Mardi Gras Indians Put the POW! in Pow-Wow

The Wild Magnolias - Life Is A Carnival
(Metro Blue Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)

By Tony Bonyata

Ask just about any native New Orleanian what musical artist best represents their city's hedonistic party atmosphere and you'll no doubt hear a resounding, "Wild Magnolias".
The Wild Magnolias are a group of Mardi Gras Indians who've been painting The Big Easy red for the last 25 years with their own blend of ancient American Indian chants, African-American rhythms and call-and-response singing mixed with a healthy dose of modern funk.
Led by Big Chief Bo Dollis and Monk Boudreaux (who is actually a Big Chief from another group of Mardi Gras Indians, The Golden Eagles), The Wild Magnolias are not Indians at all, but in fact African-Americans who feel they share a common brotherhood with the American Indian. During the early days of slavery both Africans and Indians were on similar economic levels. Although the black slaves were viewed as inferiors by their Anglo masters, it was the Indians that treated them as equals, trading and forming friendships with them. It was this bond between the two races that the Mardi Gras Indians celebrate to this day.
Today there are about 20 different Mardi Gras Indian tribes in New Orleans. Members spend a good portion of the year designing and creating elaborate costumes, made out of large plumes, beads, rhinestones and sequins for the annual Mardi Gras Parades held throughout New Orleans' African-American neighborhoods.
The Wild Magnolias have not only been shaking their tail feathers on the streets for the last three decades but have produced some of the most energetic, yet nationally unrecognized, funk records this side of George Clinton's Mothership. Locals in the Crescent City, however, have known this since the release of their gritty 1974 self-titled debut album.
Now, exactly 25 years since that recording, the Magnolias are on the musical warpath again on their latest album, Life Is A Carnival. On it they are joined by a bevy of special guests from their hometown such as Dr. John (who penned six of the titles), Cyril Neville (from the Neville Brothers), soul-singer Marva Wright and composer Allen Toussaint, as well as out-of-towners Bruce Hornsby and Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm and Rick Danko from The Band.
The album opens up with the gritty, soulful vocals of Bo Dollis over a sweaty, heavy funk rhythm on "Pock-A-Nae". The down-n-dirty fun(k) continues through "Coochie Molly", "Shanda Handa", with it's percolating percussions and call-and-response vocals, as well as the explosive "Party", guaranteed to jump-start any house-soiree. The skeletal, rawness of Dollis' vocals combined with Marva Wright's meaty gospel warblings on the rousing R&B number "Hang Tough" accentuate Allen Toussaint's boogie piano rolls, while The Black Bottom Brass Band strut their stuff all the way from their home of Osaka, Japan to add a 'second line' parade frenzy to "All On A Mardi Gras Day". Dr. John's duet with with Dollis on the laid back "Blackhawk" and his barrelhouse piano on the infectious R&B number "Herc-Jolly-John" prove to be just what the voodoo doctor ordered.
Although all the guests are welcome additions to the party, it's the original American-Indian, African rhythms and inner-city funk of The Wild Magnolias core band that puts the POW! in this pow-wow.

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