Filling Necessary Spaces: Culture and Community Through the Lens of the Zodiac

By Camilla Stapleton

Ascendance is a place where the energy changes. People from all walks of life come together to dance, vibe, and find a community of unadulterated acceptance. Walking up to the Cafe Istanbul promenade, you’re greeted by people who might not look, talk, or act like you. But you are there, so you are part of a greater collective. Tired souls come to find peace for a mere five hours before returning to real-world anxieties and calamities. There are nothing but smiles on the faces of everyone around you. Bass thumps through the walls, smoke curls up above the lofted second floor. “It’s beautiful that this is an opportunity to bring people of all cultures, ethnicities, and personality traits together year-round through the element of astrology. It’s just its own little vibe, you know what I mean?” said Travis Battle, backlit by royal blue LEDs.

Ascendance was created as a monthly celebration of the African Diaspora – its people, culture, and especially its music. As primarily Black spaces and bars began to evaporate from the New Orleans nightclub scene, the creators of Ascendance filled the vacuum left behind by honoring Black lives and culture through the provision of a safe, comfortable space free from the anxieties and considerations of other nightclub scenes. An inclusive space, Ascendance brings together people who want to celebrate black and brown culture and “heal and affirm through celebration, joy, and spiritual commune”, as stated on their website, through expressions of the Zodiac which enlighten us of our strengths and limitations while also embracing both. There are strict guidelines partygoers are expected to adhere to – an anti-discrimination policy – and the expectation that Ascendance is a consent only space. In other words, the creators expect a level of maturity and openness from the people they invite to the space. “To find this in a place where it was scarce makes it so special. So I really appreciate that” Steven said.

Music is quintessential to the Ascendance experience. Every month, you’re guaranteed to find a new favorite Black artist or song, made easy by DJ CHINUA’s post-party playlists. On the middle of the dancefloor, CHINUA mixes everything from Deep House to 90’s pop. The ground-floor booth, surrounded by friends and partygoers, puts CHINUA right in the action. No one is fighting to get behind the DJ stand – cell phones are away and CHINUA is illuminated in blue light from their equipment. The raised platform behind them invites anyone who can fit to enjoy it. There is no VIP section or additional “benefits” for purchase – everyone at Ascendance is an equal. Yet, the greatest party favor is the people– the ones it invites, and the ones it creates. Regardless of who you are and what you’re going through, Ascendance creates an addicting community that captivates those privileged enough to experience it. “Everything maps itself out, balances itself out through like the crowd and the wave of energy and shit,” said Travis Battle. “It’s beautiful. It’s organic. It’s culture.” 

The creators of Ascendance imagine possibilities and actualize them – crowds follow. Almost everyone discovers Ascendance through casual conversation in their own communities – a black queer owner of a spiritual wellness lounge; the owner of Cafe Istanbul. It was started by a group of seven creatives to devise an ethos that would change and adapt to the needs of the community while invoking the zodiac as monthly inspiration. Ascendance, a play on “ascendant”, refers to the specific zodiac placement and its manifestation, which many astrologers argue is most representative of the self. In the name itself, Ascendance evokes spiritual and personal wholeness through absolute acceptance. Walking around the space – adorned with metallic flowers, live Spanish moss, and bright blue light – you’re greeted with expressions of abundant joy: head-bopping to Afro-House rhythms bathed in LED light, chance meetings in line for the genderless bathroom, hyping up complete strangers to underground Black artists. “Even if I’m not here sometimes, I would fly in just for Ascendance. Hell yeah. I mean, I’m living here right now, but when I move out for sure I’m flying back” said one partygoer, Steven. 

The soulful tranquility that exists at Ascendance is naturally intoxicating. Ascendance creates an administrative safe space, sure, but it’s the energy of attendees which fosters that intimacy and collective soul the creators are striving for. New Orleans in its essence is considered a cultured, welcoming, and accepting place; people can be unapologetically themselves and bystanders accept “that’s just New Orleans”. Nonetheless, monthly community parties like Ascendance are in high demand. 

Steven put it simply: “Being from a Caribbean background, I like that kind of vibe, that space of color and that space of openness. Just where everybody can come in and enjoy”. In typical nightclub spaces, there are a plethora of anxieties people silently wrestle with: you don’t know the people in that space with you – who hates you for the color of your skin or your self-expression or hidden identities out of your control. But people don’t fear judgment at Ascendance, or violence, or retaliation. There is a reason why most people hear about Ascendance in their own communities rather than through marketing or the internet. These spaces can exist because people actively choose to be there because they know what environment Ascendance is attempting to create. It’s one idea of community to have a bar nearby that accepts your identity, but it’s something entirely different to enjoy a safe space dedicated to engaging this collectiveness through music, dance, and the zodiac. It is a unique and powerful experience to feel fully protected and peaceful, regardless of the kind of space in which you find it. 

“I was broke this morning,” Travis recounted, “But as sure as I’m a person in a cape with a wand, I’m gonna bibbty bobbity bop my ass to Ascendance and pop the fuck out. And it’s gonna be great, and it’s gonna be a great time”. The energy created by these monthly events doesn’t exist by simply providing a place to listen to music by Black artists. The ethos is creating that intimacy and joyful acknowledgment of each other, without constraint, while engaging in a celebration of the African diaspora. Ascendance isn’t just a party: it’s an unabashed observance of celebration, unity, and authenticity.


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