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Cha Wa: Funk 'n' Feathers

Chris M. Slawecki By

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"Party in a box" is an overused expression, of which yours truly is more guilty than most. But there's no better way to describe or explain the celebratory, communal and thoroughly excellent funky joy that radiates like the brilliant sun from Funk 'n' Feathers.

Funk 'n' Feathers may be Cha Wa's debut release, but their music has been around forever. "The music is based on the Mardi Gras Indians, the brass bands, and the street culture of New Orleans," explains drummer Joe Gelini, who co-founded and leads Cha Wa with singer/percussionist Big Chief Irving "Honey" Banister, from the Creole Wild West tribal lineage.

After graduating from the Berklee College of Music, Gelini moved to New Orleans. He met Banister at a Mardi Gras Indian street practice/rehearsal, and soon they were performing together in the band led by Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, one of the greatest Mardi Gras Indian singers of all time. "I was hooked. It's a spiritual thing. It's more than the music," Gelini confesses. (Cha Wa also features Spyboy J'Wan Boudreaux, Big Chief Monk's grandson, on vocals and tambourine; Banister was a featured performer in the HBO series Treme.)

Funk 'n' Feathers blasts off like a rocket with "Injuns, Here They Come." Tribal drums and chants detonate seismic New Orleans funk that overwhelms your ears so quickly that they don't know where to turn first: the electric bass line that bounces like a rubber tuba, or Benny Spellman's alto saxophone burning like a flaming spear, the vocal howls and catcalls, or the irresistible second line New Orleans beat.

After blastoff, this rocket just doesn't stop. Devon Taylor's electric bass (he doubles on sousaphone) more than cuts through, it completely obliterates the "Upt"-own funk, while sweet soul drips from electric keyboard (Yoshitake "Z2" Tsuji) and guitar (John Fohl, Seizo Shibayama) solos like summer sweat. Taylor and the drummers drive "Shallow Water" into harder funk-rock, while the guitarists munch on sounds from ranging from New Orleans to Black Sabbath.

No modern New Orleans album would be complete without a Dr. John tune. Cha Wa picks the title of his 1990 album All on a Mardi Gras Day (Great Southern): A picture perfect snapshot of revelers drinking whiskey and wine all day, fueled by barrelhouse piano boogie into a shuffling New Orleans march that turns you to jelly from your hips to your feet.

"Jock-A-Mo" (covered by many artists as "Iko Iko") is a genuinely historic track: It features Davell Crawford, grandson of the song's composer, on lead vocals; and Irving Banister Sr., who reprises his role as guitarist on the original 1953 recording. In their sure, electrifying hands, this New Orleans musical landmark sounds anything but old.

"Cha Wa" is a slang phrase that every Mardi Gras Indian tribe uses to say, "We're comin' for ya!" Keep Funk 'n' Feathers cranked up, and you'll be rockin' 'till the cops come knockin.' "We're improvising. We're playing, and we can hear each other," Gelini explains. "We just hook up. It's something we're not even thinking about. I think we've reached that point where we can feel the direction of the music intuitively and we just go with it."

Track Listing: Injuns, Here They Come; Ooh Na Nay; Upt; Shallow Water; Jock-A-Mo; Hold 'Em Joe; All on a Mardi Gras Day; Tootie Ma; Li'l Liza Jane; Cha Wa Got Fiya.

Personnel: Big Chief Irving "Honey" Banister: lead vocals, tambourine; Spyboy J'Wan Boudreaux: lead vocals, tambourine; Joe Gelini: drums, percussion, background vocals; John Fohl: guitar, background vocals; Seizo Shibayama: guitar; Stephen Malinowski: organ; Yoshitake "Z2" Tsuji: acoustic piano, Rhodes piano; Devon Taylor: sousaphone, bass; Norwood "Geechie" Johnson: background vocals; David Crawford: lead vocals; Irving Banister Sr.: rhythm guitar; Colin Lake: lap steel, vocals; Ben Ellman: alto saxophone; Haruka Kikuchi: trombone.

Title: Funk 'n' Feathers | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Self Produced

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