The Mardi Gras Indian tradition in New Orleans, with its roots in the African diaspora and interaction with Native American culture, has far too many twists and turns and for me to go into here. So, I’ve got links down below that will tell you more. But, all you probably need to know to understand these lyrics is that a “new suit” is the elaborate, American Indian inspired costume each member makes every year for their tribe’s Mardi Day parading and showdowns with other tribes, which also take place on and around St. Joseph’s Day, between Mardi Gras and Easter. Back in the day, tribes from different areas of town had actual, injury-causing territorial fights when they met; but, starting around the 1950’s, the battles became ritualized as a competition to see who could produce the most elaborate and beautiful costumes that can take almost a year to create.
The ever so funky “New Suit” features Bo Dollis, Big Chief of the Wild Magnolias, singing lead. The musicians consist of the song’s composer, Wilson Turbinton aka Willie Tee (see my earlier post on him), on keyboards along with members of his funk band, the Gaturs, and other listed below. In 1970, the Gaturs and Wild Magnolias first jammed on stage together at the Tulane University Jazz Festival in New Orleans. Thus began the fusion of funk music with the Indians’ traditional songs, which resulted in the recording of a 45 that year and in 1974 an album, The Wild Magnolias, with Willie Tee and band, which was followed the next year by They Call Us Wild. Both albums, produced by Philippe Rault and released in Europe on Barclay/Polydor, became serious collectors’ items in the US. In 1976, members of the Meters and Neville Brothers collaborated on their own album project, The Wild Tchoupitoulas, backing the tribe headed by the Neville’s uncle, Big Chief Jolly (George Landry). It too is a memorable album; and we’ll try to get you a cut from that later on.
Both those Wild Magnolias albums were reissued on CD here in 1994; but are now gone again. They have continued making albums off and on, as a search of Amazon will reveal. To me, the best of the bunch is Life Is A Carnival with it’s high-powered funk and top of the line session players. As they say in the song, the Indians are the soul (and funk) of the Mardi Gras: colorful, exotic, rhythmic manifestations of a once secret culture still connecting inner-city New Orleans to ancestral homelands.
Other band members (1975): Earl Turbinton, alto and soprano sax; "Guitar June" Ray, guitar; Irving Charles, bass; Larry Panna, drums; Alfred "Uganda" Roberts, conga.
INDIAN LORE AND MORE
Mardi Gras Indian Tradition (lots of typos, but still OK)
More on Indian culture
Interview with Big Chief Bo Dollis
Wild Magnolias Concert Video at Kennedy Center