Feb 122013

In honor of Mardi Gras, may I make a slightly ungracious request?

As I do most every weekend, I was listening to Nick Spitzer’s American Routes on my local public radio affiliate (WHYY-FM). I love that show. As I’ve mentioned before, Spitzer is one of my favorite music-show hosts. He can turn me onto just about any American music style short of that Louisiana style of accordion music that quickly grates on my nerves. (Who’s the hero of that scene, Clifton Chenier?)

Being based in Louisiana and a fan of that state’s great music traditions, not a week goes by that Spitzer doesn’t surprise me with a good song by a band I’d rejected long ago in my angry youth. Take The Neville Brothers and The Meters. I’m not averse to all music from the state of Louisiana by any means, but the stuff I came of age associating with drunken white party boys trying to get their groove on in college (same as my initial beef with Bob Marley’s music, which I’ve learned to love, in some cases) did nothing for me. Spitzer can set up a Meters song, however, and almost always turn me on. (Let me know, Nick, if you are not receiving the Turn-On points due you.)

This past weekend Spitzer played, appropriately, a Mardi Gras-themed show. I stopped partying long before I ever had the chance to get caught up on the bacchanalia of the holiday. When I did party, it was Mardi Gras every day, if I could manage it. This explains why my party needed to come to a quick and decisive close. I never felt a great need to cut loose in my late teens and early 20s: I was untethered. These days, I am who I am. As a result, I feel I’m at a serious disadvantage in ever enjoying the themes of Mardi Gras music.

Songs about looking forward to dancing and drinking spur little reaction in me. I love to eat, but I’ve also been uninhibited about that on a regular basis. I’ll have a bowl of jumbalaya, but it’s time I pass on seconds. All those songs about “Iko Iko” and “Giacomo” (never spelled like that, though, is it?) do nothing for me. Then there are the voodoo-themed songs. He played some song that started off incredibly strong, with a killer bass, drum, and horn intro that made me feel like dancing. Then the vocals took a turn into some kind of voodoo chant about the Zulu King that took me out of the moment. The song was “(Talkin’ About the) Zulu King,” by James & Troy Andrews with Donald Harrison Jr. & Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. It’s really great, if you can overlook the lyrics.

Man, I don’t believe in voodoo, the devil, and anything like that. The only mystical stuff I fall for involves super-positive and cosmic hippie visions like “San Franciscan Nights.” I love the rhythms of New Orleans music and how they’ve been dispersed into rock ‘n roll, but the party and voodoo themes of Mardi Gras music bum me out. Can anyone suggest a Mardi Gras-themed song that won’t make me feel like I’m surrounded by people who could just as easily be digging Jimmy Buffet albums? Can anyone free my ass from the chains of my way-too-focused mind?

I look forward to your healing mojo powers.


  26 Responses to “Please Suggest Mardi Gras-Themed Songs That Do Not Devolve Into Voodoo-Jumbalaya Nonsense”

  1. Suburban kid

    Well, just moments ago I learned that Run-DMC’s “Peter Piper” is based heavily on a sampled section of “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” by Bob James. Unfortunately, it seems they sampled the only good part of the song — the first 29 seconds. After that, it appears to divert into muzak for the remaining 5+ minutes of the track.

    So I won’t recommend that one….

  2. Suburban kid

    Professor Longhair & His Shuffling Hungarians – “Mardi Gras In New Orleans”

    It also mentions the Zulu King, but so what?

    The Hawkettes – “Mardis Gras Mambo”

    But I’m confused as to whether you want songs to do with Mardi Gras, or songs about eating and drinking.

  3. Ah, to clarify, I am seeking Mardi Gras-themed songs that I will be able to fully enjoy without getting distracted by lyrics that resort to chanting nonsense about dancing, drinking, eating, voodoo, or any particular Zulu King – and especially none of that Iko Iko/Giacomo stuff. That Zulu King song I heard the other day was so good before the writer of the lyrics turned it into a meaningless chant.

    I’ll have to check out the Professor Longhair song. I’m usually able to enjoy his records without getting hung up on the lyrics.

    And to be even more clear: my mind is open to songs involving these themes if they are delivered with any conviction. Every now and then I hear a performance of that “Iko Iko” song that actually sounds like the singers buy into whatever it is they’re singing. Too often I think of the likes of a Dr. John (the NO musician, not our “dr john”) taking a more tongue-in-cheek/”jive” approach. That style turns me off.

  4. BigSteve

    The Zulu King in this context has nothing to do with voodoo. Zulu is the carnival krewe that puts on the Zulu parade on Mardi Gras day. It’s the major black parade, and it’s now incorporated into the standard parade route, whereas in years past they paraded more free-form through only black neighborhoods.

    Zulu marchers dresses up in comical blackface, as you can see in this photo from when Louis Armstrong was King Zulu in 1949:


    I always thought that they dressed up jungle style to make fun of white perceptions. It’s subversive, bit really scary.

  5. BigSteve

    Professor Longhair’s Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the greatest of all carnival songs:


    The rhythm is supernaturally groovy, but the lyrics are just about going to a parade. “See the Zulu King” just means seeing the biggest float in the Zulu parade. No drinking required.

  6. BigSteve

    I meant to type “It’s subversive, but NOT really scary.”

  7. Thank you. This will help me get back to fully liking this song. There’s a price I pay, now and then, for being ignorant.

  8. Cool, this helps too.

    Now who is this Giacomo cat everyone’s singing about, and why doesn’t anyone spell his name right? (I’m partial to this name because that’s what they called me in Italian class.)

  9. How about Big Chief by Professor Longhair? I like the song quite a bit and here it is with a video of a couple of kids doing that weird thing where they climb up walls and jump from roof to roof in public places.

    Big Steve can weigh in on whether this is the definitive version or not.

  10. And here’s a modern take on Indian Red by Danial Lanois with the awesome Brian Blade on drums: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ih2xVjP5eM

  11. Well, the title’s gonna throw you off, but D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” has the vibe without the trappings.

  12. hrrundivbakshi

    I was introduced to this song by a pretty smokin’ Johnny Winter version, but I *think* this is the original “Bon Temps Roulet.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Lz2795DL54

  13. BigSteve

    Jockomo and Iko Iko (and Big Chief) come out of the Mardi Gras Indian tradition. It’s too complicated to explain here. The Wikipedia article is a decent place to start. Some claim that those words are derived from African words that survived the crossing, but I don’t know if that’s wishful thinking or not.

  14. The late Beau Jocque could really rock the accordion. He was a big guy (6′ 6″ 270 lbs) & when he put on a leather apron to stop the sweat affecting his playing you knew he meant business. This Mardi Gras tune is no folk music.

  15. bostonhistorian

    Think of it as being sort of like the Mummers in Philadelphia. The academics would call it “symbolic inversion”.

  16. That article and the specific one on “Iko Iko” were good reads. So much I didn’t know, which I’m sure you could tell! Thanks.

  17. I’m always surprised at how much I enjoy seeing Lanois and his band on tv shows. Does this music he plays live hold up on record?

  18. This is excellent. It sounds like the Coasters with a kick-ass percussion team. I knew this title, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard this song.

  19. Ugh, ZYDECO! That’s the form of Louisiana music I can’t seem to warm up to. Thanks for trying, though.

  20. jeangray

    Yeah, you & I both.

  21. I think it does. I saw Lanois once at the TLA and he was really good. I think Townsman Geo was in the crowd as well. Aside from my wife, the modest crowd was completely made up of white, male, rock nerds between the ages of 40 and 50.

    As for his records, I only have Beauty of Wynona which I like a lot. I’ve been eying up his first record for a while and will get it eventually.

    His production style is so heavy handed the it can overwhelm an artist but when it works it really sounds great.

  22. jeangray

    Very cool song!

  23. jeangray

    Dr. John’s first three albums are mind-blowingly good & don’t sound anythang like what he has recorded since.

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