No Fat Tuesday would be complete without the elaborate costumes, festive floats, or beloved glittery coconuts of the Krewe of Zulu—coconuts that involve more begging, bribery, and bargaining than trying to score front-row seats to Hamilton. And Lundi Gras would be just like any old Monday when you drank too much if it weren’t for the fun of Zulu’s Lundi Gras Festival. This year promises to be no exception.
The Krewe of Zulu was formed in 1909 when members of a club known as “The Tramps” saw a show about an African Zulu tribe. They were so inspired by what they saw that they—combined with certain other local groups and benevolent societies—reinvented themselves as Zulus and began parading as such almost immediately after. They have been dazzling us with an impressive parade and all-things-coconut ever since. When not decorating coconuts or parading down Jackson Avenue, members of Zulu are also very active in the community, mentoring and supporting local youth.
For Mardi Gras 2019, there are plenty of good things in store in the world of Zulu. This year’s theme is “Zulu Celebrates Fantasy and Adventure,” and to fit the motif, the parade will feature many Disney-inspired floats, with such titles as “Pinocchio,” “Jungle Book,” and “Dumbo.”
The Zulu Lundi Gras Festival began in 1993 and has long since become a Carnival institution. Every year, the festival is held at Woldenberg Park along the riverfront in the French Quarter, from 10 a.m. until 6:30 p.m., with local entertainment, plenty of good food from area restaurants, an “African Village” with Zulu memorabilia and arts and crafts, a giant second line, and even a children’s area offering face painting, juggling acts, and stilt walkers. This year’s fest will include performances by Partners 'n Crime, the Big 6 Brass Band, the Top Cats, XS Martial Arts Dojo, and the InspireNOLA Performance Group, among many others.
Also making an appearance at the Lundi Gras Festival are the Zulu Characters, the stars of some of the many Zulu parade floats. The festival offers the public a chance to see these Mardi Gras VIPs up-close and personal a day in advance, without parade-time distractions of fighting for coconuts or vying for curbside real estate. For 2019, the Zulu Characters include LeBaron Fisher, the Big Shot; Troy Dailet, the Witch Doctor; and Mr. Big Stuff himself, James A. Mitchell.
It is a tradition for the King of Zulu to arrive at the Lundi Gras Festival via the river in a Coast Guard Cutter boat and to ceremoniously unite there with the King of Rex, who arrives via train. The two kings of both these Fat Tuesday superkrewes converge at Spanish Plaza for a toast, so that together, they may usher in a happy and successful Mardi Gras for all.
And speaking of Mardi Gras royalty, Professor Longhair and Fats Domino famously sang, “When I get to New Orleans, I wanna see the Zulu King.” The king that all are longing to catch a glimpse of this Mardi Gras is George V. Rainey, a member of the Krewe of Zulu since 1972. Rainey has been integrally involved with Zulu for 47 years now, serving as board member and vice president at various times, as well as initiating the Zulu poster series and even establishing the Lundi Gras Festival. George’s son, Oscar Rainey, is also an active member of Zulu and currently serves as Zulu Parliamentarian. George and Oscar are the only members of the same family throughout Zulu’s history to have both served on the krewe’s board. George Rainey and his brother Lewis are also the only two brothers to both be crowned King Zulu.
Oscar explains that his father woke up one morning and just decided that he wanted to be recognized for all his service to Zulu by being named their king. “He’s an 87-year-old man, and being King Zulu is one of his last wishes on this earth,” said Rainey.
Keeping it in the family, the 2019 Zulu Queen is Rainey’s own granddaughter, whose identity will not be revealed until February 10, at the official Zulu King and Queen Party. The family that parades together, stays together.