The personality and the strong inner character of Big Chief Victor Harris, the Spirit of Fi Yi Yi, really comes through on When That Morning Comes. Surrounded by his gang, the Mandingo Warriors, members of the Black Indian Nation, longtime friends and a wealth of fine musicians, the Chief feels comfortably at home as he tells his tales through chants and the spoken word. “Big Chief got eyes like an eagle, foot like the wolf,” he proclaims on “Sing My Song,” which he wrote with drummer/vocalist Jaz Sawyer. That tune surprisingly opens with a blast of horns that is reminiscent of the big band era. The guys in the section include trumpeter Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown, saxophonists Derek Douget and Khari Allen Lee and trombonists Delfeayo Marsalis and Wessell Anderson III. They stand among a long list of guest artists.
A special element of the album is how naturally the cuts of traditional Mardi Gras music, which simply utilize chanting and percussion instruments, flow into material that brings in a whole band. The history and storytelling by Harris, Backstreet Cultural Museum’s curator Sylvester Francis and others offer a look into the passion and soul that is an essential part of the Black Indian heritage.
The traditional and modern meet head-to-head on a version of the Indian prayer, “Indian Red (Won’t Bow Down).” It starts off conventionally until Ronald Markham comes in with some piano triplets and Kipori Woods steps in for a soulful guitar solo.
The unity of New Orleans’ Black Indians and the music community is fully displayed on When That Morning Comes. After all, both originated in Congo Square and thus the African continent. The Spirit of Fi Yi Yi knows no divides.
Disclaimer: Geraldine Wyckoff wrote the album’s liner notes.