Something I’ve always connected to is music. Music is incredibly powerful, cathartic, and has a way of connecting people. We’ve studied natural disasters all semester, and after every hurricane we discuss, I find myself thinking about how crucial of a role music plays in helping communities heal and rebuild after. Often musicians will write songs after catastrophic events to raise money, raise awareness, and provide relief.
As a city with music woven into its bone, I thought what happened to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina? I looked into it, and found this article in which Reid Wick talks about the difficulties with music before, during, and after the storm.
Wick admits that despite such a rich musical culture embedded in the city’s landscape, government official leaders still dismiss it because they don’t believe it brings any “economic value” to the city, even today. The music has been around for so long, and this is precisely what makes it an issue while rebuilding the city. Wick states that New Orleans musicians have become expendable, because they’ve always been there. He claims citizens outside of the musical community fail to realize what makes them “unique and special.” Wick adds to this struggle by highlighting the increase in taxes after Hurricane Katrina hit. 80% of the city’s residents evacuated during the storm, many of them local musicians, and consequently many of them could not afford to come back to stay after. While describing the resilience of New Orleanians, he says, “Katrina disrupted all that, and there was a lot of [musicians], especially the older musicians, who made enough of a living playing in their local bars. They just don’t exist anymore; the neighborhoods don’t even exist…”
Wick’s words came as a shock to me, yes, but more so a wake-up call. After reading this article, I realized how often I romanticize music and natural disaster, something Beth has warned us against doing. Part of me knew very well how destructive and altering Hurricane Katrina was, but the other part of me rashly thought a city with a soul so full of music, as New Orleans is, was “immortal,” and could overcome any obstacle. Though music is incredibly powerful, I truly misjudged. Though Wick’s narrative doesn’t give us the entire picture of the music scene in New Orleans, I’ve been able to understand better how difficult it is to rebuild a musical community that already took hundreds of years to cultivate.