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The Faubourg Treme was one of the first places in the southern United States where free African Americans owned property at a time when slavery still existed. It was also where the roots of modern jazz took hold. Slaves were allowed to gather each Sunday in Congo Square, an old slave market in Louis Armstrong Park, to drum and practise their music. Today, the site is still a spot for both impromptu and arranged musical celebrations and processions.

The history of the African American community’s processional traditions is chronicled at the Backstreet Cultural Museum. Costumes belonging to the Mardi Gras Indians -- the “tribes” of African Americans who dress as Native Americans each Mardi Gras -- are displayed, as are photographs of Second Line Parades. A New Orleans tradition, the Second line is a raucous and impromptu street parade that follows a brass band through the street in celebration. The museum also looks at the charitable role played by the social aid and pleasure clubs (better known today as benevolent societies) that gained popularity at the turn of the century, and their struggle to maintain tradition in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

To dig into the soul of the Treme, you have to rely on your stomach. Tuck into classic New Orleans gumbo, etouffee or red beans and rice at favourites like Willie Mae’s Scotch House (2401 St Ann Street, 504-822-9503), Li’l Dizzy’s (1500 Esplanade Avenue, 504-569-8997) and Dooky Chase (2301 Orleans Avenue, 504-821-0600). It is neighbourhood restaurants like these, supported and patronised for decades by the local community, that add flavour to the true New Orleans experience.

 

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