In honor of Super Sunday, this month’s playlist salutes the music of the Mardi Gras Indians, both as played straight-up and as incorporated into rock and funk.
Sugar Boy Crawford: “Jock-a-Mo” and The Dixie Cups: “Iko Iko”
Got to include both early versions of this timeless tune. Sugar Boy Crawford’s 1953 record was likely the first to turn an Indian chant into straight-up R&B, and it’s still an infectious landmark of New Orleans music. Flash forward to 1965 when the Dixie Cups brought it back to just vocals and percussion, placing it on the national charts as an unlikely follow up to “Chapel of Love.”
Huey Piano Smith & the Clowns: “Don’t You Know Yackomo”
Take some traditional Indian chants, string it together with some of Smith’s own unique jive, get everyone involved well-oiled, and the result is pure poetry: “Kum-ba-lay/Tu way pocky way/ Hi-de-hi-he-hi-de-ho/Don’t you know, Yackomo/ Ling ting tang/ Heeeey-oh!”
The Wild Tchoupitoulas: “Indian Red”
This was the most venerable of Indian songs, long before the HBO series Treme hinged a plot line on it. Of the many versions on record this seven-minute take is the most vocally stunning, with the Meters playing at low heat to let the various Neville voices take it to church. (And a shout-out here to “Golden Crown,” “Battlefront” and the other classics in the Tchoupitoulas’ repertoire).
The Wild Magnolias: “Handa Wanda”
One of Big Chief Bo Dollis’ invaluable contributions to the repertoire, this chant was funked up by Willie Tee and his studio crew in the early ’70s. We’ve heard a few variations, including a “Handa Wanda Obama” at election time.
White Cloud Hunters: “Sew, Sew, Sew”
Half the people who’ve heard this seem to think it’s “Everybody got soul, soul, soul” and we’ve all heard it performed that way. But if you’ve ever actually tried to sew all night long, you’ll understand why this one needed to be so rousing.
Big Chief Monk Boudreaux: “Dive In That Gumbo”
Boudreaux has recorded this a few times, including a funkified version with Anders Osborne, but the best may be on Rounder’s Super Sunday Showdown CD, where it follows a longer and spacier tune and the climax is wild abandon like you never heard.
Champion Jack Dupree: “Yella Pocohontas”
Also on the above Rounder CD, this recording—one of Dupree’s last—attains a uniquely slinky mix of jazz and funk. When Bo Dollis comes in with the chant, Dupree nods “That’s what I’m talkin’ about.”
Donald Harrison: “Hu-Ta-Nay”
Harrison has been in the forefront of exploring the Indian/jazz connection and this recording, from his Indian Blues album, expands on a familiar piece with some characteristically rolling piano from Dr. John.
Rebirth Brass Band: “Let’s Go Get ‘Em”
The kinship between brass band music and the Indian call-and-response was never clearer than in this recent Rebirth recording.
Galactic: “Hey Na Na”
Probably the most extreme rework of a chant we’ve heard, since Indians don’t tend to march with synths and samplers. Still, a fine example of a tradition still evolving.