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New Orleans Funk Band Cha Wa Talk New Album

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

And finally today, even though this year's Mardi Gras didn't feature the usual crowded musical parade, a new album is bringing the culture and celebration of New Orleans directly to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILDMAN")

CHA WA: (Singing) Wildman running around, take me down, take me down. See Wildman running around...

FADEL: That's "Wildman" by the funk band Cha Wa, which means, we're coming for you. It's a celebratory phrase often used by Mardi Gras Indians, and it's a reference to the vibrant, in-your-face style that's featured throughout this album. And here to tell us more about it is bandleader Joe Gelini and lead singer Joseph Boudreaux Jr.

Welcome to the program.

JOE GELINI: Hi, thanks for having us.

JOSEPH BOUDREAUX JR: Hey. How you doing?

FADEL: So before we jump into the album, your music is inspired by the style of the Mardi Gras Indian community. Joseph, you're fourth-generation, and so for listeners who might not be familiar with your community, can you tell us a bit more about Mardi Gras Indians?

BOUDREAUX: Well, Mardi Gras Indian tradition and culture goes back over 250 years in the city of New Orleans. And it's a culture that derives from men of color wanting to celebrate the Mardi Gras holiday but weren't able to at the time, in the 1700s, late 1700s and early 1800s. Mardi Gras obviously was all about the pageantry, the balls and the floats and the parades and stuff through the city. But men of color weren't allowed to actually participate in those festivities.

So what they did was they created these elaborate suits to represent, you know, the eye-catching things to look at. But it also represented the Native Americans that helped the Blacks escape slavery, and they actually helped them throughout the swamps and the bywater to get where they needed to go. So to pay homage to those natives, these men created what we call today Indian suits.

And over the time, the suits have became more elaborate, and it has gotten more stylish. But the actual cultural reason for it still resides in New Orleans till this day. And it's going to keep on going on for hopefully hundreds and hundreds more years.

FADEL: So let's get into the album. I want to talk first about the song "My People," the album's title track. I'm going to play a little bit of that for you now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY PEOPLE")

CHA WA: (Singing) My people, we've been left behind before. People, my people, devil's knocking on your door. My people, sad so many had to go. My people, we still here, and one day we gon' (ph) all be in the same boat.

FADEL: So the lyrics of the song are really powerful, and it feels like an ode to the city and the people of New Orleans, but also really relatable across this country. Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration for the song?

GELINI: You know, I think it's just got many levels, and it's really for the people. We have this really great dichotomy of musicians in the band and, you know, different people from different colors, faiths, backgrounds, dialects.

And, you know, I think that when we have been - over the course of touring over the last couple of years, we've really been able to share our - you know, our experience, tap into that collective unconscious of, you know, what it is to live in New Orleans and to see all the nuances about ways that different people of color in the band actually experience racism - you know, what sort of plight, you know, we're facing in New Orleans socially and culturally and class-wise and environmentally. And, you know, I think it's a song to try to bring everybody together and to offer a perspective on our collective humanity.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY PEOPLE")

CHA WA: (Singing) My people, we're still here, and one day we gon' all be in the same boat.

FADEL: I'm thinking about what you were just saying about "My People." And, Joseph, I'll turn back to you on this. There's this we're-all-in-the-same-boat message of unity and getting through things together. But we're also in a time where a lot of people aren't expressing togetherness and unity. And I'm just curious about putting out this music when there's so much divisiveness, especially when it comes to race.

BOUDREAUX: I mean, honestly, I feel like we're doing a service to like-minded people, first and foremost, because those are the people who accept that message. And, you know, they live by that message, and they needed to have something that they can groove to that they believe in.

But also to the people who may not be so open, you know, just try to open up your eyes and see - you know, see the world through the lens of the next person - the person that's next to you, or the person that's, you know, being held down by these different things like systematic oppression and things of that nature. Like, try to visualize the world through these people eyes, and maybe you will learn something, you know?

Like, I - my dad always told me that a old dog can always learn a new trick, you know? So I feel like we're just doing a service to put this music out for the people and also just let all of the Cha Wa fans know that although we are a band that looks forward to keeping you on your feet and making you feel good, we also are aware of the things that's going on in the world, and we also are affected by these things just as the people who's listening to the music are.

And if we don't say anything about it, then no one will actually, you know, understand and know that we're with them. We are with them in this struggle. So that's our way of letting everyone know that not only we're with you, we're in it right with you at the same time. We are experiencing these same things, and we see it. You know, we've got to just speak about it.

FADEL: So what do you want people to take away from this album?

GELINI: These songs are based on, you know, Mardi Gras Indian folk music, which are inherently songs of freedom, you know, about all the multigenerational freedom that has been withheld from, you know, generations and generations of people of color and Native Americans, and that this is really, like, a celebration of life in so many different ways. And it's a celebration of being able to have our culture in New Orleans, our traditions, heritage, being able to have that torch passed to the next generation. And I think we're ready to heed that call.

FADEL: And Joseph.

BOUDREAUX: Well, after he's tooken (ph) up all of the important things to say...

(LAUGHTER)

BOUDREAUX: I would have to actually just agree with Joe. But also, I would just like to say, what I want people to take away also from this album is that it's time to kind of have fun again, so to speak, because although all these things we're talking about in this album are very important, we also have an underlying theme of, no matter what you're going through, we can get through it together.

As long as, you know, keep a positive mindset, and you have a good time while you're doing it, you're going to get through that tough patch. And like you said, there's a light at the end of that tunnel. And we're the band that's trying to bring you there. So I just want people to take from this Cha Wa album all the work that we put into it to make you feel good, to make you have a great understanding of what's going on in a light-minded way. Just take that away and have fun with it.

FADEL: So what song should we go out on, and why?

BOUDREAUX: It's kind of like picking your favorite kid. Like, I like all the songs on the album (laughter). I think the last song I was listening to was "Second Line Girl."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SECOND LINE GIRL")

CHA WA: (Singing) Second line girl, you broke my world. Light my fire, I just want you to be my girl.

GELINI: Yeah, I think "Second Line Girl" is - you know, that's really about the culture of New Orleans, about being out there in the street on a hot, sunny Sunday with, you know, food vendors and barbecue pits going on and brass bands wailing and everybody just, like - no matter who you are on a Sunday, you can go out to a second line.

And you might have gotten fired. You might have had - you know, somebody might have broken up with you. You might have, you know, had some sort of incident. But you can always just let it fade away into the music and into the dancing. And it's sort of about, like, love at first sight at a second line.

FADEL: That was Joe Gelini and Joseph Boudreaux Jr., two members of the band Cha Wa. Their new album, "My People," is out now.

Joe, Joseph, thank you so much for being with us.

GELINI: Thank you for having us.

BOUDREAUX: Thank you. Thank you for having us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SECOND LINE GIRL")

CHA WA: (Singing) Ain't (ph) no place I'd rather be down on a Sunday in New Orleans. Ain't no place I'd rather be down on a Sunday in New Orleans. Ain't no place I'd rather be down on a Sunday in New Orleans. Sunday in the city, the second line popping, the women are looking pretty, and the brass band knocking. Now, I've been all over the globe, I ain't see nothing like her. Second line girl, (unintelligible). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.