"Gumbo Ya-Ya" is a phrase that's been heard in Louisiana Bayou country for a long time. It means "everybody talks at once."
It's also the name of a book about folklore and superstitions that were commonplace around New Orleans before the turn of the 20th century. Many of the stories on this week's show were collected from people in the back roads of Louisiana in the 1930s from a generation that still held these customs in living memory.
The first part of our show is based on a script written by our friend the author, photographer and clarinetist William Carter, who used the Gumbo Ya-Ya collection of folklore as background.
Our special guest is the renowned actor and singer Vernel Bagneris, known for his award-winning hit musical One Mo' Time which he wrote, directed and starred in as Papa Du.
Vernel is a native of New Orleans and comes from one of the old Creole families in the city. He joins The Jim Cullum Jazz Band for a broadcast we call Gumbo Ya-Ya: A Look Back at Creole Customs and Folklore.
Here is an excerpt from our show in which Vernel tells us about some old-time New Orleans superstitions:
They used to say it was bad luck to leave a house by any door except the one you came in. People all the time were apologizing with, "No, I'm not superstitious, but, thanks just the same, I think I'll go out this here door...."
The salt superstitions were numerous. You never borrowed salt. Accepting salt from someone meant you were accepting evil. But if you were to throw salt on your front steps on the first Friday of each month it brought good luck to everyone in your family.
Now here's one for you: the ninth bone from the tail of a black cat was highly valued and kept in the pocket for gambling luck. Sometimes butterfly wings were tied to the right leg for the same effect.
It was extremely unfortunate if you accidentally held your shoes above your head. You would soon lose everything you possessed.
In New Orleans if you go to a graveyard even today you can see hundreds of small green lizards darting around the shrubbery or in and out of cracks in the tombstones. People say that if you happen to kill one of those lizards you'll die within a year. "Kill ole lizard on the grave, ain't no charm your life can save."
The old folks have a cure for every kind of thing you can think of. If you want to prevent a cold, wear a dime and some salt in the heel of your shoe. For earache take the blood of a live cockroach and mix it with a tablespoon of hot water, a pod of red pepper and three grains of sugar. Heat it up and add some lard. Dab it on cotton wool and stick it in your ear. For hiccups look directly at the point of a knife blade. This will also cure sneezing.
To get rid of a rival in love put his name in some ashes and let the chickens pick at those ashes. And if you want to drive a woman crazy in love sprinkle nutmeg in her left shoe every night at midnight.
The music on this week's show includes tunes by Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, and others in the New Orleans tradition.
Photo credit for home page teaser image: Rev. Zombie's Voodoo Shop, New Orleans. Photo courtesy of jimtardio.
Based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pickd ©2002.