The cameramen and newspeople who caught the devastation in New Orleans wrought by hurricane Katrina went home once the stories lived out their usefulness in the news cycle, but the poverty and homelessness remained among the people.
Good thing Dr. John did, too. The legendary jazz and soul man and Louisiana Music Hall of Fame inductee, who calls the birthplace of jazz his home, is mad as hell at what he considers a sweeping under the rug of evacuees still left displaced, destitute and defenceless in Katrina’s wake. It’s part of the reason why Dr. John (a.k.a. Mac Rebennack) is heading to Nathan Phillips Square for a concert tonight at 8 to perform songs from his latest album, The City That Care Forgot. With help on the record from the likes of Eric Clapton, and fellow New Orleanians, trumpeter Terence Blanchard and alt-folk singer Ani DiFranco, Dr. John tips his hat to the street-level volunteers who have taken the lion’s share of work in rebuilding the Big Easy.
“I’m very proud to say that New Orleans’ citizens have done more towards rebuilding the city than the city, state and federal governments put together,” says Dr. John, now 67, through a thick N’awlins drawl. “That’s what people do. That’s the spirit, the strength of the people of New Orleans.”
Dr. John sorrowfully details the tragedy of the Crescent City’s poor, people who were largely left to fend for themselves in the hurricane’s aftermath, who now live in tent cities beneath the street and highway overpasses. All the while, tourists carouse in the French Quarter and oil rigs drill in the nearby gulf as the shoreline rises. It’s a situation that revolts Dr. John, who views it as an attempt to drive lower-income Cajun, Creole and Afro-American citizens out and let the wealthy take their place.
“I find it completely disgusting,” he says. “Doesn’t anybody care about people? Is money the only thing that counts? Out of all the billions that got sent to New Orleans from all over the world, not one dime of it got sent to the people who really needed it. They’re trying to destroy and disrespect the culture. Something really stinks, and, of course, no one is going to be held responsible.”
Dr. John says he’s pleased to perform north of the border, noting Canadians were the first to arrive on the scene to help after Katrina hit. He credits part of the involvement to the cultural connection between Cajuns in the south and Acadians in the north.
“A lot of the Cajun culture has come from Canada, and the help and understanding that has been given by the Canadians, over and over, has been a blessing,” says Dr. John. “We were very touched by that. Any time people can relate to people, on any level, I’m for it.”
>> Want to help out? Dr. John suggests checking out Rebuilding Together New Orleans. Go to www.prcno.org/programs/rebuildingtogether for more.