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Folklife Festival Focuses on New Orleans Music

For the 40th straight year, the Smithsonian Institution's summer , Bunch mused on how Hurricane Katrina may have changed what some have called America's classical music.

"What strikes me is that there is another layer now on top of the music that wasn't there a year ago," he said, "a layer of urgency, a layer of immediacy, layer that says 'this has survived. So let's continue to celebrate!'"

It's taken a while for performed at the festival by , a popular New Orleans gospel and rhythm group.

At the Festival's opening ceremony, The Friendly Travelers also performed a song in a traditional a cappella style, without accompaniment.

"The a cappella aspect incorporates the Negro spiritual part, as well as the gospel heritage that was done in Congo Square where the slaves actually were brought to New Orleans," says Alfred Caston, the group's manager. "This music and gospel music itself speaks about the suffering of slavery. It's not necessarily something we like to dwell on or think about, but it's something that happened!"

No one can deny the catastrophic impact last year's storms and floods have had on New Orleans and New Orleanians. But Friendly Traveler member Floyd Turner believes some good has come from the disaster.

"I think it's made a lot of people stronger in their belief in God," he says, "because you can work all your life to achieve goals (and) gain material things. And you can just see in the twinkling of an eye, everything was gone that you worked so hard for! But God still spared your life." On a more earthly plane, says Turner, "New Orleans is coming back. Little by little, neighborhood by neighborhood. So you've got to look at the whole picture."

Some say only those who live in New Orleans can really understand the joy residents feel about their home city, or the sorrow they felt when Katrina scattered them across the country. But Friendly Travelers' lead singer, Alfred Pens, says anyone with ears can hear both the sorrow and the joy in the music.

"Music! That is the nucleus!" he says. "Because music is the universal language. People look at your eyes and the heart. So if you do it from your heart, it becomes universal. People understand that."

The "Been in the Storm So Long" program at the Smithsonian Institution's Folklife Festival on the National Mall will run through this weekend.