The infectious music and dazzling stage show of Cha Wa has been described as “funk with feathers” – a sound rooted in traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian music mixed with funk and soul, creating a non-stop groove machine. See the HBO series “Treme” for more details on the culture of Mardi Gras Indians, whose history in the Crescent City dates from 1885. Cha Wa, meaning “We’re coming for ya!” is a slang phrase used by every Mardi Gras Indian tribe. The band features legendary Mardi Gras Indians Irving “Honey” Banister and J’Wan Boudreaux on vocals and Kerry “Boom Boom” Vessell on bass drum, along with New Orleans music veterans Joe Gelini on drum set, John Fohl on guitar, Devon Taylor on Sousaphone & Bass, and Steve Malinowski on organ.
How Music Has Impacted Cha Wa's Life
Describe your music in three words.
Funk and Feathers
What song reminds you of home? Where is home?
New Orleans is home, but I didn’t move here until I was 21. I’m from Connecticut and my dad took me to visit New Orleans and I was never the same. I felt like it was calling me. Anybody who helped rebuild the city from day one after Katrina gets to call it home. The song that reminds me of New Orleans is “My Indian Red” by the Traditional Mardi Gras Indians. It’s their prayer, calling them home after Mardi Gras.
Who are your musical influences?
The Wild Magnolias (original), Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, The Wild Tchoupitoulas, The Meters, Rebirth Brass Band.
What is your artistic creative process like?
We mostly play our own arrangements of traditional Mardi Gras Indian songs. We do it with the feel of what they play on the streets. Street feel with added funk rhythm to it, contemporary and classic at the same time.
Why do you think music is so important to the people and culture of New Orleans?
You can tell music is part of the culture here and not just to listen to music. So much was born here…Mardi Gras Indian music, Jazz, Traditional R & B, and Rock n Roll. There were many great artists that recorded here at Cosimo Matassa’s studio…Little Richard, Fats Domino, etc. Brass bands and Jazz funerals…they are all part of the street beat.
What is the greatest music moment you ever had that made you feel alive?
The first time I was on Second and Dryades on Mardi Gras Day, watching the Indians and Chiefs meeting in the street. I could tell this wasn’t just about music for entertainment, but it was their entire identity.
How has music gotten you through sorrowful/hard/low moments in your life?
I remember when WWOZ broadcasted for the first time after Katrina and it gave me hope; it was the best day. New Orleans music was coming alive again!
Do you have a favorite musical quote of all time?
You’ve got to dig it, to dig it, you dig?” By Thelonious Monk.
Pick Your Poison: CDs, Vinyls, MP3s, or Online Streaming Services?
My favorite sound is on Vinyl. It’s the least commonly used but my favorite.
If you had to get up and sing karaoke for us, what would be the song of choice?
"Hand Clapping Song” by The Meters