Monday, February 28, 2011

No Tunes for Oil

I came across an ad for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival recently. It looks to be a great lineup this year: Arcade Fire, Lupe Fiasco, Wilco, Trombone Shorty, Lauryn Hill, Mumford & Sons, Sonny Rollins, the list goes on. Then I spied the main sponsor: Shell Oil.

I thought it was a joke at first. True, it wasn't this particular oil giant who recently spilled millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf, devastating the ecosystem and taking an untold toll on the local economy. Still, this seems in poor taste.

But then, there is space in New Orleans for corporate takeovers like there is in few other cities. The Katrina aftermath essentially did away with what little public infrastructure there was left. Most schools in the Big Easy are charters--tax funded, but run by public money. An activist friend I have down there has told me that it's almost impossible to find a decent meeting space because most of the public libraries still have yet to reopen.

Little wonder then that an essential part of New Orleans' cultural face has been overtaken by as brazen a company as Shell. Meanwhile, here in Chicago, our own fests are being sold off bit-by-bit. And it didn't even take a hurricane; it took Daley.


JM said...

Shit, and to think Lupe was standing up to Obama. Fuck..

Alexander Billet said...

I don't think it's worth it to blame Lupe and the other performers for this. Matter of fact I think it gives Shell too much credit. Artists have a choice: play these types of shows or become less relevant. Any artist who opts out of that choice is either independently wealthy or terminally underground. That this is the basic reality of the music industry is the real shame here, and that's well beyond the control of artists. I'm still looking forward to the new Lupe coming out!

JM said...

Yes, exactly: they have a choice and surely these people are wealthy enough that they can opt out, no? I mean, okay, Shell did eventually give Wiwa's family reparations:

but they still have a really, really, fucking really long way to go:

Alexander Billet said...

There's no debate that Shell's evil, but that doesn't mean we need to pull some kind of abstract moralism out on artists.

And the insistence that Lupe Fiasco or most of the artists playing at the fest are "wealthy" is a pernicious and laughable myth. Most artists are still in debt to their record label well after their third album (which Lupe just released), and commonly playing shows like this is the only way to earn any kind scratch. Rather than criticizing the individuals for playing these gigs we should be asking why it is that these are the only options for artists.