Requiem for Katrina: A Tale of God's Will by Terence Blanchard

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"Could we film you going into your house?" asks filmmaker Spike Lee of Mrs Blanchard.

The lady had entered that house a thousand times before, but only once would she enter her house under these circumstances. Hurricane Katrina had passed through New Orleans and had done relatively little damage, but then the levees broke, bringing death and destruction. She may have been one of the lucky ones - after all she was alive - but she knew what awaited her when she entered her home: destroyed possessions, lost heirlooms and drowned memories.

After a pause she replies, "Yes". What happens next is one of the powerful and moving scenes that make up Spike Lee's documentary, When the Levees Broke.

Mrs Blanchard's son is the trumpeter Terence Blanchard. You may not have heard of him, but you have probably heard his music. He has written the scores for many Spike Lee films - Malcolm X, Mo' Better Blues, Clockers and When the Levees Broke. Just as important, he has recorded a number of stunning albums for Blue Note records.

His best is his new album, A Tale of God's Will (a requiem for Katrina). But Blanchard doesn't believe the disaster that destroyed New Orleans and the Gold Coast had anything to do with god. He believes it has everything to do with the inhumanity and racism of the Bush administration. I was fortunate enough to talk to him, and his anger at what happened in New Orleans is palpable.

"I drew inspiration from the stories people had told me about their experiences in the aftermath of the hurricane. It wasn't so much about music for me. It was really more about what people had to endure.

"I just want people to reflect on what happened here and what people had to deal with, and how things can go terribly wrong in what is supposed to be the richest country in the world.

"The irony of all this stuff, of us fighting for freedom in Iraq and people suffering and dying in their homes in New Orleans, was not lost on me, and I think it's an interesting commentary on the times that we live in. I've been saying for a long time that the country is on the brink of disaster because we've allowed politicians to run amok and we've allowed them to lie to us with no consequence."

Based loosely around Lee's documentary, A Tale of God's Will is an intimate portrait of New Orleans and is one of the most haunting albums you will hear. This record goes way beyond music. Blanchard draws musical pictures. He gives an insight into what people were experiencing and what they still experience in the city.

His band is a sextet, but also guesting on the album is the Northwest Sinfonia Orchestra, which Blanchard conducts. The music is reminiscent in scope and vision of the music of the great US composers - Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein and Duke Ellington. But for Blanchard it is not an exploration of the American landscape - its huge vistas, the possibilities for expansion and progression. Instead, he turns that vision in on itself and shines a light into one of the country's darkest corners.

Take the album's opening track "Ghost of Congo Square". Tourist guides tell you that here, come Sunday, black folks in ante-bellum New Orleans - Haitian Creoles, Igbos, Wolofs and the New Orleans born - gathered to sing African songs and dance African dances. Here they will tell you jazz was born. But Congo Square was also the place where the white ruling elite displayed the severed heads of those who revolted against slavery - that's the Congo Square Blanchard writes about.

What an opening track - and the album just gets better - the second track "Levees" just leaves you devastated. Blanchard has a wonderful ability to look at the smallest story or the tiniest detail of the tragedy and through his music make the hurt and pain feel real. Two little stories he told me demonstrate this.

"After Katrina my mother moved to Los Angeles. One day we were talking about her wedding, the people at her wedding party, and she got up and said 'Let me look at the pictures,' and then she stopped, and got extremely sad, and she realised the pictures were gone. They were destroyed.

"Then there was the 72 year old man I met who was on his roof for three days with two 73 year old women. What did they have? No food but plenty of dirty, filthy water."

These stories are brought to life on the track "Dear Mom" and as Terence states, "These are the people my trumpet is crying for." Terence Blanchard has put his heart and soul into this album and your life will be made richer by listening to it.


The full interview with Terence Blanchard is available here.