NOLA is Calling, “Sewing Machine Effects” (Independent)

If you think the Mardi Gras Indian traditionalists out there were upset when the Wild Magnolias went electric and added funky bass and drums to their hand percussion-based music (way back in the late 1960s), wait until they get a load of this experimental, but ultimately successful, reimagining of the tradition.

To the open-minded, this electronic album is a return of sorts to the roots of the Black Indians of New Orleans. The vocals are up front in the mix, though the music is mostly electronic percussion and various ghostly effects including a chilling cello.

The vocals, from Big Chief Romeo of the 9th Ward Hunters and Big Chief Jermaine of the 7th Ward Creole Hunters, with the Frenchman David Walters, Bonaventure Didolanvi from Benin, and HaSizzle, the self-described New Orleans “King of Bounce,” are easy to understand. The percussion is understated, though it’s clearly not coming from their grandfathers’ tambourines.

To those questioning this collaboration between the French label Jarring Effects and these culture bearers of New Orleans, the recornola-callingding will be dismissed as another ill-advised attempt at changing or updating the tradition. But that question is beside the point; the only constant in the tradition is the fact that it changes as it is passed from generation to generation.

Among followers of the Black Indians of New Orleans, the lyrical canon is fairly well-defined, composed of boasting about the work that goes into creating their intricate suits, individual neighborhoods, and each Indian’s personal prowess, among other topics. So many of the songs, while credited to the creators of this album, contain familiar lyrics. It’s the musical context that makes them stand out in a way that is much different than anything you have ever heard. You may not like it, but given a chance, you just might.