, their physical liberty, no one could take the memories of their African traditions from them. Singing was a vital part of those traditions. It helped ease the pain when the members of a family were sold and strewn in all directions.

A Nigerian proverb says: "When trees need to be cut, you have to sing. Without a song, a machete is dull." But singing didn't always help. It was powerless against the overseer's whip.

Manor house and slave hut. The Blues was born of this polarity.

"I wish I was in Dixie", the song of the South, of Dixieland. Played on a steam organ.

It was steam power that made plantation commerce on the Mississippi possible. Earlier, paddle-wheel steamers carried cotton, sugar cane and tobacco to the ports of the South. Today, they offer tourist cruises to the river's old and new attractions.

Steamer: "Behind the barge, behind the trees on the left you'll see the top half of two unusual-looking houses, the two sea-boat houses. They were both built at the turn of the century by steamboat pilote, steamboat captain. One of the houses was built for his wife, the other for his daughter. Both of the houses were built to resemble a pilot-house or a wheel-house aboard an old paddle-wheel steamboat. They again, are located behind the trees on the left, just behind the levy. On the left, we're passing the empty freighter, behind that vessel, an empty chemical tanker. Both ships are behind this wharf, being repaired - there's a small ship repair yard located behind the vessels. And both ships sail under the flag of Cyprus, the white emblem flag flying at the stern at the very back of the ships."

Today, steamboat glory exists only for tourists. The river has lost its romance. Along its banks, refineries predominate. The last hundred miles of the Mississippi contain one of the highest concentrations of petrochemical industry in the world. This industry determines the welfare of the entire region.

In the last century, products in this large country could be transported only on the waterways. The river became the "Steamboat Highway".

Old Film: "Corn and oats, down the Missouri. Tobacco and whisky, down the Ohio. Down from Pittsburgh, down from St. Louis, hemp and potatoes, pork and flour. We sent our commerce to the sea."

In the 1840s and 1850s, steamboat shipping reached its peak. There was a name for the boom.

Old Film: "We made cotton King. We rolled a million bales down the river to Liverpool and Leeds. 1860: we rolled four million bales down the river. Rolled them off Alabama, rolled them off Mississippi, rolled them off Louisiana. Rolled them down the river."

Cotton, steamboats and slaves made the South rich. One city benefited more than any other from the boom and became Queen of the Mississippi: New Orleans.

Tour Guide: "Welcome to New Orleans, the Big Easy. To my right, this is the heart of the French Quarter, this is Jackson Square. To my left, that is called Washington Park. They have little cannons and things there. Also, that is called the Moon Walk. It is named after one of the mayors of New Orleans, Moon Landry. To my right, that is Napoleon House. Sign here says since "1797". That house was built and intended for Napoleon to live in. When Napoleon was in exile, the mayor of New Orleans hired Jean Lafitte, who was a pirate, to go pick up Napoleon from exile. But they received word that Napoleon had died, so that cancelled those plans. This wrought iron up here, the one that is very plain, was done by the Spanish. A lot of these houses was considered slave quarters. The slaves stayed in those in the time of slavery."

Nice stories. Whether they're all true or not, doesn't matter so much to the tour guide. As long as he gets a good tip. But, it is true that for a long time the French strongly influenced the city's destiny. And that the wrought iron balconies came principally from Seville. And - of course - that former slaves provided the city with music.

Tour Guide:"Straight ahead is the "House of Blues". Dan Akroyd owns that. Lovely Blues music. Also, it's a lovely place to eat. Very, very lovely."

Storyville was the name of the red-light district at the turn of the century. Hundreds of bars and brothels were crowded into a few city blocks. In 1917, the fun came to an end. The US entered the war and the marines were supposed to make war, not ... The photographer Ernest J. Bellocq documented the iniquity of those times. He created a pictorial memoir of Storyville, which has since been leveled.

Today, there is not one house left where, in former times, the living was loose and a new type of music was born. Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton played in Storyville. New Orleans still likes to call itself "The Big Easy". Does the name fit?

A little bit of that is still there. Corey Harris puts into song all the things that can happen between midnight and day. "Good Blues is always a good story too," he says.

Harris: "When you play your instrument, I see in all African tradition, in Black music, that the aim is to make it sound human, give it a voice, to make it talk. You know, that is the highest of the expression."

African musical tradition was also cultivated in New Orleans in the days of slavery. Here on Congo Square, those who had been robbed of their rights met Sunday after Sunday to dance, sing and beat their drums. The drums of Congo Square laid the foundation for America's new Black music - Blues and Jazz. The roots of the drum rhythms could be found in spiritualism. And in this, a natural religion which originally came from Togo and Nigeria played an important role: Voodoo.

Alligators, snakes, frogs - to the outsider, the Voodoo cult may seem bizarre. But in New Orleans, the secret rituals have survived over the centuries.

The Virgin Mary plays an important role. But more important still is the grave of a certain Marie Laveau.

This is where she is said to be buried, the unchallenged Queen of Voodoo, Marie Laveau. In the 1860s, she was the uncrowned ruler of New Orleans. Lawyers and politicians sought her advice. Nowadays, tourists pilgrim to Saint Louis Cemetery Number One, where expert guides provide information.

Voodoo Charlie: "Now, I'm going to put an "X" right here and that stands for the spirits coming to the crossroads. I'm going to pray to Papa Laba first and that opens the gates. Now, also, I'm going to make a circle here, because my last ritual came true."

Voodoo is a tourist attraction. But only the bravest dare come out here to the isolated cemetery. Time and again, there are robberies and murders. But Voodoo Charlie is not afraid. "The Blacks are my friends," he says, and the tourists have never come to harm. He sees himself as a man with a mission. He wants to propagate the message of Voodoo and its Queen, Marie Laveau. She had made the cult socially acceptable and commercialized it.

Voodoo Charlie: "OK, now that's a very short ritual. That's a very popular ritual. Well, it's ... this is to ... what I did was ask her for a special favour, 'cause I gave her three shiny pennies and she likes money. She's a commercial voodoo queen, see, so this is why we always give her money."

Things are commercial here too. Bourbon Street, the city's entertainment strip. Besides pretty girls and cheap beer, one thing above all is used to draw in the customers - music. You can hear it on every corner. In all varieties. Jazz, Blues, Rock'n'Roll, Rhythm'n'Blues, the entire spectrum of Black music is peddled here. People struggle just to make a few dollars. Here, dancing and music are a matter of survival.

Bourbon Street is entertainment industry. The music and its artists often fall by the wayside.