The easy hook on Cha Wa is that they’re a fusion of Mardi Gras Indian and brass band music. That’s true enough, but the music on their second CD is just too spirited and too freewheeling to build down to a mix of two genres. With the lineup reshuffled from their 2016 album Funk ’N’ Feathers, this version of Cha Wa also takes in reggae, gospel and old-school R&B, making the different grooves blend seamlessly and funkily.
The previous album, for instance, opened with a faithful version of the traditional chant “Injuns, Here They Come.” On this album’s opener it becomes “Cha Wa, here they come.” The increased confidence in J’Wan Boudeaux’s singing is clear from the get-go, and the music is more expansive as well, with the brass section punctuating a wailing Hammond organ solo. “Spy on Fiya” also reworks a traditional tune, in this case “Wade on the Water,” and the group chants give it the communal feel of a vintage Sly Stone track. And their take on “Hey Baby”—the Bruce Channel hit from 1964, which was also in the Buckwheat Zydeco repertoire—is equal parts old-school R&B and marching-band strut. It’s one of many places here where Clifton Smith’s sousaphone locks in tight with Joe Gelini’s drum kit; you’d swear more than once that you were hearing a bass guitar. It’s near-impossible to do convincing dub without one, but they manage it on the cover of Bob Marley’s “Soul Rebel,” a moment of studio wizardry from producer Ben Ellman on an otherwise live-sounding CD.
J’Wan’s grandfather Monk Boudreaux turns up for the most ambitious track, “Visible Means of Support,” where he speaks of early experiences with racism and segregation: “Brother Monk Boudreaux, meet Mr. Jim Crow” goes the chorus. But the treatment is as upbeat as everything else here, celebrating the fact that those days are (ideally) gone. Wrapping up the album are two old-school tracks, “Golden Crown” and “I’ll Fly Away” (done a cappella by two guest singers), honoring the tradition that the rest of the album carries forward.