A Q&A with Derrick Freeman & Arsène DeLay
Prior to the November 3rd presidential election, the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic began working with cultural community members on a year-round initiative, Get Your Brass Out & VOTE!, which empowers artists and their supporters to participate in the process of electing local, state, and national officials who will dictate the future of New Orleans. MaCCNO Program Coordinator Hannah Kreiger-Benson sat down with Derrick “Smoker” Freeman (leader of Soul Brass Band and The Low End Theory Players), and singer/songwriter Arsène DeLay, two of the initiative’s leaders, to discuss why elections matter to the cultural community, and the upcoming 2nd Congressional District election.
So, let’s back up from the specifics and ask this: Overall, why should voting and elections matter to the cultural community?
Arsène DeLay: Elections definitely matter—we’re watching in real time how much they matter. The reason why a discussion of minimum wage [at the federal level] is even on the table right now is the result of an election. We can then reconfigure what our baseline is—musician wages haven’t changed in 50-60 years. I’ve had conversations with musicians on how they used to be able to make their rent in one show’s pay. The cost of living has drastically increased, but we’re still getting paid peanuts.
[they paused for a 3-minute detour to write a new kids’ song called “Peanuts Are the Jam”]
Derrick Smoker Freeman: In New Orleans when it comes to concepts of normality, these are things that have never happened over 300 years. They emulate other places, but they’re not modeling after the right things—“Hollywood South” wasn’t just a phrase. And that means that everyone and everything gets exploited.
AD: It’s plantation economics. With glitter. And palm trees.
So true. So how can these candidates show that they understand the particular challenges facing the cultural community?
AD: There’s so much harm reduction that needs to happen before we can even create an environment conducive for creating. These candidates, I want to know what legislation they’re going to push forward to assist the agencies that already exist, that are fighting to mitigate harm already. That’s who really needs support [from the state level]. The wheel does not need to be reinvented. They need investment. This always comes from a place of “charity” rather than investment.
DSF: Cultural genocide here is happening like a superspreader event. It needs to be stopped and reversed at the same speed. Old cats in Chicago, they’re good. They only gig because they want to. We all know how old musicians die in New Orleans—on someone else’s couch, if they’re lucky. People in positions of power have to actually care, and recognize how disillusioned folks are. Half the city is making house floats, and the other half is at risk of getting kicked out of their houses. People care about kids in far away places, but what about the kids on the corner here? Someone made me a big sign that says “If you like the music, pay musicians,” and maybe we should just put those up all over town.
Yes!!! So, is it fair to say that the reason that disconnect exists is because policies aren’t created to nurture or protect cultural folks? Why do y’all think culture doesn’t shape policies?
AD: People don’t put a monetary value on culture because they have free access to it. There’s a major disconnect between free access to something, and the value of it. We’re continuously exploited and we’re starting to realize it’s not sustainable. And if we’re ever going to get out of this cycle, then everyone has to actually get involved and informed (by truth). I know people hate politics, but politics is literally about governing people. We’re a year into the pandemic. We could have had innovation in action, we could have been in a place already where we could have safe concerts and musicians working in a safe manner.
So whoever we get as the District 2 Rep, they need to recognize culture workers as essential, and also recognize the science and how it affects cultural practices.
DSF: It’s tricky because some of them don’t have enough experience, and we’ve seen where that gets us.
AD: This is not a game of perfection—all the candidates have flaws. But you have to look past the flaws to see what they can do for the community. I haven’t decided on my vote yet, but I’ve appreciated a couple of candidates in forums so far because they LISTENED. That’s so important, and no one does it anymore.
What are some words that voters can listen for, that signal a candidate has a good understanding of these issues? And what are some words that might be a red flag?
DSF: I like when they talk about humility or being empathetic, because that means they at least have a conscience that’s rooted in realness and honesty.
AD: “Resiliency” is a red flag—the ability [of New Orleans] to return to its original shape and size is problematic when that shape and size was created on an unstable cornerstone. “Equity” is a good one—meaning they’ve taken a long enough look into something to recognize that specificity in action is greater than sweeping, performative gestures. Someone asking plainly about where funding comes from on a given issue is a good one.
DSF: Somebody has to care. And I’m not talking about philanthropy.
In partnership with Get Your Brass Out and VOTE!, MaCCNO is developing a cultural questionnaire for the 2nd Congressional District candidates. See our socials for additional updates. Twitter: @musicculture504; Instagram: @musicculture504; Facebook: @MACCNOpage
March 6—13: Early Voting (excluding Sunday, March 7)
March 16: Last day to request a mail ballot (by 4:30PM)
March 20: Open Municipal/U.S. Representative, Congressional District 2
April 24: General election/2nd District run-off
Candidates, U.S Representative 2nd Congressional District (replacing Cedric Richmond, who was appointed by President Biden to the director of the Office of Public Engagement position)
Chelsea Ardoin (R)
Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste (I)
Claston Bernard (R)
Troy A. Carter (D)
Karen Carter Peterson (D)
Gary Chambers Jr. (D)
Harold John (D)
J. Christopher Johnson (D)
Brandon Jolicoeur (N/A)
Lloyd M. Kelly (D)
Greg Lirette (R)
Mindy McConnell (L)
Desiree Ontiveros (D)
Jenette M. Porter (D)
Sheldon C. Vincent, Sr. (R)
The Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO) is a broad-based coalition and registered 501c3 non-profit corporation that collaborates with, organizes, and empowers the New Orleans music and cultural community to preserve and nurture the city’s culture, to translate community vision into policy change, and to create positive economic impact.
This space is provided to MaCCNO as a community service and does not necessarily reflect the opinions or editorial policies of ANTIGRAVITY.