On Saturday, Dec. 9, Fuse premiered Music on the Road, a 90-minute documentary that took viewers on a cross-country musical journey, stopping in nine different cities to meet with young artists reinventing their genres with exciting new sounds. Jazz industry icon DJ LeRoy Downs narrates the special, bringing an insider’s perspective to the story of America’s newest musical upstarts.
New Orleans is the fifth stop, smack in the middle of the road trip. The segment is ushered in with footage of local Mardi Gras Indian/funk fusion band Cha Wa practicing the standard “Indian Red” in a circle on a sunny street. Next, we get a gator, a quick glance at Chartres St. in the Quarter, and a long panning shot of the bayou, over which Downs introduces us to the uniquely convoluted history of the Mardi Gras Indians with a brief explanation of maroon communities in the swamps.
We then meet Cha Wa tambourinist and member of the Golden Eagles tribe, J’Wan Boudreaux. He introduces us to his grandfather, Golden Eagles Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, who tells the story of putting his suit up high during Katrina to save it from the flooding. He makes the distinction between a suit, which is hand-sewn, and a costume, which is glued together, and proudly describes how he passed down the family tradition by teaching J’Wan how to sew his suit right.
The rest of the segment takes us inside J’Wan’s life, showing us both his passion for the Mardi Gras Indian tradition and his desire to innovate its iconic sound, which he does with his band, Cha Wa. We also meet Cha Wa’s founder and drummer, Joe Gelini, who says he started the group based on his “fascination with Mardi Gras Indian music.” He remembers finding the Indians he first met “incredibly welcoming and hospitable,” and says his vision was to “put [their music] in the context of a contemporary production sound… add [his] own generation’s voice to it and still respect the tradition.”