New Way Pocky Way, recorded throughout 1998 by the Young Guardians of the Flame, is being reissued for national distribution by locally based Louisiana Red Hot Records just in time for Mardi Gras. “It’s a classic, groundbreaking Mardi Gras Indian album,” explains Red Hot president Harris Rea, “that was somehow, somewhat overlooked back when it was first released.” A large part of what makes the reissue relevant today, in addition to the CD’s cutting-edge approach to the centuries-old Mardi Gras Indian music tradition, is the fact that, at the time, it served as an introduction to a new generation of the Harrison family.
Descended from Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr., the Harrison clan essentially consists of an extended network of culture-bearers—a central force in the city for promoting, understanding and preserving Mardi Gras Indian culture. Music fans may already be familiar with Big Chief Donald Sr.’s son, saxophonist and educator Donald Harrison Jr., Big Chief of his own tribe, Congo Nation, as well as Harrison’s nephew, acclaimed jazz trumpeter Christian Scott.
The reappearance of New Way Pocky Way also marks the return of Big Chief Brian Nelson to the Crescent City after an MFA residency at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. Although only 15 years old when he co-produced the CD with his uncle, Big Chief Donald Jr., and his mother, Cherice Harrison-Nelson, a celebrated educator and cultural advocate, Nelson was chosen during the recording of New Way Pocky Way by his grandfather, Big Chief Donald Sr.—shortly before the patriarch’s death in December 1998—to assume leadership of the elder’s own tribe, the Guardians of the Flame.
Soon after recording a CBS Sports interview as part of Super Bowl XLVII coverage, the thoughtful and enthusiastic Big Chief was most worried about finishing this year’s suit in time for Mardi Gras Day. At the same time, though, he’s been busy screenwriting, finishing a script for a full-length version of his student-produced short currently touring film festivals, Keeper of the Flame, the first dramatic narrative set entirely within the context of Indian culture. And he’s returned to the recording studio, picking up where he left off in 1998—this time to update Mardi Gras Indian music for an electronic generation.
On Mardi Gras Day, Big Chief Brian and the Guardians of the Flame will parade from the Harrison family homestead at 3630 N. Johnson St. to cultural sites throughout the Upper Ninth Ward before returning home for a music-and-dance celebration. And in coming months, watch for Big Chief Brian’s appearances at local music venues and neighborhood festivals featuring both old school funk and new school beats.