A Golden Crown For Twelfth Night
"Big Chief Got A Golden Crown" (George Landry)
Wild Tchoupitoulas, Island 054, 1976
Mardi Gras' comin' and it won't be long. . . .
January 6th, Twelfth Night, aka The Epiphany, is the traditional start to the festive Carnival season, which ends, of course, with the big celebration on Mardi Gras, after which Lent begins. So, I thought I'd do my part here to get in the spirit at HOTG by pulling out this well-played Wild Tchoupitoulas side, the flip of "Meet Me (The) Boys On The Battle Front", taken from the classic album, The Wild Tchoupitoulas. I've reworked this piece from my post on the album from last year.
Even though this 1976 collaboration between the Meters, the Neville brothers (Art, Charles, Cyril and Aaron), and the Wild Tchoupitoulas came out after the Wild Magnolias' two earlier groundbreaking albums, which combined Mardi Gras Indian music with New Orleans funk, The Wild Tchoupitoulas became much more well-known, mainly because of the musicians playing on it. Allen Toussaint and his long-time business partner, Marshall Sehorn, are credited as producers, since they supplied Sea-Saint Studio for recording and made the deal with Island Records; but, Art Neville and his brother, Charles, put together the sessions and arranged the tunes. Of course, Art and other brother Cyril Neville were in the Meters at the time, as the Neville Brothers band had yet to form. In reality, this was the first time all the brothers had ever recorded together. Making this album together planted the seed that grew into their own band after the Meters fell apart.
“Big Chief Got A Golden Crown” features on lead vocal George Landry, aka Big Chief Jolly of the Wild Tchoupitoulas from Uptown New Orleans, who was the Neville brothers’ uncle and a big inspiration to them. Most of the tracks are his compositions, based on traditional Mardi Gras Indian songs and featuring their often cryptic chants combining words from various languages of their heritage. With a groove that’s guaranteed to make you move, our feature goes back to the days when African-American groups masking as Indians actually did injury-causing battle with each other as they’d meet on the streets Mardi Gras day. By the 1950’s, those conflicts had become ritualized competitions between “tribes” to see who could make and display the most elaborate, beautiful suits (costumes). But, in their songs you will still hear references to “gangs”, “the battleground”, “won't bow down”, “get the hell out the way”, and other confrontational subject matter. A culturally vital, but unofficial, part of Mardi Gras in the streets of their neighborhoods, the Mardi Gras Indians, once considered troublemakers by the police (and some frightened residents), continually encountered resistance from authorities to their parading and the large crowds that gathered to watch them work their magic. Now, in post-diluvian New Orlenas, this tradition may die out, as its neighborhoods have been destroyed.
Musical backing on the record is provided by the Meters along with the Nevilles, plus Teddy Royal doing some additional guitar. Big Chief Jolly does most of the singing, with Cyril taking his song, "Brother John"; and the ensemble vocals include the brothers, Willie Harper, plus the actual members of the chief's tribe. The arrangements and grooves are funky but lighter than what Willie Tee did for the Wild Magnolias, lending a unique character to the project, colored by Africa and the Caribbean, that resonates with New Orleans cultural history. The Wild Tchoupitoulas on CD is fairly easy to find, and really should be in any self-respecting New Orleans funk collection.
Mardi Gras Indian Tradition (lots of typos, but still OK)
More on Indian culture
Wild Tchoupitoulas, Uptown Rulers, 13th Ward