Getting Wild for Mardi Gras

It is impossible to overstate the importance of music to the experience of Mardi Gras. There is no aspect of Carnival that is not colored and deepened by the rich, longstanding relationship between the musical culture of New Orleans and the heritage of festival. One cannot hear the distant rumble of marching bands without wandering out to see what parade is being heralded by the sound. If you live near the parade route, in addition to providing bathroom and catering services to the constant stream of guests who pass through your house, you can also help set the mood with a couple of excellent albums. 

For me the eponymous record by the Wild Tchoupitoulas is the definitive Mardi Gras record. This Allen Toussaint produced 1976 recording of the Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indian Tribe’s versions of Indian chants and traditional Mardi Gras songs is the very definition of the Mardi Gras sound. The personnel on this album read like a who’s who of New Orleans musical royalty. Big Chief George Landry is supported by the Neville Brothers (Aaron, Art, Cyril and Charles) who are in turn supported by the Meters’ stalwarts (Leo Nocentelli, Zigaboo Modeliste and George Porter Jr.). The version of the Meters’ “Hey Pocky A-Way” recorded for this album is simply infectious. This is the record that sets the tone for my Mardi Gras.  I also use it as a gentle wake up call Mardi Gras morning when we need to get ourselves and our guests into costume and out on the route before the sun comes up. 

Another record that gets a lot of play our way this time of year is Professor Longhair’s 1975 live recording from Germany called either Mardi Gras in New Orleans – Live 1975 Recording or simply Live in Germany (this is the title on Spotify if you look for it there). Professor Longhair’s recordings just sound like New Orleans. At this show he does blistering versions of “Big Chief”, “Tipitina” and “Go to the Mardi Gras”. Fess is in rare form here, just like the Wild Tchoupitoulas record you cannot help but dance when it comes on. 

With streaming music services becoming the norm, there is a tremendous amount of great Mardi Gras music out there, check the Spotify playlist below for more recommendations, this is by no means comprehensive, just some of my favorites to get you started.  This is a collaborative playlist, so feel free to add your favorite tracks.


There are a couple of shows of note this week:

Tonight at Tipitina’s Red Baraat will bring their brand of horn driven North Indian influenced funk back to New Orleans.  This New York based band was one of the absolute highlights of Voodoo Fest last year and they seem to be making regular trips through town.  If you’re not going to see Salt-n-Pepa at the Muses ball, this show should be your after parade destination.


On Monday night The Hood Internet will be playing the Hi-Ho Lounge.  This Chicago based mash-up crew will deliver an evening of high energy dance hip-hop.  If you’ve still got some energy left after Orpheus or are planning to power through to Mardi Gras, this is the place to be. 

(warning explicit language)




Categories: Carnival Coverage, In Tune, Mardi Gras, Music