New Orleans, LA – Bounce rap may not be the first genre to come up in most discussions of New Orleans musical heritage. But local music journalist and researcher Alison Fensterstock says this infectious, eminently danceable musical style is intimately tied to the Crescent City's cultural experience.
"Bounce is a distinctly regional music," Fensterstock says. "It really sounds like New Orleans, it was never done anywhere else. And the rhythms and vocal patterns are very much linked to second line rhythms and Mardi Gras Indian chants. There's a very New Orleansy element to it."
Born in New Orleans in the 1980s, bounce rap is in the midst of resurgence. And if you don't know what this music is all about, you'll have plenty of opportunities to get an earful in April. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which begins this weekend, will feature more bounce performers on its stages this year than it has since 1994. And beginning Thursday, April 22, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art presents a new multi-media exhibition dedicated to the history, sounds and personalities of the bounce scene, an exhibition called "Where They At."
This exhibit project began when New York-based photographer Aubrey Edwards approached Fensterstock with the idea for spotlighting the evolving culture of the tenacious but underexposed bounce scene. Fensterstock explains:
"It hasn't been heavily documented yet, the way so much indigenous New Orleans music has been, mainly because it's only about 15 years old. And it's particularly interesting to me because I feel like it's obviously and distinctly tied to New Orleans roots music, especially Mardi Gras Indians and brass bands. But it's never really been accepted as part of the New Orleans music pantheon. So doing this exhibit kind of connects it to all those other traditions and puts it up there."
"Where They At" takes the form of a visual art exhibit combined with cultural history. At the center are Edwards' photo portraits of more than 40 people involved in the bounce music scene, ranging from those who were there at its inception to contemporary players. These portraits are paired with recorded interviews with the subjects, and the exhibit also includes some artifacts from the scene, like original turntables from the first New Orleans clubs to showcase Bounce.
In an era of mass-marketed pop sounds, bounce remains highly specific to its place and time. It's also a genre in which a handful of players can make a big impact and steer the course of the music's style and identity, as Fensterstock has helped explored in her work.
"The most obvious thing that's been really interesting to a lot of people is that the top local rappers who are doing bounce now are all these flamboyant gay rappers. So I've written a lot about them. Katey Red and Sissy Nobby and Big Freedia have kind of ruled the roost in bounce since the storm. They'll do, you know, eight or nine shows a week"
These performers are now getting more attention, at least in New Orleans, but "Where They At" draws in many different voices to showcase this diverse, unique, distinctly regional form of modern music.
"I think everybody that participated in the bounce scene is aware that it was something special and significant for New Orleans and they want to participate in getting the story told."
That story, as told through "Where They At," debuts April 22 at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.