A Note on Re-imagining The City

Radio 4’s Re-imagining the City series, which climaxed on Saturday, was a triumph. In four episodes the series took you through New Orleans, Dublin, Istanbul and Coventry with Nik Cohn, Joseph O’ Connor, Elif Shafak and Pauline Black respectively narrating the journeys of their inhabited cities.

The thing that stuck out for me, maybe obviously, was the musical landscape described by each narrator. From Nik Cohn’s picture of New Orleans jazz to O’ Connor’s infatuation with Phil Lynott and from the great calls to prayer in Istanbul which Shafak describes, to Pauline Black’s (of The Selecter) ode to Coventry 2-Tone, I felt I had bounced through soundscapes that painted great sonic murals of their native cities.

New Orleans

I was particularly taken with Nik Cohn’s musical celebration of New Orleans. Of course it was jazz-heavy – it’s New Orleans! – but there was a fascinating description of modern hip-hop block parties in the city too, and every so often a snippet of Mystikal’s ‘Danger’ would creep in, letting us know that it’s not just Jelly Roll in The Big Easy. The 1920s left their stain, but haven’t stifled everything since. New Orleans has a magic about it undoubtedly. Having never been myself (this I will most definitely put right), I’ve always thought of it as some kind of cultural Mecca – those great characterisations Kerouac managed to conjure up in On the Road and the thought of being technically under the water whilst taking in some hot jazz and ragtime lend it a romantic appeal which is completely unique.

Mystikal – Danger

But don’t let that stop you from trying to catch any of the other episodes. Each one has its charms and each one gives a great insight into these places and their music. Pauline Black’s comment on Coventry, for instance, made me realise how much I missed while I was working there a few years ago and Elif Shafak’s look at Istanbul has made me look at flights there as I’d love to experience just a smidgen of what she does every day. Joseph O’ Connor’s musings on Dublin and its place in the world are superb and I may also look to get over there pretty soon for a weekend as I’ve not visited Dublin – and now feel it is imperative that I do.

The series was an inspiring, intriguing look at four cities whose qualities are maybe not always as fore-fronted in the mainstream media as, say, New York or London and if it is at all possible to catch the first 3 anywhere, then do so (iPlayer stops access after 7 days). You can catch the final one on Coventry here.


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