Sarah Quintana and I narrowly missed meeting each other when I was in New Orleans in September, but I have so much enjoyed the excuse to get to know her work. Sarah’s voice is stunning, her instrumentals are always on point, and she is, perhaps most importantly, an artist with a story (heck, many stories) to share about water and climate change.
Sarah’s newest work, The Delta Demitasse, is a series of songs that use water, guitar, voice, bathtubs, drainpipes, coffee cups, and bowls in an effort to connect to the greater story of water in Louisiana. Each song has an accompanying video filmed by Kat Sotelo––a DVD of the video installation raises funds for the Gulf Restoration Network.
What draws you to water?
Growing up in New Orleans, surrounded by the lake on the north, and the river and gulf on all other sides, I feel very home on the water. It brings me a feeling of peace, as I imagine it does for so many. A pilgrimage to the public pool or the trek to pensacola is a remedy for the delirium of hot, oh so hot days in August and July. I am water. The earth is water. Cool, clear water.
Why do you sing?
I sing because it makes me feel home: connected to my body, my roots, my breath… and to everyone around me. It is home.
How can song tell a story?
In the folk tradition, songs and stories are inseparable. In the same way a sound or an image can tell a story, popular music is an elaboration on primordial theme.
In Mama Mississippi you accompany yourself on a coffee cup. How did that come about?
The cup. Ok. The cup is a demi-tasse: a french coffee cup–––made for small tastes of european style coffee with chickory. I have little insofar as family relics, except for a demitasse my grandmother gave me, which belonged to her mother who was french. Family legend has it that my Great-Grandmother Annie traveled around with this demitasse and took it everywhere she went. They spent the warm season out in Bayou Goula in Plaquimines parish on the west bank of the Mississippi River, and winter times in New Orleans. As a child I was obsessed with this cup and drank cafe au lait with my grandmother while we watched “OKRA” winfrey in her mid city home. As an adult, this is the one item that I salvaged from our rotten home, flooded and soggy with mud and mold as darker than your family secrets. The cup, to me, held an archive of conversations on the porch, a symbol of the simplest ritual, and all I needed to feel home after the storm. New Orleans is shaped like a bowl. The bayous surrounding us are the daughters of the Mississippi River. In Mama Mississippi, she is la llarona, weeping for release into the gulf and reunion with bodies of water that have been cut off. The cup, the songs … New Orleans, the river . . . this is home. Come to the ocean with your cup empty, my cup overfloweth.
What do you think the role of art will be in pushing for meaningful measures to address climate change?
I think it is everything. We are bringing the messages in whatever container we can carry: a coffee cup, a conversation, song, play or dance. These are all very important. Even taking the time to ask me these questions is huge. Just as the river waits with “epic patience” to return to the gulf and flow into the sea so we long to be reunited with each other. By taking care of others– plants, animals, the river, each other, we find true joy and quench our thirst.
What questions currently motivate your work?
Questions? The most important question is: Where is the work? The work is like water. It moves and fills whatever space it occupies. The temperature changes and we go from bikinis to toboggans. Just by thinking, having thoughts, we create waves. The important thing is not to be afraid: of water, nor of our minds or each other. To be methodical, consistent and kind. Confucius says, “build strong dykes,” or levees. Setting boundaries allows for more freedom. Once you find the work you are there.
What is your favorite word?
What are you reading/listening to right now?
Star Wars Episode 2
What is your favorite place on earth?
Sarah Quintana is a singer-songwriter from New Orleans with a background rich in jazz, folk, and popular music. She attended the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, NOCCA and graduated from Loyola University with a degree in English and French. Quintana splits her time between the US and France, working with saxophonist Raphael Imbert and touring on her own repertoire with French and American jazz musicians. She is a member of the Pantheatre (Linda Wise and Enrique Pardo) and is hugely inspired by Kaya Anderson of the Roy Hart vocal approach. In her latest creative effort, The Delta Demitasse, Quintana pays homage to the strength and fragility of Louisiana’s traditions— and environment, the wetlands.