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New Orleans musicians give voice to rising tide of anger over gulf oil spill

BP, the government and an army of volunteers are fighting to contain and clean the millions of gallons of oil spewing from the site of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

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By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 3, 2010

NEW ORLEANS -- The song was created like so many before it: at the bar.

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Gravelly voiced musician Coco Robicheaux was bellied up at the Yellow Moon about a month ago, a dingy joint in the eccentric fringes of the city, ruminating on the havoc the BP oil spill has wrought along the Gulf Coast. He slips into rhyme from time to time, and soon his monologue transformed into lyrics. A few other barflies ran home to grab instruments -- a banjo and a couple of harmonicas -- and "The New Battle of New Orleans," the name they gave this ditty, was born:

We blew that rig and that oil kept a-comin'

Twice as many barrels as there was a while ago

Thar they blow till the oil it was a-running

Up the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

The backlash against BP is being waged on much more sober fronts, with lawsuits in the courts, hearings in Congress and meetings in the White House. But in a city known for its up-tempo soulful sound, where funerals often turn into parades, some of the most compelling voices of dissent have been raised in song.

Prominent local musicians enlisted the help of national artists Mos Def and Lenny Kravitz for a remake of the Smokey Johnson standard "It Ain't My Fault" that is aimed squarely at the oil industry. Another song, by resident rocker Paul Sanchez, is dubbed "Nobody Knows Nothing." The volunteer DJs at community radio station WWOZ have dedicated segments to music about crisis on the high seas, and one band, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, reports that "[Expletive] BP!" has become a rallying cry at its shows.

On Thursday, dozens of concerts were held across the country to raise money to clean up the coast, including one here at Tipitina's enlisting Robicheaux and a lineup of heavy-hitting local favorites: Galactic, Aaron Neville's son Ivan, Rotary Downs and the Joe Krown trio.

"Our way of life is different here than just about anywhere else," Robicheaux says over a shot of tequila at the Yellow Moon on a recent afternoon. "Anything that interrupts what we got going on impacts everybody."

Everyone here seems to be within six degrees of separation from the seafood industry, which has been decimated after miles of commercial waters were forced to shut down following the oil spill. And food and music are particularly close cousins, twin pillars of the culture. Elementary school students grow up singing about jambalay', crawfish pie and file gumbo.

Perched on the bar stool next to Robicheaux is his friend and fellow musician Don "The Blue Max" Ryan. He grew up in Ocean Springs, Miss., and his family made its living off the water. He shrimped, fished and ran charter boats but he also worked on oil rigs. Boats and music, music and boats -- that's all he's ever done.


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