Three Robert Mugge Films Celebrate Louisiana Music

Music has been used throughout the centuries to mourn, celebrate, protest, and communicate. Music also brings communities together, and can raise awareness of those in need. Due to the recent flooding in Louisiana, which once again has left thousands homeless, we’re drawing attention to the state through three Robert Mugge documentaries that highlight and celebrate the diverse communities, unique musical traditions, and vibrant culture present in Louisiana. All were released on DVD or Blu-ray earlier this year.

Zydeco Crossroads
Title: Zydeco Crossroads: A Tale of Two Cities

Director: Robert Mugge

Label: MVD

Formats: Blu-ray, streaming video

Release date: March 25, 2016

 

Zydeco Crossroads: A Tale of Two Cities is a new documentary about Philadelphia radio station WXPN’s sixteen-month project, supported by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, which explored, preserved, promoted and celebrated the Creole culture of Southwest Louisiana. The film features Zydeco music and musicians both past and present, connecting them to the blues and the social, political, and cultural history of Southwestern Louisiana. In 2016 it received the Best Blues & Roots Film Award at the Clarksdale Film Festival.

Rhythm N Bayous
Title: Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous: A Road Map to Louisiana Music

Director: Robert Mugge

Label: MVD

Format: DVD

Release date: March 25, 2016

 

Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous: A Road Map to Louisiana Music (2000) is a three part film that the New York Times’ Stephen Holden called “part musical travelogue, part anthology, part archival document.” The film chronicles Mugge’s journey throughout Louisiana as he compiles a singing dictionary of the state’s roots music styles and assorted hybrids, from the blues and gospel to swamp pop to the fusion of Cajun, Creole and rock ‘n’ roll known as zydeco.

Kingdom of Zydeco
Title: The Kingdom of Zydeco

Director: Robert Mugge

Label: MVD

Formats: Blu-ray, streaming video

Release date: April 8, 2016

 

Mugge’s third film released this year, The Kingdom of Zydeco (1994), delves into the Black Creole music scene of Southwest Louisana and attempts name a new “King of Zydeco” in the 1990s. Throughout the film, Mugge discusses musicians such as Clifton Chenier, Boozoo Chavis, Rockin’ Dopsie, and Beau Jocque. Also featured are concerts, including a joint appearance by Boozoo Chavis and Beau Jocque, as well as stories from nightclub owners and zydeco deejays. This is a fantastic record of the many musicians and characters who made up the time period many call zydeco’s “Golden Era.”

Whether a beginner or a life-long scholar of music in Louisiana, these films are sure to help anyone gain new insights about the state’s unique music and cultural traditions.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Gil Scott-Heron in Black Wax

gil scott heron in black wax

Title: Gil Scott-Heron in Black Wax

Artist: Gil Scott-Heron

Label: MVD Visual

Format: Blu-Ray, DVD

Release Date: November 13, 2015

 

 

The recent Blu-Ray release of director Robert Mugge’s 1982 concert documentary film Gil Scott-Heron in Black Wax features the original film plus the accompanying short subject “Is That Jazz?” Both are remastered with high-definition video and audio.

For those not familiar with this film, Mugge utilized the conventions of the concert documentary to great effect for Gil Scott-Heron’s unique blend of music, poetry, and political commentary. The musician-poet leads the camera on a guided tour of Washington, DC, highlighting both the “official” national monuments as well as the “unofficial” ghetto neighborhoods. All the while, Scott-Heron comments on the state of politics during the Reagan administration, performs his street poetry in DC’s black neighborhoods (complete with rapping alongside his own recordings playing on a ghetto blaster, a fascinating touch that implies the artist’s profound influence on hip hop music and culture), and philosophizes about art. This footage is interspersed with concert film of Scott-Heron’s band performing his original music, which ranges stylistically from reggae to funk to jazz and features Scott-Heron both singing and “rapping” his poetry. Unlike many concert documentaries that interrupt the musical performance in order to advance the film’s narrative, Black Wax provides a window into Scott-Heron’s multifaceted art and politics by jumping from concert footage to sections narrated by Scott-Heron himself, reading as a guided tour of the artist’s work and politics.

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Gil Scott-Heron in Black Wax is essential viewing for anyone interested in the artist’s unique blend of art and politics and is a masterful music documentary to boot. This remastered Blu-Ray version allows viewers to see and hear the film in high definition, enhancing both the filmmaker’s and the artist’s excellent work.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley