The Wild Tchoupitoulas

The Wild Tchoupitoulas

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The Secret Heartbeat of the Crescent City

Inside the beautifully harmonized battle cries of the Mardi Gras Indians dwells the secret heartbeat of New Orleans. At once jovial and diffident, these songs provide a window into the mystical aspects of the place. They're simple and infectious chants, echoes from a world kept hidden backstage most of the year, part of the exotic beads-and-feathers culture that blooms, magically, each February in the parades and celebrations of Fat Tuesday.

Those chants have resounded with extra urgency in the years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. But this is no quaint culturalheritage document. Here, the call-and-response exchanges of voodoo priests and the taunts of the tribes are transformed into radical and righteous-sounding dance music. The rhythms are all suitable for spirited strutting—there's a slow, undulating prance through "Meet de Boys on the Battlefront," and a version of "Iko Iko" (the group's revision of the Dixie Cups' 1965 hit) built on a terse chank-a-chank grind. In typical new Orleans fashion, no overt effort is audible in this funk—it's casual music made for striding down boulevards, drink raised overhead, backfield in motion, without a care.

Even in the Crescent City, that highstepping revelry doesn't just happen. The Wild Tchoupitoulas had been part of the parade scene for years when the leader, Big Chief Jolly (George Landry), asked his cousins, members of the Neville family, to bolster the tribe's music, as an experiment. The sound was a success, and pretty soon Landry's tribe was in the studio. With guidance from ace producer Allen Toussaint (see p. 782), Landry and his crew tear through their energetic, crowd-revving chants one after another, creating a joyous album-length medley. While the vocals are incredible, the rhythm-section interplay between the Nevilles and members of the Meters makes this, the Wild Tchoupitoulas' only album, essential. (According to one legend, this was the session at which the Neville Brothers became a band.) Everything percolates effortlessly along, with jabbering organ, thumping bass, and greasy drumbeats coalescing into something that's highly combustible and impossible to resist. Those who love the Neville Brothers will find the roots of that band's galvanizing, superkinetic, grin-producing groove here.

Genre: Blues, Rock
Released: 1976, Mango
Key Tracks: "Hey Pocky A Way," "Brother John," "Meet de Boys on the Battlefront"
Catalog Choice: The Neville Brothers: Fiyo on the Bayou
Next Stop: The Dirty Dozen Brass Band: Voodoo
After That: The Soul Rebels: Rebelution
Book Pages: 861–862

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#1 from Jory Farr, Columbus, Ohio - 01/27/2009 11:43

This is one of the definitive party albums from New Orleans, a breathtaking amalgamation of Mardi Gras Indian rhythms, ethnic flash and rubbery funk that gave the Neville Brothers something to aim for. It also alludes to the spiritual bond between Native Americans and blacks, who were rescued in many instances from slavery by the former.

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