Cha Wa – My People


Title: My People
Artist: Cha Wa
Label: Single Lock
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: April 2, 2021


Since the late 19th century, Mardi Gras Indians have paraded the streets of New Orleans outside of the gaze of tourists that flock to Bourbon Street. The Mardi Gras Indian community is a group of primarily Black New Orleanians who pay respect to Native Americans through their wardrobe, music, and dialect. The tradition of Mardi Gras Indian krewes is said to have originated to pay tribute to the Native groups that sheltered Black New Orleanians fleeing enslavement. Drawing on this rich heritage, Cha Wa’s My People captures the sounds of Mardi Gras Indian street parades and blends them with other New Orleans influences including the ‘70s era funk of The Meters, brass band music, jazz, R&B, hip-hop, and African-inspired rhythms.

Cha Wa – the name of a traditional Mardi Gras Indian shout – was formed by bandleader Joe Gelini, a student of legendary New Orleans drummer Idris Muhammad. Inspired by the city’s street culture and the sounds of the Mardi Gras Indians, Gelini partnered with Joseph Boudreaux Jr. who has spent his life immersed in the tradition as the son of krewe-leader Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. Incorporating Mardi Gras Indian and other African American musical traditions from throughout the city, My People conveys the unmistakable New Orleans sound. “Shallow Water” is a raucous and raw call and response song recorded live at the Indian barroom Handa Wanda’s. Other tracks embrace more contemporary influences, like the powerful horn-driven title track and playful sound of the organ on “Bow Down.” The tracks span the genres that define the New Orleans music scene, from the Mardi Gras Indian-tinged ‘60s psychedelia of “Morning Glory” to vintage romantic soul on “Love in Your Heart” sung by Angelika “Jelly” Joseph.

Everything about the Mardi Gras Indian performance conveys power, from their towering suits embellished in beading and plumage to the clattering, hollering songs of the krewes as they move through the streets. My People captures this energy and places the Mardi Gras Indians within the larger context of New Orleanian musical traditions. Cha Wa’s captivating fusion of genres is a brilliant homage to those who have inspired the group’s music.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick