Few sights at New Orleans's Mardi Gras celebration catch the attention better than the Mardi Gras Indians -- black men decked out in elaborately beaded robes and feathered headdresses, dancing through the streets to the beat of Afro-Caribbean rhythms. Oddly, their outfits -- on which they spend thousands of dollars and work for weeks preparing -- more closely resemble the attire of the Plains Indians than the garb of the Native Americans of Louisiana, who sheltered runaway slaves and inevitably intermarried with them. The music, however, is pure New Orleans, though seldom has this curious call-and-response R&B been put on record.
One such musical "tribe" with its sound on wax is the Wild Magnolias. The group had a string of local hits in the 1970s. Another is the Wild Tchoupitoulas, who had a whole album that garnered great critical acclaim, but low sales, in 1976. The Wild Magnolias are still doing it, brewing a sound that borrows from such Bayou State luminaries as Dr. John, Huey "Piano" Smith, and the Meters. Their tribal leader, Big Chief Bo Dollis, and his second in command, Monk Boudreaux, released 1313 Hoodoo Street in '96, which included songs by Dr. John, Alan Toussaint, Louis Jordan, and Wild Tchoupitoulas leader "Big Chief Jolly" George Landry. They followed it with the 1999 CD Life Is a Carnival and have tours with Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, War, the Neville Brothers, and Lionel Richie under their belts. It's been 30 years since Dollis, Boudreaux, and the tribe recorded their debut song "Handa Wanda," and it seems this crazy party shows no signs of coming to a close.
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