From the funk-laced beats and bass-heavy sousaphone blasts that kick off their Grammy-nominated album “Spyboy” to the gritty warmth of singer Joseph Boudreaux’s voice, New Orleans brass band-meets-Mardi Gras Indian outfit Cha Wa radiates the fiery energy of the best features of the city’s street culture. “Spyboy” was produced by Galactic’s Ben Ellman and features special guests Big Chief Monk Boudreaux (The Wild Magnolias, HBO’s Treme), Nigel Hall (Lettuce, Nth Power), and Danica Hart. —
Cha Wa’s debut, “Funk N Feathers,” explored contemporary riffs on the traditional music J’Wan Boudreaux grew up singing alongside his grandfather, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, in the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indian tribe. Now “Spyboy” ups the ante by digging deeper into the sound of New Orleans culture and giving it a modern twist. The disc’s largely original material takes advantage of the band’s new horn section to highlight the musicians’ personal ties to the street music of their hometown. “We wanted to take the roots of what we love about New Orleans brass band music and Mardi Gras Indian music and then voice it in our own way,” says the group’s drummer and founder, Joe Gelini.
Dating back to the late 1800s, the Mardi Gras Indian tradition began when African-American men first marched in Native American dress through the streets of New Orleans on Mardi Gras day. The tradition, which includes a host of songs shared among the various tribes, has been kept alive for over a century and today is as vital as ever. Mardi Gras Indians have influenced the biggest names in New Orleans music: The Meters, Dr. John, the Marsalis family, the Neville Brothers, Trombone Shorty and others. The most prominent Mardi Gras Indian today is Monk Boudreaux, the Big Chief of the Golden Eagles tribe, and his grandson J’Wan Boudreaux (who holds the position of Spyboy in the tribe) is stepping up with Cha Wa to propel their culture forward.
J’Wan joined the group when he was still in high school. At the time, Gelini, then a recent Berklee School of Music grad, had been playing drums for Boudreaux’s grandfather, having learned the traditional Mardi Gras Indian beats from original Wild Magnolias bass drummer Norwood “Geechie” Johnson at Sunday night Indian practices in Uptown New Orleans. As the band evolved, J’Wan emerged as the front man. On “Spyboy,” Boudreaux’s vocals (with support from Thaddeus “Peanut” Ramsey’s smooth-voiced Indian style), the booming, funked-up sound of the band’s new four-part horn section, and Gelini’s mix of second line grooves and soulful Indian rhythms have all combined to kindle a new fire in Cha Wa’s ever-developing sound.