In 1970, Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias rocked the Mardi Gras Indian tradition when they released the 45-rpm “Handa Wanda.” What made it unique was that rather than having just percussion instruments behind the chief and other vocalists, there was a band led by the great Willie Tee and including guitarist Snooks Eaglin.
This revolution transformed the Black Indians’ ability to extend the culture from the streets to stages around the world. The key to the success of what could be described as Indian stage bands is for those involved to have a deep understanding of both the Indian and musical elements.
The strong roots of Cha Wa, which celebrates its debut recording with Funk ’n’ Feathers, are assured first by the presence of its fine lead vocalists—Honey Banister, a longtime spy boy with the Creole Wild West, and J’Wan Boudreaux, the grandson of the legendary Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. The musicians—like guitarist John Fohl and keyboardist Yoshitaka “Z2” Tsuji—are all pros of New Orleans’ funky style, and importantly, holding down the bass beat is the renowned Norwood “Geechie” Johnson.
The disc is made up of familiar tunes such as the opener, “Injuns, Here They Come.” Newly arranged, they are on the whole presented with great spirit and sometimes touched with a few interesting quirks. Devon Taylor’s sousaphone opens “Li’l Liza Jane,” which gets a makeover with Colin Lake’s lap steel. It’s unusual, but it works.
Other guests include Davell Crawford singing, of course, his grandfather James “Sugar Boy” Crawford’s hit “Jock-A-Mo.”
Next time out, it would be great to hear some originals in the mix. But, as the group proclaims on the last cut, “Cha Wa Got Fiya.”