Don?t Stop the Music: Mardi Gras Indian Funk Band Cha Wa Sings Out for BLM
Sep 23 2020

Don’t Stop the Music: Mardi Gras Indian Funk Band Cha Wa Sings Out for BLM

By: Blake Anderson

Cha Wa recently released the "No Justice, No Peace" remix of their popular song, "Visible Means Of Support," along with a music video, off their Grammy Award-nominated album Spyboy. The song is based on the personal experience of Big Chief Joseph "Monk" Boudreaux and historical events that reinforce the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter Movement. In his song, Monk tells of the cruelty he suffered at the hands of the police as a young man during 1950s Jim Crow-era New Orleans. He was arrested under the archaic "no visible means of support" law, which is similar to the "stop and frisk" law. Instead of arresting vagrants, the cops would use this law as an excuse to harass and arrest someone based on their skin color. The remix includes a rap that Joseph Maize Jr. and Joseph Boudreaux Jr. put together during a concert performance.

Where Y'at had the opportunity to interview Joseph Boudreaux Jr., the Second Chief of the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians, vocalist of Cha Wa, and Big Chief Joseph's son.

Where Y'at: I'm glad we got a chance to talk, with everything going on right now. Cha Wa is deemed Mardi Gras Indian funk. What does that mean to you? What are you trying to communicate through your music?

Joseph Boudreaux Jr: We're trying to communicate a New Orleans style. It's a little mixture of everything that makes New Orleans what it is. You have Mardi Gras Indian; you got funk and brass brands. We're trying to bring the essence of New Orleans with us on stage—all over the world.

WYAT: Yes, you've got to love the unique New Orleans style. You are no longer only a local New Orleans favorite. You have been to so many great places, such as New Zealand and globalFEST last year. What place has been most memorable for you and why?

JBJ: Probably globalFEST. Montreal was really cool also. I enjoy all my experiences traveling the world, every place we go is a little different.

WYAT: globalFEST looks like it would be a great experience! Besides your dad, is there anyone that has influenced your music?

JBJ: With my father being one of the pioneers of creating Mardi Gras music on a stage level, him and Bo Dollis are our greatest influencers. Our other influencers would be The Meters and the Neville Brothers and a lot of bands from New Orleans that have pioneered that New Orleans sound. We try to continue and carry the legacy on.

WYAT: How about New Orleans—how does being from here specifically influence the music style?

JBJ: New Orleans influences us in every way possible. With every piece of music that we create, our initial goal is to make sure it embodies a New Orleans style.

WYAT: That's awesome. Let's talk about Spyboy. All the songs are so fun, and some have such great stories behind them. It was also nominated for a Grammy last year! What was it like being part of the Grammys and releasing your first full album?

JBJ: Releasing a full-length album was great—and getting to see people react to our work. The Spyboy album was just a beginning, something for us to put out there. We didn't realize it would be as big as it was. Now, we're just tapping in and seeing how far we can go with our sound. It's great being able to tap into a global scale, such as the Grammys.

WYAT: Wow, being part of the Grammys sounds exciting! So, I did some research and found out what "Spyboy" means, but can you tell me what that title means in your own words?

JBJ: My nephew J'wan is the spyboy of the group; he is the "scout" of the [Mardi Gras Indian] tribe. He looks for danger and makes decisions based off what he has seen.

WYAT: "Visible Means of Support" is about your dad's personal experience with racism. Knowing what your dad and others had to go through in the 1950s on a daily basis is disheartening, especially with the fact that not much has changed today. What do you personally hope the world gains from the Black Lives Matter Movement?

JBJ: Understanding. Right now, we are at a time where teaching is really important. There are a lot of people who don't understand, or choose not to understand, the way the world is. It's unacceptable. We hope to open people's eyes up to realize that we are one. We have to treat each other as if we are one.

WYAT: Amen to that. The remix you did for "Visible Means of Support" was amazing—adding the rap that you and Joseph Maize came up with was a great touch! Why was it important to Cha Wa to release the "No justice, No Peace" remix?

JBJ: We are hoping we can bring attention to the movement—bring to attention the struggles of minorities. Hopefully, we can bring enough attention for someone who is otherwise ignorant to the subject to actually pick up a book, read an interview, listen to a song, and get some insight to how maybe they are part of the problem and they don't even realize.

Cha Wa is a New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian funk band formed in 2014. They have continued the tradition of Mardi Gras Indian funk music that started in the late 1800s, in the New Orleans streets during Mardi Gras. With Spyboy and its contemporary anthems, Boudreaux is hoping to ignite a new generation through Cha Wa. The group is very elaborate with their costumes; they spend all year beading the perfect Indian suit for Mardi Gras Day. These suits pay homage to the Native American Indians. J'Wan explains the historical Mardi Gras culture and how these suits pay homage to the Indians in "J'Wan's Story" on Spyboy. In the song, he sings, "because around the time of slavery, they were the first ones to take us in." Elaborating on the song, he says, "Everything on our suits is handmade: the beads, the patterns. We sew together pieces of fabric and make the panels. We make the boots—everything." Similar to other artists, Cha Wa has used their music platform to draw attention to and educate listeners about the issues that some people may not even realize are issues.

To watch Cha Wa's "Visible Means of Support" video click HERE.

For more information on Cha Wa, click HERE.

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