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Betty Esperanza ’s Festival story

Betty Esperanza

Allen Toussaint heats up Montreal with 'Southern Nights'
2010
Betty Esperanza (Montreal)

Allen Toussaint is a magical story teller and accomplished pianist accompanied by uber talented musicians spellbound the audience July 5th at PDA like an old fashion snake charmer. This concert will forever be tattooed in my memory especially the Southern Nights tone poem.

Toussaint softly recounts his childhood weekend getaway to the countryside and he starts it off like this:

“Sunday mornings my father
whose name was Clarence
would pack all of us
my mother Naomi Neville
my sister Joyce and my brother Benson
into the car
a 1935 Buick
'You need to know where you came from
so you know where you’re going…'
he would say to us

we drove on and on
past old weathered gray houses
unpainted, never new
close together
and as we drove farther and farther
into the country
the houses were farther and farther
apart

it seemed like every house had a porch
that seemed to wrap all around
each one
and people were sitting on the porches
sometimes waving
as we drove by

we saw cows, horses, chickens…
(he pauses)
with all their parts intact
wells with water in them
and frogs
and we’d finally get to our porch
all the uncles and aunties there
and cousins running out to greet us
and I’d listen to the language
of the old folks
the patois, the Creole so thick
I could barely understand it
(Toussaint mimicks some Creole conversation)
but
if I saw an eyebrow raise up
it meant I better listen because
it was going to be important

aunties on the porch
always wearing aprons
even to church
would pick you up and
hug you to their bosoms
and some of them were
quite well endowed
and I’d struggle to breathe
in the soft mass
with the scent of
talcum powder
maybe that’s where the expression
love you to death comes from
(Toussaint chuckles)

after eating we’d all sit on the front porch
the old folks told old stories
an auntie would say
I know that old John
died on his mule
but I heard him jabberin’ and cursin’ out in the dark last night
and an uncle would say
you must be hearin things
and she’d say well he say he gonna pay a visit to you next week
so you find out for youself
and over in the corner by the left side of the door
was the matriarch in her chair
never talkin

once in a while she’d get real still
and we’d get to worrying
then slowly her arm would move and her hand would reach down
to the floor and she’d pick up a small bottle in a sack
bring it to her lips and slowly put it down
and we’d all breathe a sigh of relief

and I knew that I was in the right place
and everything important
in the world was right there
on that front porch
if there was something wrong with something
there was someone there who could fix it

it was dark out there at night
no light no electricity no gas to light anything inside or outside
and quiet
so very quiet outside
pitch black
but I knew that nothing would ever happen to me on that porch

when it was time to drive back home
I sat in the back seat
looking up at the only light
light that was coming down from the moon
as it filtered through the trees
that lined the road

the moonlight turned the leaves silver
and that’s where the next song comes from….”

He began to sing and play “Southern Nights.” I don’t think anyone in the audience could help but yearn to be part of his entourage...you could not hear a pin drop and the entire audience was captivated...almost in a trance waiting for the rest of the story...
And so TOUSSAINT sings...

Southern nights
have you ever felt a southern night?
Free as a breeze
not to mention the trees
Whistling tunes that you know and love so.

Southern nights
just as good even when closed your eyes.
I apologize to anyone who can truly say
That he has found a better way

Southern skies
have you ever noticed southern skies?
It's precious beauty lies just beyond the eye.
It goes running through your soul
Like the stories told of old
Old man
he and his dog that walked the old land
Ev'ry flower touched his cold hand.
As he slowly walked by
weeping willows
Would cry for joy
Joy

Feel so good
feel so good
it's frigth'ning.
Wish I could,
stop this world from fighting.
La da da da da da la da da da da da da da da

Mysteries
like this and many others in the trees
Blow in the night
in the southern skies.

Southern nights
they feel so good it's fright'ning . . .
Wish I could stop this world from fighting
La da da da da da la da da da da da
da da da da da da da da da da da


Courtesy of Betty Esperanza /BeNudeMedia.

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