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When the Zulu parade rolls this year, it will be doing so with a little help from its friends. Ditto for Mardi Gras Indians who enliven the Carnival scene and other holidays, the second line parades that keep a distinct slice of New Orleans culture vibrant and the small, grassroots museum that honors these and other manifestations of local spirit. 

The assistance to these cultural organizations comes from the companies that annually put New Orleans culture on center stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Festival Productions Inc. of New Orleans and AEG Live of Los Angeles – the companies that produce Jazz Fest – and Shell – the oil company that stepped up last year as the event’s largest sponsor – together raised $250,000 in cash gifts to Zulu, Mardi Gras Indians, second line organizations and the Backstreet Cultural Museum.  

“We are talking about the people who carry the torch, the flame that keeps this culture alive,” said Quint Davis, the producer of Jazz Fest.

The money comes at a time when such organizations and the individuals who comprise them are struggling to keep their traditions intact after the devastation and disruption of Hurricane Katrina.

The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, for instance, will use its share of the contribution to help repair its Mid-City headquarters, which took five feet of water after the levee failures, and help pay for insurance and security expenses for its parade. Zulu’s membership came in large part from areas of the city that were hardest hit by the post-Katrina floods.

The money will also help pay security expenses for the numerous, smaller social aid and pleasure clubs that mount parades year-round. Police fees for these parades have risen dramatically since Hurricane Katrina in response to violence that plagued some events earlier in 2006. The Backstreet Cultural Museum, a nonprofit built in a former Tremé funeral home, will use its funding to buy new audio/visual equipment to showcase the traditions of jazz funerals, second line parades and Mardi Gras Indians. The Jazz Fest money will help Indians themselves buy materials for the elaborately beaded and feathered suits they make each year.

Many Mardi Gras Indians and social aid and pleasure clubs participate in Jazz Fest, performing on stage or conducting parades around the festival grounds. The events these clubs and groups hold throughout the year are widely seen as a cultural incubator for the continued musical heritage of New Orleans, bringing jazz and brass band traditions literally to the doorstep of the next generation. – I.M.

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