The ability of music to take you back to a specific place and time, complete with main, and supporting cast assembled, is a remarkable, and comforting thing. So, it is with equal parts amazement and thankfulness that I reconnected with Tribe Nunzio, and by extension, the city of New Orleans earlier this year.
Known by numerous monikers like NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana), “Nawlins” (with the requisite drawl), and the Big Easy, life has been anything but for the below sea level, self-confessed home of jazz, Cajun-Zydeco fusion, and Mississippi Delta blues, post Hurricane Katrina.
Then, perhaps I shouldn’t find it surprising that a city, which lost 50% of its half-million population from a cataclysmic natural disaster, resulting in the worst civil engineering failure in U.S history, and an equally cataclysmic example of human ineptitude in the form of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), shows its rebirth through the seeds it has sown for decades – its music.
Tribe Nunzio, or “the Tribe” as they were known locally, were a masterful blend of jazz, blues and world rhythms back in the day. They were part of the funk wave that breached the city’s levees as the era of punk receded. Fronted by a wonderfully wacky, vivacious, and oh so colourful female lead named Holden Miller, a.k.a. Peaches Edelstein, they included local musical cornerstones like Jeff Treffinger on guitar, and Vernon Rome and Damon Shea on bass.
But, part of their overall attraction for me was the somewhat un-scheduled inclusion of other amazing musicians – on sax, on percussion, on whatever. You never knew exactly what form the Tribe would take on a given night. It almost seemed as if their performance was a virtual jam session, which came together based on who happened to be in the house.
I’m not a music expert by any stretch of the imagination. But, I count myself lucky to have been leading bicycle tours in the Felicianas, and based out of New Orleans in the early ‘90s. It was incredibly beautiful, lush countryside, which seemed at odds with the social and political history that played out in the area a little over a century ago, and was still lurking just under the surface in certain otherwise casual conversations.
I was doubly lucky to have been dragged out for late nights of dancing and music with bands such as the Tribe. It also helped to have a good friend who was a local. Otherwise, I don’t know if I would have found my way to musical outposts like Tipitina’s, or Cafe Brasil, a place that came to represent the Frenchmen Street music scene on the periphery of the French Quarter to this out of place Vancouverite.
Long after I left New Orleans I continued to listen to Tribe Nunzio, courtesy of a well-worn cassette tape. I searched for the one CD I knew they had recorded, but to no avail. By 1994, the Tribe was apparently history, and the CD was out of print. So, perhaps you can imagine my surprise, and excitement when a random Googling of their name turned up news of their 2010 reunion at Chickie Wah Wah. Good on ya New Orleans. Good on ya Tribe, and thank you! Given enough notice, I’ll be there again someday – maybe at the Brasil, late into the night prior to Mardi Gras, or Jazz Fest.
Thank you to Jerry Moran of Native Orleanian Fine Photography for creating the slideshow at: http://nativeorleanian.com/portfolio/ Click on the Tribe Nunzio Reunion link on the page to see his brilliant images, and hear the vibe. Enjoy.