If you look into the history of New Orleans funk – as Soul Jazz Records has made a habit of doing – all roads lead back to Congo Square.
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Now situated within Louis Armstrong Park, the square was the home of all African-American social and cultural practices in the city until the 19th century. Africa’s conduit in the New World, Congo Square was where slaves and ex-slaves socialised, got down and worshipped each Sunday.
It was here that the original Doctor John, a healer from Haiti – who was a free man of colour – and fellow practitioner Marie Laveau created the central site of voodoo in America. It is also the source of jazz, the first African-American musical idiom and the child of voodoo and the early sounds of New Orleans.
Voodoo Fire in New Orleans: 1951-77 is the the fourth compilation in Soul Jazz Records’ Crescent City funk series, and traces the sounds path from Congo Square. It explores how, after the height of rhythm and blues, strains of voodoo and jazz survived in New Orleans’s musical DNA through funk’s carnival-infused African rhythms, ritualistic lyrics and bebop-inspired harmonies.
It includes tracks produced by Crescent City legends Eddie Bo, Allen Toussaint and Wardell Quezergue, as well as lesser-known 45-singles by Bob French and Chick Colbert, and songs performed by female funk queens Betty Harris, Zilla Mayes and Norma Jean.