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Q&A With Music Legend Allen Toussaint

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Beats of the Heart: About the Film’s Soundtrack

When the lights go down in IMAX theatres exhibiting Hurricane On The Bayou, the music will come up. As the rollicking rhythm and chanting melody of the Louisiana classic “Iko, Iko” (as performed by contemporary Southern Louisiana singer-songwriter Zachary Richards) kicks in, it soon becomes clear that this film is not just a visual journey into New Orleans and its surrounding wetlands but an audio journey as well – one that leaves an indelible reminder that the foot-stomping, soul-stirring music that makes New Orleans so special to the nation and the world emerged from the very bayous that are today so endangered. 

From the start, director Greg MacGillivray knew he wanted Louisiana’s irresistible music to be at the heart of his film.   “There’s few other places in America where the relationship between the beauty of the land and the culture are so clearly intertwined,” he notes.  “Louisiana is a place that is so brimming with music, it’s hard to get out of the range of where music is being played.” 

In the wake of Katrina, the soul of the film became even more about music – following three leading musical artists on their own personal journeys through Katrina and into impassioned support for rebuilding both the city and its protective wetlands.  As rock legend Allen Toussaint, blues-master Tab Benoit and teenaged pop prodigy Amanda Shaw each share their tales, they are accompanied by their own music as well as a rousing mix of tunes that reflect that vast history and magic of Louisiana’s musical heritage. Coinciding with the release of the film, the Audubon Nature Institute will release the Hurricane on the Bayou soundtrack album, the proceeds of which will go towards the organization’s extensive programs to preserve the wetlands. 

Bringing together all the many musical strands of Hurricane On The Bayou is the film’s composer Steve Wood, who has scored more than a dozen large-format films for MFF, winning four Best Soundtrack Awards for the Oscar®-nominated Everest with George Harrison.  Wood knew from the start that this film would take him exciting new places musically.  “Music is at the heart of what makes New Orleans and Louisiana so special.  The minute you hear Jazz or Dixieland or Zydeco, you travel in your mind to the Delta,” he muses.  “Unlike other large-format features I’ve scored, music is also at the center of what this film is about -- it’s a part of the story and at the heart of each character.  So with the score, I set out to weave together elements of all this great American music and provide a kind of mood-setting over-view that takes you deeper inside the images.” 

Wood began by immersing himself in all the threads that make up Louisiana’s musical tapestry – heading to New Orleans and the storied clubs and studios of the still vibrant music scene there.   “What an inspiring experience for a musician,” he says.  “Music is like food in Louisiana – it’s essential to survival. You get a real cross-section of every single musical style there and it seems everyone you meet loves music -- not just one kind of music but all music.” 

Wood might have started as an outsider to the tight-knit local music scene, but that brought him a unique advantage.  “What was great is that I was able to bring together a group of musicians on this score who might not usually play with one another,” he explains.  “I hired Dixieland players and Cajun players and Ragtime players and the results were electrifying. They were all so gifted and gave killer performances.” 

In addition to the score, Wood wrote two original songs for the film:  “God’s Good Hand,” a rousing Gospel number which is performed by Allen Toussaint, Marva Wright and the Greater Antioch Choir in the stunning St. Louis Cathedral; and “This is My Home,” which is sung by legendary New Orleans vocalist John Boutte.  Says Wood of the songs:  “‘God’s Good Hand’ is very much about faith in the process of rebuilding, and is written in a Gospel style, which is one of my favorite forms of music. ‘This is My Home’ hearkens back to Southern Plantation music and is about the deep connection you have to the place where all your fondest memories and the people you care about are.  I felt really lucky to have John Boutte sing that song.”

Wood sums up:  “Throughout the idea was to combine the authentic music of the region with music and songs that reflect the film’s powerful story.” 

Meanwhile, to help compile a fun, funky and emotional soundtrack of Louisiana classics to join Wood’s stirring score, the filmmakers also turned to Steve Dorand, Vice President of the Audubon Theatre in Louisiana, a passionate historian of the local music scene and himself a working musician and composer.  Dorand was thrilled to have a chance to introduce audiences to sounds of Louisiana they might not have heard before.  While New Orleans is renowned for inventing Jazz, putting the laid-back roll into Rock music and adding a whole lot of Rhythm to their Blues, Dorand notes that there’s even more than meets the eye to Louisiana’s incredible musical treasures. 

“Most people have a very narrow view of what music in the bayou is like, so we wanted to give this film a truly diverse and representative soundscape that takes you into city and the coastal wetlands,” he explains.  “So much amazing music has come out of the Louisiana  marshes – from Zydeco to Funk to Swamp Pop.  I hope this is a soundtrack that will speak to audiences, and, at the end of the day, will also be completely authentic to the peoples and culture of the region.” 

One thing Dorand hopes people will take away is just how deeply interwoven music is into life in Louisiana.  He explains:  “When you grow up in a place where you can walk down the street and see Dr. John, it’s something that you just can’t get out of your soul.  And yet, I don’t think you can pigeon-hole Louisiana music in any way.  There are so many different immigrant influences. And then you have certain people like the Nevilles, who have taken the culture all around them and turned it into a magical, amazing sound all its own.” 

Dorand also notes that Louisiana has a long history of using the inspiration of music to get through hard times and to fuel recovery.  “It seems that every hundred years or so some major calamity hits Louisiana and brings change – and every time we’ve come out it with a new cultural renaissance, ” he remarks. 

Already, Dorand sees that music is proving to be a uniting force after Katrina.  “One of the unique things that comes out in this film is that musicians were some of the first people to come back right away after Katrina,” he observes.  “Musicians are responding once again to a time of need and what’s beautiful is that it feels like all the divisions are gone and creativity is at a new height.”

As the film begins, the score and sountrack are upbeat and joyful but as the story descends into the maelstrom of Katrina, the mood shifts – and Dorand chose songs that could stand up to the starkly emotions. “When Mavis Staples sings the traditional spiritual ‘Stand By Me’ it gives you goose bumps,” he says. 

The soundtrack also includes songs from such musicians as the Rebirth Brass Band, whose signature brand of heavy funk has made them one of the most popular brass bands in the world; rock and roll pioneer Fats Domino; smooth blues piano legend Charles Brown; innovative Cajun band Zydeco Force; four-time Grammy winner Aaron Neville, whose sweet, plaintive voice has long been associated with New Orleans; and the beloved boogie woogie pianist Dr. John. 

Dorand found himself especially moved by the enthusiastic response of so many legendary musicians who agreed to contribute songs. “We were getting yeses even before Katrina because people saw that this would be a great film for Louisiana,” he says.  “But after Katrina, there’s an even larger feeling among musicians that this is their city and their story – and that this film might give others a chance to really experience the rhythm and pulse of the area. Then, once they learned Allen Toussaint was in the film they were like ‘oh, Mr. Toussaint’ is doing it? That really inspired people.” 

In turn, both Wood and Dorand hope the movie’s music will inspire audiences even beyond their time in the theatre.  “We hope people leave the theatre with the Louisiana beat in their heads,” sums up Dorand.  “We hope this is the kind of soundtrack that, long after you’ve seen the film, you can pop the CD in and those same incredible images of New Orleans and the Louisiana wetlands will come right into her mind and take you back there again.” 

Steve Wood - Music Score and Arrangements

Steve Wood (Music Score and Arrangements) has been scoring films with Greg MacGillivray since Greg's surfing cult classic Five Summer Stories in 1975. Since then, he has worked on over a dozen IMAX theatre films including The Living Sea, Discoverers, To Fly!, The Magic of Flight, Everest, Dolphins, Adventures in Wild California and most recently, Greece: Secrets of the Past.  Steve worked with Sting on both The Living Sea and Dolphins and worked with George Harrison on Everest.  

Wood was Kenny Loggins' musical director for 9 years and has written many songs with Loggins including "If You Believe." He composed the instrumental interludes for Loggins' "Return to Pooh Corner." He has played with artists such as The Pointer Sisters, Michael McDonald, David Crosby, and Graham Nash. Woods' music has also appeared in other films such as Why Me? starring Christopher Lloyd, Boiling Point starring Wesley Snipes and Dennis Hopper, and Greedy starring Kirk Douglas. He also worked with Stevie Wonder on a Clio-award winning television spot for Hansen's Soda.   

Scoring giant screen films has allowed Wood to develop his interest in and knowledge of diverse ethnic music including Indonesian, Caribbean, Chinese, Tibetan, and Irish styles. He has also recorded folk music in Fijian locations. He recently completed production of a CD for Mario Frangoulis on Sony Classical and is currently working on a CD featuring Salvatore Licitra and Marcelo Alverez.

Q&A With Music Legend Allen Toussaint

One of the most charismatic characters at the heart of Hurricane on the Bayou is also one of New Orleans’ most beloved musical legends:  Allen Toussaint, the Louisiana native who has been making hit records for 40 years. Renowned as a singer, pianist, arranger and producer whose work spans Rock, Rhythm & Blues, Pop, Country and Jazz, Toussaint was inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, taking his place in the pantheon of American culture. His most famous songs include the classic “Working in a Coal Mine” and the Dr. John hit “Right Place, Wrong Time.” After losing his home and recording studio to Katrina, Toussaint moved temporarily to New York, but from there he has been a tireless ambassador for the rebuilding of New Orleans.  Toussaint most recently teamed with Elvis Costello on the album “The River in Reverse,” recorded in New Orleans. 

Q: With so many important things going on in your life right now, what made you decide to take the time to tell your story in Hurricane on the Bayou

Right now I feel anything that helps bring attention to New Orleans is worth doing and when my presence was requested, I was thrilled.  When I heard about the film’s story, I was interested because it seems to cover a lot of territory -- from music to the wetlands to the rebuilding of the city.  It’s also a chance for people to get a closer look at what happened in New Orleans and to see what we’ve been up against.  It would be great if everyone in the country could come down and take a tour but that’s impossible so this is a way of bringing people closer to it.  It’s one thing to see it in magazines and newspapers – but it’s a whole other thing to experience it in action. 

Q:  You’ve lived in New Orleans all your life.  What do you think makes it such a magical place and so vital to the USA?

A:  It’s home for me of course and that alone makes it so very, very important.  But I think part of what makes it so special is this mix between Old World charm and the excitement of the new. It’s a place that operates at its own pace – and I love that about it.  Of course, it is also the Cradle of Jazz, and there’s always great music to be found. 

Q:  One of themes of Hurricane on the Bayou is the importance of restoring Louisiana’s wetlands. Is that something you’ve been aware of living in the city?

A:  The preservation of the wetlands and the problems of coastal erosion are something that we've talked about for a long time in New Orleans.  But now, it has all really been magnified because after Katrina we know how bad things really are.  Now that we’ve seen what can happen, we need to at least prepare for what we know is possible in the future.  There should be a process of living and learning after what we’ve been through.

Q: Can you share a little bit about your personal experience during Katrina?

It was catastrophic, I must say.  I stayed until the very last possible minute.  I mean I’ve been through so many hurricanes, I’m used to them, and even when I evacuated, I thought I would be returning shortly to remove the boards off the windows. But then I realized it wasn’t going to be that way this time.  By the time I arrived in New York, I had already resolved that all of the important things in my house might be gone forever, and sure enough, when I came back, most of the meaningful stuff was gone.  Yet, I was also so glad that I was safe and that I had a place to be. 

Q:  Do you think Katrina will have an influence on the music of New Orleans?

For all seasons there are songs, whether it’s the seasons of the weather, the seasons of holiday or the seasons of war and peace.  Music accompanies everything that happens around us but it also rides on after these events disappear.  The one thing Katrina has really influenced is that there are all kinds of benefits and recordings going on now. But in the long run, the music will still be what it is and transcend all of that. 

Q:  How important is the environment of Louisiana to the culture of New Orleans? 

The environment has influenced the music of New Orleans in both obvious ways and not so obvious ways.  Even without anything about it being in the lyrics of a song, there’s just a feeling to living in this area that’s reflected in how the music goes. There are so many things you see everyday in New Orleans that have an influence: the sound of the boats on the river, the birds in the sky, the pace of life.   Even if you don’t know it’s there when you’re writing, it’s deep in our spines. 

Q:  You’ve become such an outgoing ambassador for your home city.  Do you believe people will come together to rebuild a safer, but still vibrant New Orleans?

Yes I do.  I think the city will be fine.  I think it will take quite a bit of time, but one day soon we will be as good as or even better than before.  That being said, there’s definitely a lot that needs to be done by the powers that be.  I just hope we’ve really learned that we need to do our best to fix some of these situations now that we know how bad things can get.  Right now, I’m really looking forward to the Jazz Festival, because it will be another great chance to show that we are on the way back.

Q&A With Blues Master Tab Benoit

Perhaps the most outspoken and charming voices in Hurricane on the Bayou belongs to Cajun musician Tab Benoit, an acclaimed singer and guitarist whose love of Louisiana has driven him to become a devoted environmental activist.  Long a fervent advocate for the wetlands, Tab watched in despair as the nightmare scenario he had most feared came true during Katrina’s flooding.  Now, he is more motivated than ever to get the word out about the vital need to preserve the coastline.  Born in Baton Rouge, Tab was raised in the oil and fishing town of Houma, where he first began digging deep roots in Louisiana music and playing his own brand of bayou-spiced Blues. He then ventured into New Orleans where he was soon compared to the greatest Bluesmen and guitarists of all time – and signed his first multi-album deal.  In 2003, Tab founded the non-profit organization Voice of the Wetlands.  His most recent releases include “Fever of the Bayou” and the collection “Voice of the Wetlands,” recorded in January 2005 with an all-star cast of Louisiana musicians.  

Q:  You were a big part of Hurricane on the Bayou even before Katrina hit.  What compelled you to get involved?

I’ve been on a mission for a long while to get out there and tell this story that hasn’t been told about the wetlands and I was very happy that the filmmakers wanted to do that too.  In the beginning, I really wanted to promote the fact that we’ve been losing our swamps, losing our coastline and losing our only line of defense against hurricanes.  I saw that Louisiana was being washed into the sea. 

I live in a beautiful area that’s wide open and vulnerable so I had been digging into this for a while.  I’ve watched marshes float away and die. I’ve seen forests right in front of my house disappearing and I knew I had to do everything I could to prevent this.  I’d been trying to use our culture and our music to get the word out to the rest of the country, so when I heard about this film, it was just perfect timing. Of course, everyone was taken by surprise when everything we’d been warning about occurred right in the middle of filming.  Now, Hurricane on the Bayou is not just about saving the wetlands, it’s about protecting a beautiful way of life. 

Q:  What is it about Louisiana that makes it so special and so important to the United States?

You can break it down into just about every aspect you can think of.  Economically, a lot of money comes up out of the ground in Louisiana.  We produce 45% of the country’s natural gas.  We also run the biggest oil port in the country.  Everyone single person in America, whether you’re a farmer exporting your crops or a chef who cooks with natural gas or a person who drives in a car every day, relies on what we do in Louisiana. 

And then, look at the culture – there’s no other culture more American. Without New Orleans’ Blues and Jazz, there would have been no rock and roll.  Then, you have the wetlands with all their beauty and unique species.  There’s an enormous amount of history here.  Some of it has to do with greed, power and corruption and some of it is inspirational. In the end, I really believe this is a place where we have a unique chance to balance economics and Mother Nature because we have to do it. 

Q:  How vital is the surrounding environment of New Orleans to the music and culture?

There’s a special feeling here in Louisiana that creates the music and it’s something you can’t find anywhere else in the world. For me, it’s always been important. I write out in the swamps, I get my inspiration there, I get my sounds and feelings from there – so from my point of view, there is a deep connection between the land and the music and that’s something you get to see in the film.  The Louisiana Delta is one of the richest resources on our planet – and it’s at the very root of New Orleans culture.  If we lose the root, the tree is going to die.

Q:  What kind of emotions did you personally go through when Katrina hit? 

For years we’ve been saying, “it’s gonna happen,” “it’s gonna happen,” and now here it was. Four days before the storm arrived, I already had the feeling this was going to be “the one,” and I was worried because I knew people wouldn’t be able to get out.  I live in a place that has regular flooding so we know what to do, we know where to go, and I was able to evacuate with all my vintage guitars.  But I knew that people in the city were going to be trapped because they didn’t know enough about what could happen.  When the city started flooding, it broke my heart. 

It really killed me to see people trying to help being turned away.  This is something they didn’t show on the national news, but there were hundreds of people showing up in their boats to try to help and the officials would not let them. If we’d been allowed, we could have got a lot more people out of there in the first day, and that was just tragic.  It’s also scary to realize that the truth is Katrina was just a glancing blow.  What’s going to happen if a hurricane comes right up the middle of the city? 

Q:  What kind of hope do you have for Louisiana’s future?
There’s only one thing that can fix these problems and that’s the American people.  This land belongs to us and some things need to be changed so we had better change them.  Nature is what made us so rich in the first place – it’s what led to the bayou, to the culture, the food, the music and the whole city of New Orleans.  It all started with the natural resources.  So getting our natural world running right again is going to be a big part of things. 

Q: What was the most exciting part of making this film?
I’m excited that there will be a lot of images in this movie that people didn’t see on the news – and that audiences will get an understanding not just of what happened in New Orleans but why it happened. Since Katrina, I’ve traveled all over this country and talked to all kinds of people and I think the one thing a lot of folks share is this feeling that they’d like to help but they don’t know what to do.  Hopefully, Hurricane on the Bayou will show them more. Another thing about Louisiana is that we’ve always mixed our hard work with big fun.  That’s why music has been so much of our culture – because no matter how tough your work is, it’s always easier if you’re singing and carrying on.  So I think this film is in that tradition.  It’s a lot of fun but maybe people will learn something in the process.

Q&A With Fiddle Prodigy Amanda Shaw

One of New Orleans’ most exciting young musical talents, rising teen prodigy Amanda Shaw reveals her own personal tale of surviving Katrina and finding hope in the restoration of Louisiana’s wetlands in Hurricane on the Bayou. Amanda has been a fiddling virtuoso since age seven, when she became the youngest person ever to play with the Baton Rouge Symphony as a soloist.  Making the transition from Classical to Cajun, Amanda soon brought her own innovative crossover sound to the fore, gaining international fans.  She and her band, The Cute Guys, have received raves on the festival circuit, called her “a fiddling wizard” and she recently opened for Cher at the VH1 Divas/Cher Farewell Tour.  In January, Amanda was able to return to her heavily damaged school in New Orleans and will soon begin recording her first major album.

Q:  What inspired you to become a part of Hurricane on the Bayou?

I got involved in the very beginning, before Katrina, mainly because the filmmakers were looking for someone from Louisiana who could connect with the younger IMAX theatre audience.  The story I was told is that the filmmakers were eating breakfast in New Orleans, talking about how they were going to find a young musician to be in their movie and suddenly they saw my picture in the paper and said “well, let’s call Amanda Shaw!” When they asked me, I was really excited.  I didn’t know all that much about the wetlands back then – and I really wanted to learn. 

Q:  What did you learn about the wetlands?  

I didn’t realize before how important they are in keeping us safe from the power of hurricanes.  Now I understand that by saving the wetlands we can also save people. The bottom line is that no matter where you live in Louisiana, you can’t ever be 100% safe from storms, because they are always going to happen, but a lot more of us could be protected if we start rebuilding the marshes.

Q:  What was your personal experience during Katrina like?

We were very lucky because we don’t live in the worst flood zone.  But I was also in the middle of a tour, and after the storm, we couldn’t get back to Louisiana so I had to go to a gig in freezing Minnesota with suitcases full of only tank tops and shorts!  At the same time, everyone was so incredibly helpful and supportive. We even started getting letters addressed to “Amanda Shaw and Family” with offers of help from people all over the country.  We didn’t even hear anything about how our house was doing until the Hurricane on the Bayou crew drove by it – and then they called and asked us if they could film the damage!  That was kind of worrying, but it turned out to not be as bad as they thought. As for how I feel now, I think we are all still very much in the middle of it.  It’ll be interesting to see how people feel in five years, because right now, I think we’re all just focused on getting our lives back. 

Q: For almost a year, your school was closed.  What was that like? 

A:  It was really hard.  My school is at one of the lowest points in New Orleans so it was severely flooded.  At first they thought they might have to knock it down.  I just couldn’t imagine that happening.  It was such a beautiful day when it re-opened in January.  We were all hugging and kissing and telling our stories.  The amazing thing is that they only expected about 500 people to come back but about 1100 students out of 1200 showed up!  It is kind of eerie, though.  The school is an area where it’s one of the only places that has electricity or water.  So just driving to school can be a scary experience because everything looks abandoned and you feel kind of like you’re in a lost world. But they pulled everything together just the way it was before Katrina.  They wanted the students to feel like they never skipped a beat, so that was a good feeling.

Q: What makes New Orleans so special to you?
Sometimes people think New Orleans is just about Jazz but there’s so much more to it. This city truly has a bit of everything – not just Jazz, but also Rock, Pop, Blues, Country, Cajun, Zydeco, you name it, it’s all here. And then there are so many different kinds of areas; there’s the exciting French Quarter but there’s also the beautiful wetlands.  We’re lucky to have all this variety – it’s what gives New Orleans its interesting taste! 

Q:  How was it being followed around by a film crew during such an intense time? 

The filmmaking team really did a lot to make it fun for me right from the beginning and they were so nice to us after Katrina.  It was such a small, tight crew that I got to know everyone personally and made a lot of great friends. There was a lot of laughing and making jokes but I also was constantly learning, so it was actually an amazing experience.

Q:  Did you enjoy working with all the other famous musicians who are part of the film?

Oh yeah, that was fantastic.  I already knew Chubby Carrier from way back because he produced my first album and I also had opened for Tab Benoit and knew Marva Wright.  But I had never had the pleasure to meet Mr. Allen Toussaint and that was so exciting for me because he is truly a legend and he turned out to be so cool and inspiring. 

Q:  What are your hopes and fears for New Orleans now? 

We’re almost to the next hurricane season so that’s kind of scary.  It’s definitely going to take awhile for things to get fixed and for people to understand more about what is happening.  But I think right now we just need to spread the word that New Orleans is an amazing place that deserves to be saved.  It’s a place where there’s still so much love to go around. 

Q: As a teenager, how do you think kids will react to Hurricane on the Bayou?

I really hope that seeing New Orleans and the wetlands and the music and the devastation of Katrina in IMAX theatres will make something click with the audience.  Kids are the future.  We’re the ones who are going to be running the country one day so fixing a lot of these problems is going to be up to us.

Q&A With Zydeco Star Chubby Carrier

Dubbed Louisiana’s “premiere Zydeco showman,” Chubby Carrier is known for bringing his infectious, high-energy brand of dance music to clubs around the United States. Born into music, Chubby is the third generation of a family of artists considered to be legends in Zydeco history.  He began playing drums at the age of 12, was playing accordion by age 17 and formed his own band in 1989.  Since then, Chubby Carrier and the Swamp Band have recorded 5 CDs and toured the world many times over.  Chubby is also the owner of Swampadelic Records and has long-standing relationships with other musicians featured in Hurricane on the Bayou as well.  He has been friends with and played music with Tab Benoit since he was in his 20s and he produced Amanda Shaw’s debut album, “Little Black Dog,” helping to bring her to notoriety.  This summer he’ll be on tour, as he says, “helping to spread the Zydeco gospel.” 

Q:  How did you become involved in Hurricane on the Bayou?

Well, it was Tab Benoit, who I’ve known and been good friends with throughout my musical career, who first told me that there was going to be an IMAX theatre film about hurricanes and New Orleans and that they might need an accordion player, so I simply said “that’s me.”  When I heard Amanda Shaw was going to be such a big part of it, I was truly excited.  I first saw Amanda playing in Walker, Minnesota – she was this beautiful little ten year-old girl playing fiddle with so much natural talent you couldn’t believe it and I knew she was going to be a huge star. I went on to produce her first album, and we’ve become like true family. 

I’m real pleased to be a part of this film because when I travel the world, people always want to know first and foremost what’s really going on here in Louisiana – and now here it is in IMAX theatres for everyone to see for themselves. To me, the most important message of this film is that we don’t want this amazing place to die – we don’t want it be completely all gone before we realize what has happened.  We have to bring that message to the world every way we can. 

Q:  What do you think it is about the Louisiana bayou that made it such a great place for music?

You had a lot of hard-working families here from all over the world and when night fell they pulled out their instruments and started singing.  They didn’t need psychiatrists because they sang about their troubles, and that was such a big relief right there.  And the music was passed down from generation to generation as a tradition. The Carrier family has a long history of Creole music – we first recorded records back in 1955.  I’m the third generation carrying on that tradition and that’s the way it has always been.  Now, it just blows my heart away that so much of that tradition might be disappearing because of Katrina.  We don’t want to lose that. 

Q:  What was your personal experience during Katrina?

We’ve been talking about this kind of hurricane for 50 years, but oh my God, we weren’t ready for what actually happened.  For me and my family, we were lucky because we are in Lafayette, two hours from New Orleans.  We didn’t get the full effect.  I felt blessed because I was in a place where I could help others – and so many of my friends and family members lost a lot.  Meanwhile, since I was about to get on the road to perform some shows, and since all the computers and phones were down, no one could get in touch with me and they were panicking, wondering if I was dead or alive.  When I finally got to my gigs, people were so kind and so generous.  They wanted to give, to give money, food, whatever was needed – some even wanted to give musical instruments, and I had people offer me entire drumsets!  It was a heartbreaking time and yet it was also a good moment to see so many fellow human beings come forward and step in to help.

Q:  What was your favorite part of filming Hurricane on the Bayou?

I had so much fun getting together with Tab and Amanda, playing traditional Zydeco music on the porch, the way people always have in Louisiana.  I think it was a chance to show the world just how we used to do it, how my daddy did it and his daddy before him, just playing music together as a natural part of life. 

But what really got me most was playing in the St. Louis Cathedral with Amanda, Marva Wright and Allen Toussaint.  What an experience, one I would not change it for all the world!  I was so moved that I nearly forgot to play some of my notes.  I can’t express how much it touched my heart and soul.
Q&A with Gospel Queen Marva Wright

For Marva Wright whose soulful performances have earned her the title “The Gospel Queen of New Orleans” the chance to appear in Hurricane on the Bayou was also a welcome opportunity to return home to New Orleans after her own house was completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.  Marva, who was born and raised in New Orleans, is known for mixing together Blues, R&B, Jazz and Gospel into her own sultry, upbeat sound that has become beloved by audiences around the world.  She has released seven solo CDs since she began her recording career in 1987, including “Marvalous” and “Heartbreakin Woman.”  In 1999, she also made her motion picture debut in “Crazy in Alabama” with Antonio Banderas. Marva most recently set out on a tour that took her not only back to New Orleans for the Jazz Festival but to Australia, Paris, Germany and across the United States. 

Q:  What made you decide to return to New Orleans after Katrina destroyed your house to join the production of Hurricane on the Bayou?

New Orleans is my home and will always be my home, and being a part of this movie felt like one way of helping to rebuild it.  It is my hope that Hurricane on the Bayou will be educational to a lot of people and that it will especially help children to better understand how dangerous hurricanes are and all that we can do to protect the ones we love. 

Q:  What was your personal experience during Hurricane Katrina?

A: I was never one to run from a hurricane, but with Katrina, I feel very lucky and blessed that we were able to get out quickly before it hit. We heard from family members that this one was gonna be bad, worse than any other, so my whole family piled into my Navigator, looking like the Beverly Hillbillies, and we got out of Dodge.  We left everything behind, and after the hurricane went through, we lost it all. 

Q:  That sounds just devastating.  What kind of emotions did you go through? 

I was like a zombie.  You know, I just could not believe what was happening around us and it seemed like a nightmare.  We ended up in Panama City, Florida during the storm, but watching it on TV and seeing what was happening in the city and at the Superdome was almost worse. We just could not imagine this was all really happening. 

The hardest thing of all for me, the thing that hurt me the most was knowing that my son, who is a policeman, was still in the city.  We couldn’t get through on the phone lines and I was just destroyed not knowing what had happened to him.  I was so happy when I finally heard his voice, I didn’t know what to do.  We also later learned that he helped to rescue his sister and brother-in-law from an attic filled with six feet of water.  He’s just over six feet himself and he went in there and got them out, carrying the dog over his shoulder.  He lost his house, too, but he still lives there, first on a cruise ship and now in a trailer, and I’m real proud of him. 

Q:  You’ve been so much a part of New Orleans’ musical culture in the last decade.  What do you think it is that makes this city so special?

I think it is the people.  People are just simply nice in New Orleans. They are hospitable and caring and really want to help each other – and that is a wonderful thing.  Of course, the music is the best in the world and then there’s the delicious food.  I lost a lot of weight after leaving New Orleans and it was only during the shoot for Hurricane on the Bayou that I gained back 20 pounds! 

Q:  What was the experience singing in the St. Louis Cathedral with Allen Toussaint, Amanda Shaw and Tab Benoit like for you? 

When I walked in and saw all these people who I haven’t seen since Katrina, I just started crying.  It was beautiful and it felt so good to see everyone. I love all these people – Allen Toussaint is marvelous, Amanda Shaw is so sweet and talented and I just adore Tab Benoit because he’s a beautiful person.  It was also hard, because just driving to the locations, you could see so much destruction, see so many homes and businesses destroyed, that you can’t help but be heartbroken thinking “this is my home town.”  But I felt like we all had our hearts in the rebuilding effort. 

Q:  What was your favorite part of shooting Hurricane on the Bayou?

Again, for me it’s always about the people.  There were so many wonderful people involved.  And then there was the food.  There was delicious fried shrimp and buttered bread just across from the Cathedral.  One of the drummer’s wives cooked up some gumbo and at the Hilton they had the best crawfish pie.  As I said I gained 20 pounds and I kept telling the filmmakers that I was worried because IMAX theatre films are supposed to make everything look bigger, but I didn’t want to look bigger too!

Q:  Now that Katrina is over, what are your biggest hopes and fears for the city? 

I will always want to go home.  I miss my people and I miss my grandchildren. Right now there is nothing to come back to for me – still I think, as the song says, time is on my side.  Coming together is what New Orleans is all about and I believe we can.