You needn’t be from New Orleans to say it right

I like to think that I come from the Gershwin school of pronunciations, as in “You like ‘to-may-toes’ and I like ‘to-mah-toes’.” But I have to admit I did ask my daughter-in-law to stop saying New Or-leens. For me, it’s the equivalent of fingernails on the chalkboard.

I couldn’t really blame her. “New Or-leens” is what most people say because its most often sung that way. Probably because it has better rhyming capability as in “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans.”

Pronunciations in New Orleans can be tricky. Take street names, for instance.

It's easier to pronounce if you do the first syllable as
It’s easier to pronounce if you do the first syllable as “Chop”

Tchoupitoulas Street, home of the legendary Tipitina’s club, looks daunting until you know to start it by saying “chop.” Other streets are harder than they look. Carondelet is pronounced with an “et” at the end. Chartres is “Charters.” Even the seemingly easy Burgundy Street ain’t said right unless you accent the “gun.” Here’s a short video on street pronunciations, featuring Soul Rebel drummers Derrick Moss and Lumar Leblanc.

But back to saying “New Orleans”, even natives will say it differently because of the variety of accents that reside in the city. In the 60’s when I was an altar boy for an itinerant priest, we had a gig at St. Alphonsus Church on Constance Street in the Irish Channel. Having never been in the neighborhood before, I remember how shocked I was to hear the other altar boys sound like Bobby Kennedy. And I lived only three miles away.

The expression
The expression “Where Y’at” also is the title of New Orleans entertainment guide magazine.

Then there is “Yat” — considered a unique New Orleans dialect and accent, popularized in the novel, Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. The accent “is hard to distinguish from the accent of Hoboken, Jersey City, and Astoria, Long Island” according to A.J. Liebling author of “The Earl of Louisiana” and quoted in Confederacy of Dunces.

Ray Blount, Jr. in his ode to New Orleans (Feet on the Street) notes that the typical New Orleans accent is particularly noticeable with the word “quarter” as in “French Quarter” (or two bits). “It comes closer to rhyming with ‘porter’ than with ‘garter,’ but it’s more ‘Quo-tah,’ with an ‘o’ sound that’s semi-extended, as if you’re saying ‘oar’ or ‘o’er’ more like it, but not finishing off the ‘r’ sound.”

What were we talking about, oh yea, how to pronounce New Orleans. Oh hell say it, or sing it, the way you want. For me, I prefer extending the “w” into the second syllable as in “Nu-Wah-Lens the way Lil Queenie does it when she sings “My Darlin’ New Orleans.”

Just don’t say “Nawlins” unless you and your companions have downed too many Abitas.

HEAR ME MISPRONOUNCE ALL SORTS OF NEW ORLEANS WORDS ON SWEENEY’S GUMBO YAYA, MONDAY, 10 A.M. TO NOON (PST) ON KAOS, 89.3 FM

What makes New Orleans drummers and drumming unique?

There’s something special about New Orleans drummers.  A statement I read and hear regularly and while my untrained ear suggests that is true, I cannot in my own words explain why.

Drum Magazine has made it easy for me though by interviewing four of New Orleans top drummers. The magazine pulled together musicians who have handled the beat for The Meters, Professor Longhair, Wynton Marsalis, Papa Grows Funk, Galactic and countless other projects.  Some of the conversation gets a little beyond my understanding but if you’re a drummer, I recommend you read the interview.  Here’s a lay summary of it:

While New Orleans wasn’t much different as other Southern locales for discouraging the continuation of African culture, the city was unique in that it did allow for New Orleans slaves and people of color to congregate at a central location, known as Congo Square, on Sundays to share, among other things, music.  From this setting, Caribbean and African rhythms and syncopation met European harmonies and melodies.

The key distinction of New Orleans drumming is an emphasis on the bass drum which in the New Orleans parade tradition is the heart and soul of the show.  The bass “is the main voice; and the snare drum is the polish.” Interestingly, in the marching band, second line tradition, the bass drummer and snare drummer are two separate musicians.

“Bottom line is it has to be a pelvic thing. . . What makes me unconsciously decide whether it’s good or bad is when I’m having a conversation [at a gig] far away from the music with someone who’s totally distracting me, and in the meantime I’m moving my butt. Then I know it’s the science of true, organic swing.”

Drumming that gets your butt moving.  Yea, that’s what I’m talking about.

Welcome to Gumbo YaYa

I’m Tim Sweeney and this blog is to support a radio show I’m starting on Monday called Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa.  I’m incredibly excited as well as nervous.  Nothing like getting what I want and then freaking out about whether I can do it right.

After retiring from a 30-year stint as State of Washington employee on Halloween 2013, I signed up for and took the KAOS deejay training class –which qualified me, upon completion, to host programs on one of the best known and regarded community radio stations in the country. KAOS has been on the air since January 1, 1973 and is located on the campus of The Evergreen State College.  The station uses trained volunteer deejays from the college and the community and offers a diverse free-form radio format.

From the start, I’ve wanted to do a show that would allow me to pursue my love for New Orleans and its music.  I was born in New Orleans and lived there until I was 10.  I went back frequently until I moved to the Northwest 35 years ago and didn’t return until the first Jazzfest after Kartina (April 2006). I’ve been back several times since, always to catch as much music (and food) as possible.

Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa premieres on KAOS, 89.3 FM (www.kaosradio.org) at 10 a.m. (PST).  The two-hour live program will air every Monday after that.  The show will feature  music from and about New Orleans, including blues, jazz, R&B, hip hop, folk, cajun/zydeco, Mardi Gras Indian, rock, and everything in between-new and old.

I’m hoping you’ll catch all or part of the show as you can and let me know what you think.   I’ll be using this blog to support that show, provide more details, photos, links etc.

See you on the radio.