Percussion rules, at least downtown, in this stripped-down, old-school offering from Fi -Yi-Yi and the Mandingo Warriors, here represented by the trio of Big Chief Victor Harris along with Jack “Master of the Needle & Thread” Robertson and Wesley “The Drummer” Phillips on percussion and vocals. Built on rock-steady rhythms, this is the Mardi Gras Indian version of dub—all beat, all the time—as on the straightforward “Who Got the Fire,” the parade beats broken only by the occasional whoop, or the straight-from-the-street “Back Street Jam (Sylvester Sr.’s Second Line).”
Slight variations on this basic delivery make for a danceable groove, notably on the one fully orchestrated number, “Sing My Song,” where energetic cowbell and organ vamps (courtesy of Ronald Markham) are accented by bursts from the horn section (including trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis).
A few other cuts do mix it up a bit, with uneven results: “Fi Yi Yi,” which kicks off the disc, showcases the kind of syncopation that makes Indian chants so infectious.
But while the Mandingo Warriors provide a good bottom, the Big Chief’s shout-outs to other gangs—including the Wild Magnolias and Bo Dollis—expose his limitations as a singer when the pretty suits aren’t on display to distract attention.