Tag: New Orleans

Deriving their name from a slang phrase popularly used by Mardi Gras indian tribes that means “we’re comin’ for ya” or “here we come,” the Grammy Award-nominated New Orleans-based funk act Cha Wa — currently founding member and bandleader Joe Gelini, along with Spyboy J’Wan Boudreaux, Second Chief Joseph Boudreaux, Ari “Gato” Teitel, Joseph “Jose” Maize, Clifton “Spug” Smith, Aurelien Barnes, Eric “Bogey” Gordon, Edward “Juicey” Jackson and Haruka Kikuchi — can trace their origins back to 2014 when Gellni was first introduced to the Mardi Gras Indian tradition while attending Boston’Berklee College of Music, where he met New Orleans-born, jazz drummer Idris Muhammad, who gave Gellini lessons in New Orleans-styled drumming.

As the story goes, those lessons inspired Gellini to relocate to New Orleans after graduation. Gellini quickly became involved in the city’s beloved Mardi Gras Indian community, eventually attending rehearsals for Mardi Gras marches. Gellini met  Monk Boudreaux, Big Chief of the Golden Eagles and one of the city’s most widely known and popular Mardi Gras Indian vocalists at those rehearsals. Coincidentally, Boudreaux is the grandfather of Cha Wa’s frontman J’Wan Boudreaux.

Unsurprisingly those rehearsals eventually turned into Gellini performing alongside the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian legend. Gellini met J’Wan Boudreaux while the younger Boudreaux was still attending high school, but shortly after, J’Wan joined the band as their frontman. Since then, Cha Wa have established a sound and aesthetic that simultaneously draws from New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Indian tradition and the city’s beloved rhythm and blues and funk sounds through the release of three albums — 2016’s debut Funk ‘N’ Feathers, 2018’s Grammy Award-nominated Spyboy and their most recent album, My People, which was released last week.

“Mardi Gras Indian tradition and culture goes back over 250 years in the city of New Orleans. And it’s a culture that derives from men of color wanting to celebrate the Mardi Gras holiday but weren’t able to at the time,” Boudreaux explained in an interview with NPR. “So what they did was they created these elaborate suits…it represented the Native Americans that helped the Blacks escape slavery, and they actually helped them throughout the swamps and the bywater to get where they needed to go. So to pay homage to those natives, these men created what we call today Indian suits.” On the album Cha Wa founder Joe Gellni adds that the group “”tapped into that collective unconscious of what it is to live in New Orleans and to see all the nuances and ways that different people of color in the band actually experience racism — what sort of plight we’re facing in New Orleans socially and culturally, and class-wise and environmentally.”

My People‘s latest single, album title track “My People” is a strutting bit of funk that’s one-part classic second line march, one part The Meters, one part Nite Tripper-era Dr. John centered around a shuffling rhythm, shimmering Rhodes, a big horn section and call and response vocals singing lyrics that remind people of the universal facts of life: the rich get rich, while the sick get sicker; that while we have our differences, we have much more in common than we expect — we’ll all experience heartbreak, despair, frustration, loss, death. And if we can see that the universe in others, it may mean we get closer to understanding someone else’s life and their pain.

Although they haven’t been able to tour, as a result of the pandemic, but they have made a recent appearance on Good Morning America and on NPR, and that has allowed them to spread the album’s music and message to a much wider audience — and not just to those who will agree with them, but as Boudreaux explained to NPR “also to the people who may not be so open…just try to open up your eyes and see the world through the lens of the next person – the person that’s next to you, being held down by these different things like systematic oppression…if we don’t say anything about it, then no one will actually understand and know that we’re with them.” 

Throwback: Black History Month: The Meters

Today is February 20, 2021. It’s the 20th day of Black History Month. And as I’ve mentioned throughout this series, I’ve been featuring Black artists across a wide and eclectic array of genres and styles — with the hopes that it’ll be a bit of a primer on the Black experience and on Black music.

Of course, I hope that these posts will serve as a reminder of these very important facts:

Black culture is American culture — and Black music is American music.
America’s greatest and beloved contributions to the world are Black music styles — the blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop.
Black art matters.
Black lives matter — all of them, all of the time.

Mardi Gras was the other day and as a result I began thinking of New Orleans-and the city’s importance to American music and culture: an incredible and diverse array of artists have called New Orleans home. The Meters and their strutting, swampy funk came to mind. Countless acts have cited The Meters as an influence on them and their sound — and they’ve been sampled heavily by hip hop acts.

As I was looking for some live footage, I came across Dr. John’s TV special, Dr. John’s New Orleans Swamp, which coincidentally was the season finale of the Chicago-based PBS series Soundstage. Dr. John serves as an emcee and as a performer for the proceedings — and from what I understand, the show came on the heels of that year’s Destively Bonnaroo, the second consecutive album produced by the equally legendary Allen Toussaint and featuring The Meters as a backing band. Anyway, the show features a who’s who of New Orleans including Professor Longhair and Earl King. Of course, this is Nite Tripper-era Dr. John. Every single performance is amazing — and let it be a reminder of that New Orleans is the cradle of all of the music we love.

New Video: JOVM Mainstays The Wood Brothers Release a Nostalgic and Wistful Video for “Little Bit Sweet”

Over the better part of the past year, I’ve written quite a bit about the acclaimed folk/roots/Americana act and JOVM mainstays The Wood Brothers. And as you may recall, the act which is comprised of  Boulder, CO-born and currently Nashville-based siblings Chris Wood (upright bass, electric bass, vocals) and Oliver Wood (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals), and multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix, can trace some of the of origins of the act and their musical careers to when Chris and Oliver were children: Their father, a molecular biologist, frequently performed old folk and roots music songs at family gatherings and campfires and their mother, a poet, instilled a passion for storytelling and turn of phrase.  As children and teens, they bonded over a mutual love of bluesmen like Jimmy Reed and Lightinn’ Hopkins; however, as they got older, their musical and professional paths would wildly diverge.

When they were young men, Oliver Wood relocated to Atlanta, where he picked up gigs in playing guitar in a number of local cover bands before landing a spot in Tinsley Ellis‘ backing band. At Ellis’ behest Oliver Wood began to sing — and shortly after that, he founded King Johnson, a hard-touring band that released six albums of blues-tinged R&B, funk and country over the next 12 years of his life. Meanwhile, Chris Wood studied jazz bass at the New England Conservatory of Music, and upon graduation relocated to New York where he co-founded the critically applauded Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW), an act that quickly became one of the stalwarts of the ’90s downtown New York jazz and experimental music scenes.

After pursuing separate and rather disparate musical careers for close to two decades, Oliver’s King Johnson and Chris’ Martin Medeski and Wood played on the same bill at a North Carolina show. During Martin Medeski and Wood’s set, Oliver sat in with his brother’s band. And as the story goes, the brothers instantly realized that they needed to be playing music together. Shortly after that set, the brothers recorded a batch of Oliver’s songs, which channeled the shared musical heroes of their youth while showcasing their own individual strengths — Oliver’s songwriting and Chris’ forward-thinking, adventurous musicianship. An early batch of demos landed The Wood Brothers a deal with Blue Note Records, who released their 2006 John Medeski-produced debut, Ways Not To Lose, a critically applauded effort that was Amazon.com’s editors’ number 1 pick for folk and made NPR’s “Overlooked 11” list.

Building upon a buzz-worthy profile, the act released 2008’s Loaded and 2009’s covers EP, Up Above My Head before moving on to Nashville’s Southern Ground Artists, who released 2011’s Smoke Ring Halo, 2012’s Live Volume One: Sky High and Live Volume Two: Nail and Tooth and 2013’s Buddy Miller-produced The Muse. Shortly after the release of The Muse, the members of the trio relocated to Nashville, marking the first time that Chris and Oliver Wood have lived in the same city in several decades. 2015’s Paradise was the first album in which all three members of the band shared songwriting credits, as they were all in the same city to work on and refine material. They followed that up with another live album, 2017’s Live at the Barn.

Last year, I caught the acclaimed trio at The Vic Theatre in Chicago, during their tour to support their sixth, full-length album, the self-produced and recorded One Drop of Truth. And although at the time, I wasn’t familiar with them before the set, they proved their reputation for being one of the best touring bands in contemporary music to me during that set. Now, as you may recall, earlier this year, the acclaimed Nashville-based trio released another live album, Live at the Fillmore, which was recorded over the course of a two night stand at San Francisco’s historic music venue. The album further cemented their long-held reputation for live shows centered around performances that defy easy categorization — their delivery seems to lives at the intersection of arena rock energy and small theater intimacy, all while blurring the lines between folk, rock, blues, soul, funk and Americana. In between a busy touring schedule, the trio found the time to write and record the highly-anticipated follow-up to One Drop of Truth, Kingdom In My Mind.

Throughout the band’s history together, the trio’s creative process would generally begin with the band writing songs before they got to the studio and then deliberately set out to record them. However, Kingdom In My Mind found the band beginning the process of writing and recording without initially realizing it: When they started, they all thought they were just simply breaking in and test driving their new Nashville recording studio/rehearsal space by tracking a series of extended, instrumental jam sessions.

“If we had known we were making a record, we probably would have been too self-conscious to play what we played,” Chris Wood reflects on the writing and recording process of their forthcoming album. “At the time, we just thought we were jamming to break in our new studio, so we felt free to explore all these different ways of playing together without worrying about form or structure. It was liberating.”

“We weren’t performing songs,” Oliver adds. “We were just improvising and letting the music dictate everything. Somebody would start playing, and then we’d all jump into the groove with them and see where it went. Normally when recording, you’re thinking about your parts and your performances, but with these sessions, we were just reacting to each other and having fun in the moment.”

After listening to their jams, the members of the band realized that they captured something undeniably alive and uninhibited. Much like a sculptor, Chris Wood took those sprawling improvised recordings and began to carefully chisel out verses, choruses, bridges and solos until distinctive songs began to take shape. From there, the band divvied up the material that spoke to them most and began writing lyrics both separately and together.

Thematically the album is an extensive meditation and reckoning with circumstance, mortality and human nature centered around vivid, almost novelistic character studies and unflinching self-examination. The material’s cast of characters all attempt to find strength and solace in accepting what lies beyond our limited control, ultimately pondering how we find contentment and peace in a confusing, chaotic and frightening world. “We all have these little kingdoms inside of our minds,” the band’s Chris Wood says in press notes.  “And without really planning it out, the songs on this album all ended up exploring that idea in some way or another. They look at the ways we deal with our dreams and our regrets and our fears and our loves. They look at the stories we tell ourselves and the ways we balance the darkness and the light.”

But while the lyrics dig into deep philosophical territory, the arrangements draw from a broad sonic and stylistic spectrum. Earlier this year, I wrote about the slow-burning, Dr. John/New Orleans-like jazz ballad “Alabaster,” a song centered around an empathetic portrait of a woman, who has broken free of her old life and relocated far away for a much-needed fresh start. And while featuring an incredibly novelistic attention to detail, the song manages to feel improvised yet simultaneously crafted. Kingdom In My Mind‘s second single was the slow-burning country blues “Cry Over Nothing,” a meditation on the ego, perspective and fate told with a playfully fatalistic sensibility. Sometimes, even the sky is against you — and there ain’t a thing you can do about it.

The album’s third and latest single “Little Bit Sweet” interestingly enough features soTme of the album’s first bit of improvised instrumentation from those early jam sessions. Centered around a bouncy bass line and shimmering guitars, the song is part old-timey lament and part world-weary sigh focusing on mortality, the passing of time and getting older, and the impermanent nature of all things — especially love. And yet through the tears and heartache, there’s a sense of acceptance and awe of the things that the song’s narrator can’t understand. It just is — and sometimes it’s weird and wonderful because of that.

The recently released video created by Austin, TX-based artist Gary Dorsey combines old-timey collage-based lamination and live band performance footage that manages to emphasizes the wistful and world-weary nostalgia of the song. “Lyrically the song speaks to the yins and yangs of love—every kind of love,” The Wood Brothers’ Oliver Wood explains. “How the value and preciousness of love is matched by its fragility and fleetingness. The images in the lyrics are from personal experiences, and the connected feelings should feel pretty universal.”

Gary Dorsey adds: “As I listened to ‘Little Bit Sweet,’ I felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. I was taken back to my grandparent’s house, memories of climbing trees, playing in the tool shed, and the smell of old oil cans. For the video, I wanted to relate the beauty of those memories and how safe all of that felt for me, that feeling of the people that you love watching over you throughout your life. I hope that I’m taking the viewer on a journey that reminds them of those younger days and family memories, reminds them of the loved ones that may have already left this life, and perhaps brings back a bit of that childhood wonder we all wish that we could get back.”

Comprised of producer/trombonist Jeremy Phipps, who grew up playing in New Orleans brass bands, marching bands and traditional jazz groups; and composer/vocals Claire Givens, the daughter of an operatic singer and Baptist music minister and a classically trained pianist and choral teacher, who began singing in the churches of rural Northern Louisiana, the New Orleans-based pop act People Museum can trace their origins to when the duo met in 2016. And as the story goes, they were both eager to start a new musical project that incorporated the feelings and vibes of their hometown in a non-literal, un-ironic way while drawing from their own unique experiences — Phipps has toured with the likes of Solange, AlunaGeorge and JOVM mainstays Rubblebucket, and Givens’ work continues to draw from classical music.

“Eye 2 Eye,” the latest single off the duo’s forthcoming full-length debut I Dreamt You In Technicolor is centered around a regal horn line, stuttering boom bap-like beats, shimmering synths, Givens’ ethereal vocals and a sinuous hook — and interestingly enough, the song sounds as though it draws from Omega La La-era Rubblebucket, Superhuman Happiness and Hiatus Kaiyote, as it reveals a duo, who have begun to receive attention for  carefully crafted and breezy, left-field pop. As People Museum’s Claire Givens says about the song,  “’Eye 2 Eye’ is about a one-sided relationship where one person is transparent with their feelings, and the other person hides away, restricting their emotions. The relationship could bloom if only the other person could open up and help to create an environment for true understanding of each other.”

 

 

Over the past couple of months, I’ve written quite a bit about New Orleans-based funk and brass septet Cha Wa. Led by its founding members and bandleaders, vocalist/percussionist Irving “Honey” Banister, Big Chief of the Creole Wild West Tribe and drummer Joe Gelini, who have both involved with New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Indian scene for years, the members of the septet have developed a reputation for a sound and aesthetic that combines the Mardi Gras Indian tradition, and the area’s long-held reputation for rhythm and blues and funk. After playing countless shows in their hometown, the septet’s long-awaited debut album Funk ‘n’ Feathers was released earlier this month, and the album reportedly draws from the seminal Mardi Gras Indian-inspired work of the 1970s — Wild Magnolias (backed by The Meters), The Neville Brothers and Dr. John‘s Nite Tripper albums; however, the material also was produced by Galactic’s Ben Ellman, who has also worked with Trombone Shorty, and mixed by San Francisco, CA‘s go-to engineer Count, who has worked with DJ ShadowRadioheadLyrics Born and others.

Released just in time for Mardi Gras, the album’s first single was a loose, stomping and swinging cover of Dr. John’s “All On A Mardi Gras Day” that feels as though you’re following a hot and jamming band with the marching Indians in their costumes marching down the streets of Uptown New Orleans — but with a slick, studio polish that doesn’t scrub away the inherently gritty, street-level funk and the ebullient, let the good time roll-feel within the song.  The album’s second was a raucous, percussive, stomping and absolutely swinging rendition of a Mardi Gras and New Orleans standard “Jock-A-Mo (Iko Iko)” that feels like a non-stop party full of hooting and hollering, and hot keyboard and guitar solos; however, where their rendition of “All On A Mardi Gras” felt as though you were following along in a second line, their rendition of “Jock-A-Mo (Iko Iko)” feels as though it were recorded in a tiny, sweaty and packed club — in some way, you can almost feel the floor shaking from feet stomping in time to the rhythm.

Funk ‘N’ Feathers‘ latest single “UPT” is a written for and dedicated to Uptown New Orleans and much like the album’s previous singles, it’s a raucously ebullient the band creates a funky groove with stomping, tribal percussion, twisting, turning and soaring organ chords, an explosive horn section, a blistering guitar solo and chanted call and response vocals. It’s New Orleans-based funk at its finest, done with an enormous, megawatt smile — and if it doesn’t make you get off your ass and dance and shout, you must have a cold, cold heart.

The band has a number of live dates coming up throughout the next few months. Check out tour dates below.

UPCOMING SHOWS:
04/21- Ogden Museum of Southern Art – New Orleans, LA
04/23- New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival – New Orleans, LA
04/30- French Broad River Festival – Asheville, NC
06/04- Michael Arnone’s Crawfish Festival – Augusta, NJ

Last month, I wrote about New Orleans-based septet Cha Wa. Led by its founding members and bandleaders, vocalist/percussionist Irving “Honey” Banister, Big Chief of the Creole Wild West Tribe and drummer Joe Gelini, who have both involved with New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Indian scene for years, the members of the septet have developed a reputation for a sound and aesthetic that combines the Mardi Gras Indian tradition, and the area’s long-held and beloved reputation for rhythm and blues and funk. After playing countless shows in their hometown, the septet’s long-awaited debut album Funk ‘n’ Feathers is slated for an April 1 release, and the album reportedly draws from the seminal Mardi Gras Indian-inspired work of the 1970s — Wild Magnolias (backed by The Meters), The Neville Brothers and Dr. John‘s Nite Tripper albums; however, the material also has a contemporary twist as the album was produced by Galactic‘s Ben Ellman, who has also worked with the likes of Trombone Shorty, and mixed by San Francisco, CA‘s go-to engineer Count, who has worked with DJ ShadowRadioheadLyrics Born and others.

Released just in time for Mardi Gras, the album’s first single was a loose, stomping and swinging cover of Dr. John’s “All On A Mardi Gras Day” that feels as though you’re following a hot and jamming band with the marching Indians in their costumes marching down the streets of Uptown New Orleans — but with a slick, studio polish that doesn’t scrub away the inherently gritty, street-level funk and the ebullient, let the good time roll-feel within the song.  The album’s second and latest single is a raucously percussive, stomping and absolutely swinging rendition of a Mardi Gras and New Orleans standard “Jock-A-Mo (Iko Iko)” that feels like a non-stop party full of hooting and hollering, and hot keyboard and guitar solos; however, where their rendition of “All On A Mardi Gras” felt as though you were following along in a second line, their rendition of “Jock-A-Mo (Iko Iko)” feels as though it were recorded in a tiny, sweaty and packed club — in some way, you can almost feel the floor shaking from feet stomping in time to the rhythm.

The band has a number of live dates coming up throughout the next few months. Check out tour dates below.

UPCOMING SHOWS:

03/05- Howlin’ Wolf – New Orleans, LA
03/31- Lafayette’s – Memphis, TN
04/01- Blue Nile [Album Release Show] – New Orleans, LA
04/07- French Quarter Fest – New Orleans, LA
04/10- d.b.a – New Orleans, LA
04/21- Ogden Museum of Southern Art – New Orleans, LA
04/23- New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival – New Orleans, LA
04/30- French Broad River Festival – Asheville, NC
06/04- Michael Arnone’s Crawfish Festival – Augusta, NJ