Features, Print May 22, 2019

Cha Wa: Mardi Gras Indian Funk Stirs Greeley Like Gumbo At The Blues Jam

by Dan England

The first track on Cha Wa’s latest album Spyboy seems to be a little bit too self-congratulatory.

“Cha Wa,” the band chants. “Cha Wa!” And yet, Cha Wa is a slang phrase used by Mardi Gras Indian tribes that means “here we come.” They are indeed coming for us, both to the Greeley Blues Jam and for our funky little selves.

The New Orleans funk band incorporates the tradition of Mardi Gras Indian music and the feel of a New Orleans brass band with all the groove, instruments and attitude of a proper funk ensemble. “It was a perfect pot of gumbo,” said J’Wan Boudreaux, the band’s frontman, in a phone interview for BandWagon.

Boudreaux’s grandfather, Monk, is Big Chief of the Golden Eagles and one of the most widely known Mardi Gras Indian singers. J’Wan began performing with him at an early age. “My family was born and raised into it,” J’Wan said. “It was just something I did. I later just grew more into it as I got older.”

Joe Gelini, the band’s drummer and leader, went to one of Monk’s shows and fell in love with the music. He later formed the band with J’Wan. The latest, Spyboy, was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Regional Roots Music Album category. “It was funky,” he said. “It made the water pool in your mouth.”

Cha Wa band portraits taken on February 19, 2018, in New Orleans, LA. © Erika Goldring.

The music makes you want to dance, he said, and that’s literally true, as Mardi Gras Indian bands dance in parades in New Orleans. J’Wan said that same dancing takes place on stage, but in much more limited quantities. The tradition is still important to the music. They named the album after J’Wan’s position in his tribe, the person who warns the Chief of approaching rival tribes during parade processions. They occasionally chant in their songs the same way Mardi Gras Indians do.

“But I think it’s kind of like we just bring ourselves to the table,” Gelini said. “We made musical decisions based on what will sound good. We have so many different influences, but sometimes we are just playing straight funk music. It’s going to seep in there no matter what.”

Cha Wa performs at the Greeley Blues Jam Saturday, June 8, 2019 at 5pm on the West Stage at The Stampede Arena in Island Grove Park. 501 North 14th Avenue in Greeley. Tickets and more at greeleybluesjam.org