The Upshot: Heavy New Orleans funk and party music, like nobody’s bizness.
BY CARL HANNI
Just when I was craving a Wild Tchoupitoulas re-up with a Galactic twist, along comes Cha Wa and their debut album, Funk ’n’ Feathers. Sporting an impressive pedigree of Boudreaux’s and Banister’s, Cha Wa is the mad funk Mardi Gras Indian party record of the…well, millennium so far, although New Orleans is likely to be underwater (again) before we reach that milestone….but ‘Cha Wa,’ which roughly translates in NOLA slang as ‘We’re comin’ for ya,’ is doing just that, indeed they do just that.
So we’ll party like it’s 2016 till then, and Cha Wa is the ticket, the real deal, and the motherlode all at once. Cha Wa take the polyrhythmic, percussion heavy shuffle of classic Mardi Gras Indian combos like Wild Magnolias and Wild Tchoupitoulas and inject a dose of modern Crescent City funk, with considerable help from producer Ben Ellman from the peerless NOLA funk machine Galactic, and with a mixing and mastering assist by Count (DJ Shadow, Lyrics Born, etc.).
Co-vocalists Irving ‘Honey’ Banister and Spyboy J’Wan Boudreaux provide the deep roots; Banister’s father Irving Banister Sr. played guitar on the 1953 original version of “Jock-a-Mo” (also called “Iko Iko” on many recordings) covered here, while Boudreaux’s grandfather was the legendary Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles, and one of the most lauded Indian vocalists of a previous era. Furthering the roots connection is Norwood ‘Geechie’ Johnson of the Wild Magnolias on bass drum and background vocals. And both Banister Sr. and Davell Crawford (grandson of “Jock-a-Mo” writer James Crawford) guest on Cha Wa’s rollicking update on “Jock-a-Mo.”
Funk ’n’ Feathers features one original (“UPT”) by drummer and co-band leader Joe Gelini and nine covers, including a rollicking “All On a Mardi Gras Day” by Doctor John/Mac Rebennack, and Mardi Gras Indian classics “Injuns, Here They Come,” “Ooh Na Nay,” “Little Liza Jane,” “Hold ‘Em Joe” and “Shallow Water” by Monk Boudreaux. They sport a guitar, two keyboard players, the all-important sousaphone for that slippery second line bass line, and enough background chanting and group vocals to keep the neighbors up all night. Ellman’s influence is evident on the heavy funk mix on the keyboards on tracks like “Upt” and “Ooh Na Nay” but he wisely mainly stays out of the way, turns everything up loud and goes for that great separation in the mix that makes Galactic so deadly.
So, Cha Wa are coming for ya…ya ready? [Below: watch the band live in 2014]