House of Dance and Feathers
The making of House of Dance And Feathers can be summed up in two words: Shamarr Allen. Shamarr wrote the song, produced the track, sang all the parts, played all of the instruments and recorded the song at his own POME studio handing over a completed track for Mark Bingham to mix. Colman and I never even heard the song until Shamarr brought it by Piety to be mixed. This is the kind of respect and trust I have for his ability.
The track got it’s start halfway through making the record. I was playing tracks down for a good friend who is one of the associate producers on Nine Lives, Rick Duplantier. He has been enthusiastic and supportive since the songs were in the writing stage and has been with us every step of the way on making the record. As he listened down, he said that is was amazing we had managed to include every major form of New Orleans music, and then he paused and said, “… except for rap, you don’t have any rap music on the record.” I called Colman and explained that Rick, who is a very successful lawyer, lives in Lakeview and decidedly not a rap fan had called us out on the omission and if he noticed then we should do something about it. I told Colman that we had done a good job of being authentic but that a rap song was something he and I should probably not tackle.
I called Shamarr. I told him I needed a rap song titled House Of Dance And Feathers, that it had to written from the point of view of Ronald Lewis, and that the time frame should be the Lower Nine just before the flooding of 2005. Shamarr laughed into the phone, “Uncle Ronald? I grew up around the corner from his house. I’ll just go on over and pick his brain.”
I then went back to work on the other songs on Nine Lives knowing I could trust Shamarr to give me something wonderful and he did.
House Of Dance And Feathers jumps out of the speakers with life, beauty, humor and passion. Colman and I listened down with Mark Bingham and were knocked out, absolutely blown away by what Shamarr handed over.
For me it was a special song because I didn’t meet Shamarr until after the flood. I was playing an in-store performance at Louisiana Music Factory during Jazz Fest ’06. Shamarr was still with Rebirth Brass band and I was still with my old band, Cowboy Mouth, though neither of us would be in our bands much longer. I was singing Randy Newman’s song, Louisiana, when a young man of 23 stepped out of the crowd with a trumpet to join me and took everyone’s breath away. We’ve played a lot of music since then and I have followed his songwriting as a fan and as “Uncle” Paul, watching out for my “nephew” Shamarr. Because I only met him after the flood, all of his memories of and feelings for the 9th Ward are tinged with the bitterness of Katrina, the flood and the last several years of rebuilding, moving in, black mold and moving out. This was and is the first song I ever heard from Shamarr that describes life in the 9 with joy and humor, writing from Ronald’s perspective and from the perspective of life in the Lower Nine before the flood. It freed up a side of Shamarr I had not seen and it filled me with joy to hear.
There are lines that made me tear up and still do when I hear them because, thought they were written about Ronald, they are pure Shamarr Allen. A young man with a burning desire to be heard, to express, to not let his dreams be washed away in that damned flood.
“It’s the grass roots truth the whole world needs to see, the history of the city seen through the eyes of me.”
In his song House Of Dance And Feathers, Shamarr does indeed get a chance to show the whole world the history of the city seen through his eyes and it is stunning.
~ Paul Sanchez – July 27, 2011