Banner Series: Music of Cha Wa, opening of 35th Works on Paper tonight – American Press

By Mary Richardson

Two high-powered concerts of Louisiana music plus the opening of a national art show will be promoted by McNeese State University’s Banners Series this week.

Tonight, a two-time Grammy nominated Mardi Gras Indian funk band, Cha Wa, will take the stage at 7 p.m. in Tritico Theatre. Tickets are $20 at the door or part of a Banners series season pass.

On Sunday afternoon, the down-home and zydeco influenced group Leon Chavis and Zydeco Flames will perform at 2 p.m. outdoors on the front lawn of Bulber Auditorium. Tickets are $5 at the concert and included in a Banners membership. For this concert only, a single Banners membership ticket will cover the admission for four people — so members are encouraged to bring friends! McNeese and Sowela students are admitted free of charge for both concerts.

Cha Wa gives their audiences both a visual and musical experience that radiates with the energy of New Orleans’s street culture. The group’s music is exemplar — the group is up for its second Grammy this year — but the Mardi Gras Indian outfits are equally stunning. After Cha Wa’s Tiny Desk Concert on National Public Radio, NPR’s host said that he realized he was “seeing the very roots of Mardi Gras Indian culture” when Joseph Boudreaux Jr. performed in his brilliant green feathered “Indian suit.”

Cha Wa is based in New Orleans, and took its name from a slang phrase used by Mardi Gras Indian tribes meaning “we’re comin’ for ya” or “here we come.”

Lead vocalist Boudreaux is the son of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. He says he cannot remember a time when he was not part of the Mardi Gras Indian culture. “I started at 1 year old, with my dad,” he said. “By the time I was 9 or 10, I had started doing festivals.”

The history of Mardi Gras Indians goes back to the late 19th century, Boudreaux said in a magazine interview. “These were African-American men and women who roamed the city streets on Fat Tuesday morning and St. Joseph’s Night, playing handheld percussion like glass bottles, tambourines and cowbells,” he said. Scholars have tried to find the roots for the unique dialect they used for shouting and chanting, “but they never quite agreed,” he said, adding that the most accepted origin story for the culture is that it was meant to pay tribute through song and spirit to the Native groups that sheltered black New Orleanians fleeing enslavement.

“Cha Wa,” the band’s name, is a traditional Mardi Gras Indian shout, similar to the familiar “jock-a-mo-fee-nah-nay refrain.”

Cha Wa’s current Grammy nomination is for the group’s third album, “My People.” The title track, also called “My People,” starts with a burst of horns and then zeroes in on the disparities between the have and have-nots:

“Rich people living
in paradise

Poor people under the bridge at night, oh yeah

Most people know what it takes to survive

But my people know how to do it and thrive.”

Banners Director Brook Hanemann says that the group’s music reminds her of gumbo.

“It’s a gumbo of singing, chanting, intoxicating rhythms, and dep funk grooves,” she said, “and you can’t resist it.”

Also tonight, the McNeese Department of Visual Arts under the direction of Lynn Reynolds will open its 35th Works on Paper exhibit in the Grand Gallery of the Shearman Fine Arts Building. Hanemann says she is thrilled to be able to partner again with the McNeese Department of Visual Arts to help promote this extremely engaging exhibit. “Every year, the halls of the Grand Gallery come alive with beautiful and creative paper-based art submitted by artists from throughout the United States,” she said.

The community is invited to a reception in the Grand Gallery at 6 p.m. to mark the show’s opening. “We really hope the community will come out and take in the gallery reception, and then join us in Tritico Theatre at 7 p.m. for the concert by Cha Wa,” Hanemann said. The exhibit will run until May 6 and the Art Department will be posting a virtual juror’s talk on their Virtual Galleries blog ( Rosemary Jesionowski also organized the event with Reynolds.

People are invited to dance Sunday afternoon away during the performance by Leon Chavis and Zydeco Flames on an outdoor stage on the front lawn of Bulber Auditorium.

The group has just recorded its second CD, “Holla at Me.” Leon Chavis is a cousin of the late Boozoo Chavis, and he says he was nurtured on music in a family setting as he grew up. Today he draws on the energy and power of Boozoo’s music, yet transcends that traditional sound into a smooth, polished contemporary zydeco style.

In liner notes by Herman Fuselier for the latest album, Chavis said “he wanted to convey his positive outlook on life in songs like “Everything Going to Be All Right” and to celebrate family values in songs like “Daddy Loves You.”

He said his own life is centered on his wife and two children and, of course, his music. His father, Joseph “Chopper” Chavis, an R& B singer “from way back,” is a member of the band and one of the co-producers of the CD.

Chavis began his musical career while playing trumpet in the Southern University Band. While at Southern, he founded the Zydeco Flames with his father and with Russell Labbe. He then went on to manage other businesses before devoting himself full time to a career in zydeco. The band now performs locally and around the nation as well as overseas.

For more information about Banners Series performances and lectures, see the website, or call the Banners office at 337-475-5123.

Anita Shire

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