MUSIC SPOTLIGHT: Ciel Rouge
A local rapper seeks to convey honesty in his music.
Music has been an evolving aspect of rapper and producer Ciel Rouge’s life. Born Chris Carter, Rouge grew up in Algiers, attending Edna Karr High School. “I had both of my parents, and they were real supportive,” he said. “I always felt like because I grew up in a middle-class household, I had to prove myself.”
As a high school sophomore, Carter bought a cheap beat machine and started making music. “I was rapping, but not really rapping,” he said. In 2004, he was accepted to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and began studying audio production. This was where he discovered his love for playing with sound.
“Music kind of found me,” said Carter, who also plays guitar. “I was that cat that was recording all of the jazz students, so it became my primary focus.” He cited a diverse range of musical influences on his upcoming album, Lovely, She’s a Dancer, including indie rock and synth-pop, although he returned to listening to hip-hop while making his most recent mixtape, “Love, Rouge.”
“Kids on Levees,” the mixtape’s first single, is a spare, haunting track that paints a picture of growing up in New Orleans. It’s based on the bounce remix of John Legend’s “Get Lifted,” accented by breathy, rapturous vocals from singer Sasha Masakowski. The song’s music video, yet to be released, features a scene of two bounce dancers “twerking,” or “shaking,” on a decommissioned police cruiser. The camera zeroes in on the dancers’ bare legs, showing cellulite and one woman’s bullet wound scar; Carter says his goal in the scene was to remove the veneer that celebrities and the national media have given to twerking. “They make it seem really glamorous,” he said.
Although Carter’s lyrics are thoughtful and honest, he is drawn more to melodies and beats than words. “There’s not a specific thing that I write about,” he said of his songs’ subject matter. “I focus more toward the music.”
As for the future, Carter hopes to release a two- to three-song EP capturing a “Southern vibe” with a real-world aesthetic. “I don’t want to put out anything that’s not true,” he said. cielrougemusic.com
VENUE SPOTLIGHT: Gasa Gasa
Freret Street music venue brings action to the area
From Gasa Gasa’s inception, co-owner Micah Burns has focused on curating a complete experience, making visitors feel at home in a pretension-free modern music venue filled with bright colors and local artwork. “It was never a profit thing,” Burns said of Gasa Gasa’s precursor, a speakeasy called Breezy’s. “It was kind of a clubhouse.”
After finding an available space on Freret Street in 2012, Burns and his wife Mary, along with partners Gavin McArthur, Michael Collins, Michael Twillman and Reid Martin, worked on a shoestring budget to build it out. “We signed a lease and told our landlord we had a bunch of money, and we did not,” Burns laughed. “We were a bunch of friends who got together, trusted each other and decided to go for it.”
During the waiting period for Gasa Gasa’s building permit, McArthur went on a long-awaited vacation. While surfing in Hawaii, he suffered a stroke, nearly drowning. The partners tabled the club idea, waiting to hear from their friend.
“A week later, he texted me ‘gasa gasa,’” said Burns, who thought McArthur had lost his mind. In fact, McArthur was learning to walk again at a hospital, bumping into furniture and walls; because he was so noisy, a Japanese doctor came out and yelled “Gasa gasa!’” at him. Literally, the phrase refers to a rustling or unsettling sound; the doctor was using it informally. “In a slang sense, it means, ‘Focus on what you’re doing,’” explained Burns. “Focus on one thing at a time.”
McArthur eventually recovered and returned to building out the club space with Burns and the other co-owners. With brick-red, mint-green and mustard-colored interior walls, a nine-foot boat prow with a larger-than-life figurehead and a space-age geometric projection screen among its adornments, Gasa Gasa looks unlike any other New Orleans venue.
A careful observer will note the club’s lack of parallel walls wherever possible — a detail that keeps the space acoustically alive. “From day one, the idea was to design the room for sound, [to] bring the best gear and quality of sound to the table,” said Burns, who also wanted to create a sound so good that people wouldn’t talk over it.
Officially opened in the summer of 2012, Gasa Gasa has hosted a variety of contemporary musical acts, artists and performers. Burns pointed out that there are many places to hear traditional jazz in New Orleans, but few outlets for contemporary music. “Tradition is important and needs to be kept alive,” he said. “But it’s guarded down here pretty well, and we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel.”
Burns sees Gasa Gasa as a community center, part of the close-knit Freret Street neighborhood. He and the other co-owners are working to make the venue a daytime destination as well as a nightly hotspot, planning to offer yoga classes, art markets and happy hours. “It’s kind of like the layman’s art gallery — not bourgeois, not exclusive,” said Burns. “I live here; I spend all my time here, and I’d like it to be as interesting as possible.” gasagasa.com
ART SPOTLIGHT: Frank Relle
It’s hard to know where to start with Frank Relle. Known for his haunting late-night photos of New Orleans houses, the soft-spoken photographer can talk about his work at length. Relle started taking nighttime pictures in 2004 after a four-month adventure in Paris, where he had traveled with no money. “I was thinking that Hemingway and everyone [would] be waiting for me at the airport,” he said.
While taking classes on New Orleans literature and poetry as a Tulane student, Relle found a context in which to consider the stories of the “Nightscapes” he photographs. “For me, New Orleans is this layered mix of culture, race, racism, multilayered culturalism — all of those things sit on top of each other,” he said. “There’s a whole theater to it.” One literary genre in particular fascinated him: the “mortgage melodrama,” or stories of losing one’s home. Relle, who grew up privileged until his father lost his business, found himself identifying with these stories.
The photographer’s newest work, “Night Shade,” focuses on the human relationship with nature. Large, lush prints of oak trees, vines and leaves, illuminated by multiple high-powered lights, succeed in taking Relle’s natural scenes from reality into more fantastic realms.
Raised in the country on the North Shore, Relle notes that city dwellers have a range of options when they decide to experience nature — from Audubon Park’s carefully designed pavilion to the bayou’s towering, abstract kudzu shapes. Each of his photos starts with a question or consideration: for example, asking why we apply value judgments to man-made versus natural landscapes. “With curiosity and attention, there are answers to all kinds of questions,” Relle said. frankrelle.com