Vanessa Akingbule

New Orleans, Louisiana, Summer 2007

Photograph of Vanessa Akingbule

I was struck immediately by the Southern hospitality that prevails in New Orleans.  The heat was very difficult to adjust to; I’d never experienced extreme hot weather in my adult life since I left Africa when I was two. Daily the temperature would exceed 110F/43C – there was no breeze and the humidity was inescapable.

I was very lucky to arrive in New Orleans on the weekend of the Satchmo Summer Festival: a 3-day celebration of Louis Armstrong. The city exuded an astounding air of pride over its ties to jazz and blues and around the French Quarter street performances of the highest calibre were found on every corner. The festival itself comprised of 3 stages in showcasing New Orleans’ finest jazz, blues and brass bands.

The hostel where I stayed was situated across the road from the church in which Armstrong was baptised. However since the floods caused by Hurricane Katrina had swamped the city the church had been disused. Every museum had an exhibition displaying the impact of Katrina and the floods; at the Louisiana State Museum an exhibit ‘After the Storms’ displayed photography capturing images of the damage and people’s attempts to recover their lives in the most badly hit districts. The New Orleans Museum of Art featured an equally poignant display of artwork produced by children who were still living with thousands of families in FEMA trailer parks just outside New Orleans. The ongoing theme of Katrina’s destruction distracted from my focus on jazz and blues as I could never have expected the lasting effect to have been so severe.  I am very grateful for the travel scholarship. The experience itself was eye-opening and unforgettable

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