Spanish isleños and New Orleans jazz
In Tenerife, a city in the Canary Islands, off the coast of Morocco, there is an ensemble named the Alabama Dixieland Jazz Band that gigs today. But the existence of this group named after a U.S. Gulf South state is not simply the consequence of early jazz winning over the world through mass media and touring performers. Instead, the Alabama Dixieland Jazz Band in Tenerife offers a footnote on the margins of jazz history. Their music tells us something about the complexity of jazz circulations.
Canary Islanders, or isleños, live a life 'in-between' in more than one way. Many residents are of the North African Amazigh (also known as Berbers), an ethnicity that confounds the simple equation of African-ness with blackness. In their history, they were pivotal to colonization and the trans-Atlantic slave trade, yet located geographically neither in Europe, nor Africa, nor in the Americas.
Conquered in 1496, the Canaries were the first colonial territory of the Spanish Empire. Many colonial policies began and were tested there. Slavery and sugar cane cultivation were introduced to the Americas through the islands. Canary Islanders formed the vanguard of colonists throughout the Spanish Empire.
In the late-18th century, when Louisiana was still a Spanish colony, around 4,000 isleños were relocated by force to St. Bernard Parish near New Orleans. They were settled strategically around New Orleans to guard approaches to the city.
Alcide "Yellow" Nunez, a clarinetist of isleño descendant, was an early figure in jazz recording. Nunez played in the initial line-up of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, the ensemble credited with making the first jazz recording in 1917. Nunez's subsequent band, the Louisiana Five, had several hit recordings in 1918-1920.
The participation of isleños like Nunez in the emergence of jazz have inspired contemporary isleños in Tenerife to stake musical claim on the genre. As scholar Mark Lomanno convincingly argues, acknowledging their contribution highlights the question of what was left out and unwritten in conventional narratives of jazz history as the quintessential American art form-stories so often told in black and white.