What does a Swedish singer know about New Orleans music and New Orleans Saints?
As it turns out, quite a lot.
Pär Stenhammar leads a Stockholm-based New Orleans-style band called Louisiana Avenue. Just in time for the Saints home opener at Caesar’s Superdome on Sunday, Louisiana Avenue has released “Who Dat”, a tribute to the distant – at least away from Sweden – Black and Gold.
The soaring horns, stuttering street beats and innate joy in “Who Dat” speak to the creators’ affection and affinity for the local sound. So too the song’s street party in a video.
If any Swede could count on conjuring up a legitimate Saints song, it’s Stenhammar. His New Orleans pedigree and passion go deep.
His father, Bo Stenhammar, first attended the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1971, when it was still in what is now Armstrong Park. Senior Stenhammar was so obsessed with what he saw and heard that he has returned to Jazz Fest every year. Along the way, he became friends with musicians and festival staff, including founder George Wein, who recently passed away at the age of 95.
Back in the ’90s, George Wein was a familiar sight at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Leaning and slow, he inevitably …
Bo Stenhammar put his fandom into action. In 1980, he founded the Stockholm Jazz Festival and modeled it after the New Orleans Jazz Fest. He also marketed Scandinavian tours by Professor Longhair, Allen Toussaint, Dr. John and pianist Champion Jack Dupree.
Over the years, he put lots of Swedish kronor in the pockets of local musicians and introduced New Orleans music to many other Swedes, including his son Pär.
Pär is now New Orleans’ leading cheerleader in Sweden.
“Just like my father,” he said, “I have fallen in love with the spirit of the city and have been an extended part of it, even though I spend most of my days in Stockholm.”
He has participated in the last seven jazz parties with a group of 30 Swedes. After returning to Sweden after Jazzfest 2012, Stenhammar gathered Louisiana Avenue. Originally, the band covered New Orleans classics by Professor Longhair, The Meters, Dr. John and Fats Domino, to “really adapt to the track and the soul that is so specific to New Orleans music,” Stenhammar said.
In 2018, he and his bandmates performed original New Orleans-style material. During this year’s Jazz Festival, Stenhammar and Jon Rekdal, a Swedish musician living in New Orleans, wrote what became “2107 Delachaise”, Louisiana Avenue’s debut album 2019. The house shown on the cover is Rekdal’s home on, yes, Delachaise Street.
Stenhammar and his other “polar bears” have mainly devoted their lives to celebrating New Orleans’ music and culture as authentically as possible just south of the Arctic Circle.
With Sweden planning to lift most of its COVD restrictions this week, Stenhammar invited fans to join Louisiana Avenue for, as he wrote on Facebook, a “guerrilla-paired New Orleans style between Slussen and Medborgarplatsen to celebrate the return of cultural life. “
“For me, there was no doubt — I had to throw a second line to celebrate,” he said. “Wandering the streets of Stockholm for an hour and getting people to dance, sing and smile – that’s probably my favorite thing about the New Orleans music we play. It just makes people happy. ”
During the carnival season 2020, Stenhammar made another pilgrimage to New Orleans. His fat Tuesday caterpillar is documented in a professionally recorded video montage.
Five or so years ago, he participated in a Saints game in the Superdome with Keith Williams, a longtime friend of Bo Stenhammar who is also one of “Bless You Boys” super-fan “popes” who wears full religious regalia to games and holds court on the front row behind the guest bench.
The younger Stenhammar experienced a sacred revelation in the company of the popes. The game, he recalled, “was an intense Hollywood comeback of the Saints. I’ve been stuck ever since. ”
It was perhaps inevitable when Louisiana Avenue would conjure up a Saints song. In the video “Who Dat”, Stenhammar uses his colorful “Carnival Caravan” – a rebuilt motorhome that functions as the Swedish version of a party bus – for a saint-themed tailgate in Stockholm.
With an Alvin Kamara sweater no. 41, glittering gold trousers, a purple and gold boa and a captain’s cap in Fat Domino style, Stenhammar is the dancing, dancing, self-made carnival king in Sweden.
He and his bandmates are accompanied by Storstan Street Brass, a Swedish recreation of a New Orleans brass band, and members of Who Dat Sweden, a club for Swedish Saints fans. Black and gold equipment, Mardi Gras pearls and purple, green and gold umbrellas abound.
In English but with an accent that clearly has its origins far north of New Orleans, Stenhammar engages the trumpets, trombones, saxophones and sousaphone in a conversation and answer before the happy cacophony surrounds “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
As he sings the lines, “Do you think a virus can shut us down? Think again my friend, no not this city, ”he may be physically in Stockholm, but spiritually he is in Big Easy.
“When I sing about ‘us’ in ‘Who Dat,’ I have the voice of a Saints fan,” he said. “That’s the beauty of sports and community: I feel very much part of the New Orleans and Saints community, even though I’m only there three to four weeks a year.”
To his great delight, “Who Dat” has been well received. The video has more than 60,000 views on Facebook, largely thanks to Saint’s fan forum. Longtime WWOZ-FM deejay Sally Young liked “Who Dat” so much that she used it to start her annual football season “Saints Song of the Week” series on her traditional jazz show.
“I love the positive, big horn arrangement – it’s funky and sophisticated at the same time,” Young said. “It’s in my collection of Saints songs now, so I can play it anytime, even when the season’s over.”
Stenhammar’s ultimate dream is to play “Who Dat” in the Superdome during a Saints game. Next year, he’s donating proceeds from the sale of “Who Dat” to the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic.
“My mission is to bring the joy and spirit of New Orleans culture to this side of the pond in all its forms and shapes without stepping on too many tears,” he said. “I know it’s not straightforward to portray a culture you did not grow up in, and I’ve had some New Orleans people over the years who say I’m trying to steal their culture.
“I can assure you that I try my best to treat it with respect by making it available to people in my part of the world who, like me, fall in love with it.”