Happy Carnival 2022. Whether we choose to gather in person or not, we can always celebrate through and with music. And we go.
Mardi Gras is as much about music as it is about parades, parties, family, and all the other traditional (or non-traditional) memories and realities that the season conjures up. For me, Mardi Gras is above all music, and my memories around this music.
My love of music is subjective and intensely personal, much like how we each celebrate Mardi Gras. The songs I share in this playlist are just that: personal. The playlist is not intended to compile the best carnival classics of all time. In most cases, the songs weren’t released in a Mardi Gras context at all. I chose each of them to represent my Mardi Gras life as a New Orleans native.
Having now experienced two (understandable) cancellations of Mardi Gras – 1979 and 2021 – I remember that music is particularly important, as music can never be cancelled; nor the spirit that music inspires; nor its creators and makers in our city, our home; nor the memories that the music represents. I hope these selections inspire new memories, celebrations and good feelings in this new world of pandemic Mardi Gras. Mask up, enter at your own risk and get ready to dance.
“Handa Wanda” by Wild Magnolias
This original version of “Handa Wanda” is as influential as it is funky. Credited to Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolia Mardi Gras Indian Band when it was recorded and released in the late 1970s, this is the first time the synergy of traditional Indian Mardi Gras* music and funk music then contemporary, using electric instruments, was engaged. save.
The recording was inspired by the Wild Magnolias’ appearance earlier that year at the Tulane Jazz Festival (led by student Quint Davis, who had just co-hosted the inaugural New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in April). The studio session featured the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indians, on vocals and percussion, with a band consisting of pianist and bandleader Willie Tee, bassist George French and Meters drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste. The recording was released as a double-sided 45 rpm single on Davis’ Crescent City Records, and has been rocking jukeboxes (and now playlists) ever since, while single-handedly creating the kind of Mardi Gras Indian funk.
“I think of youby The Rebirth Brass Band
Like the Wild Magnolias incorporating electric funk into their traditional sounds, the Rebirth Brass Band also broke the mould. Their 2001 album, Hot Venom, caused controversy as the first New Orleans marching band recording to include a “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” label. It also features some of the band’s most impactful music, including “Thinking About Ya”, one of the few non-explicit cuts from the album that I loved dancing to during my days after the band on Tuesday nights at the Maple Leaf. Uptown bar and Sunday nights at Joe’s Cozy Corner in Tremé.
“Here Dey Comeby The Neville Brothers and Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Wild Indians
New Orleans is the birthplace of funk, and this playlist features two of its biggest exports to the genre (and two of my favorite bands): the Meters and Chocolate Milk. They also represent the legacy of Allen Toussaint, who produced and worked closely with both bands in the 1970s, as well as my memories of growing up in New Orleans – my father played their records not only during Mardi Gras, but all year round. He was particularly fond of the music of the Neville Brothers. I honored their legacy here with “Here Dey Come”, which represents their first commercial recording together, as singers and percussionists behind the Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indians. Led by their uncle, Big Chief Jolly (George Landry), the Wild Tchoupitoulas’ self-titled album was released in 1976 and featured a rhythm section that included the Meters, as well as production by Allen Toussaint.
“Great leader” by Professor Longhair, 1964
“Great leaderby Dr. John, 1972
Jessie Hill’s “Big Chief” and “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” are classic New Orleans music that I grew up hearing around the house, and I attribute those to my mom, who loved the Original 1950s rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues that came out of town. She was particularly fond of Fats Domino – I can imagine him dancing to his “Let the Four Winds Blow”. I’ve included two beloved versions of ‘Big Chief’: Professor Longhair’s 1964 original, which features Longhair’s incendiary piano attack alongside the vocals, songwriting and hissing solo of Earl King and the 1972 remake of Dr John. I love both versions, but Dr. John’s represents a kind of simmered funk that you can also hear on a new favorite, “Mardi Gras in New Orleans”, released in 2021 by Big Sam’s Funky Nation (not to be confused with Professor Longhair’s 1949 song of the same name, which was also released as “Go to the Mardi Gras”).
“What is my name?” by Hot 8 Brass Band
“Culture in the Ghetto“by Soul Rebels
“Who called the policeby New Birth Brass Band
The New Orleans brass band tradition is one you won’t find anywhere else, and I can’t imagine Mardi Gras without those sounds roaming the streets. “What’s My Name?” from the Hot 8 Brass Band is a clever interpolation of George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” (1982) and Snoop Dogg’s “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” (1993). The feeling of the Soul Rebels’ classic “Culture in the Ghetto” is exactly what Mardi Gras means to my community. And “Who Dat Called Da Police” by James Andrews’ New Birth Brass Band represents carnival in more ways than one.
“Hu-ta-Nayby Donald Harrison Jr. with Dr. John
More people need to hear and talk about Indian Blues, a 1992 recording by saxophonist (and Mardi Gras Indian) Donald Harrison Jr. Harrison’s father, Donald Harrison Sr., was the high chief of the Guardians of the Indian Mardi Gras Flame, and appears throughout Harrison Jr.’s Marriage of Indian Mardi Gras culture and upbeat contemporary music. Represented here from that album is “Hu-ta-Nay”, with vocal and piano assistance from Dr. John.
“Come upby Walter “Wolfman” Washington
“Do Mardi Gras” by Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers
“I’m finishedby Irma Thomas
“Stop the pause, make the Jubilee allby DJ Jubilee
“Street Paradeby Earl King
The next few minutes on the playlist are pure party time: “Get on Up,” my favorite Walter “Wolfman” Washington song; “Do the Fat Tuesday” by Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers, the perfect Mardi Gras anthem; a wonderful live version of “I Done Got Over” by New Orleans Soul Queen Irma Thomas, which reminds me as much of her Mother’s Day gigs at the Audubon Zoo as my mom dancing at Mardi Gras; “Stop Pause, Do the Jubilee All” by DJ Jubilee, the ultimate dance song for those of us who came on the New Orleans bounce; and Earl King’s “Street Parade”, my favorite Mardi Gras song of all time.
“Gentri Fire in the Cityby Flagboy Giz
“Gentri Fire in the City”, published in 2021 by Flagboy Giz, an Indian Wild Tchoupitoulas Black Masking,* reminds for 2022 that the celebration of Mardi Gras will end if we do not take care of the people who give to the city and its cultures its meaning and its life.
“Fireby Rebirth Brass Band
“Indian Red” by The Wild Tchoupitoulas, the Neville Brothers, the Meters
“Hey Pocky A-Way” by Meters
Rounding out the playlist, “Fire,” possibly my favorite Rebirth Brass Band song; the traditional Indian Mardi Gras prayer “Indian Red”, performed by the Wild Tchoupitoulas with the Neville Brothers and the Meters; and “Hey Pocky A-Way” by The Meters, because you (I) can’t have Mardi Gras without it.
You can’t have Mardi Gras without music either. Not in 2022, ever.
* In recent years, “Black Masking Indian” has become a term some use alongside or instead of “Mardi Gras Indian”. I respect each person’s choice to self-identify and offer this disclaimer to those whose preference dictates one term over another.
This story originally appeared on the First Draft page of The Historic New Orleans Collection website. Visit hnoc.org to learn more.
DJ Soul Sister is an internationally acclaimed DJ artist, vinyl collector and veteran WWOZ-FM host of her 25-year-old show Soul Power, which features funk, disco and soul rarities from the 1970s – mid-1970s. 1980s from his personal collection of thousands of records. . She was the first DJ to receive a prestigious Big Easy Entertainment Award and has performed with everyone from Questlove to George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. Born Melissa A. Weber in New Orleans, she is also a music historian who has presented her research at academic conferences for the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) and the National Council for Studies black, among others. She teaches an urban music history class at Loyola University New Orleans’ College of Music and Media and is curator of the Hogan Archive of New Orleans Music and New Orleans Jazz. a division of Tulane University’s Special Collections.