January 28, 2005

"Hey, Hey (Indians Comin')" (C. Neville, G. Landry)
Wild Tchoupitoulas from The Wild Tchoupitoulas, Antilles, 1976

Gone back Uptown

A collaboration between the Meters and the Neville family, The Wild Tchoupitoulas is a classic album. Even though it came out after the Wild Magnolias two earlier groundbreaking albums combining Margi Gras Indian songs with New Orleans funk, this 1976 effort became much more well-known, both because of the musicians on it and the fine arrangements and songwriting. Allen Toussaint and his long-time business partner, Marshall Sehorn, are credited as producers, since they supplied Sea-Saint Studio for recording and likely made the deal with the label; but, Art Neville and his brother, Charles, put together the sessions and arranged the tunes. Of course, Art and Cyril Neville were with the Meters at the time, as the Neville Brothers band had yet to form.

“Hey, Hey (Indians Comin’)” 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. With a groove that’s guaranteed to make you move, our feature tells a story from back in the days when African-American groups masking as Indians actually did injury-causing battle with each other as they’d meet on the streets on Mardi Gras day. Thus, for a long time, the Indians were considered gangs by the police (and some frightened residents); but, by the 1950’s, the 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”, “jump in the river”, “get the hell out the way”, and other confrontational subject matter.

Musical support throughout is provided by the Meters along with the Nevilles, plus Teddy Royal doing some additional guitar; and ensemble vocals include the brothers (Art, Charles, Cyril and Aaron) and Willie Harper. With arrangements and grooves that are funky but more laid back than what Willie Tee did for the Wild Magnolias, all involved with this project brought forth a still unique sounding work with hints of the Caribbean that resonates with New Orleans cultural history. The Wild Tchoupitoulas still appears to be easy to find, though it is not in print, and really should be in any self-respecting funk collection.

Mardi Gras Indian Tradition (lots of typos, but still OK)
More on Indian culture


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