Friday, May 19, 2023

the last book I ever read (The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner, excerpt three)

from The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner

Across the album, The Wild Tchoupitoulas evokes these ritual circumstances. Consider, for example, its rendition of “Indian Red,” which is often identified as the most sacred song in the repertoire of the Mardi Gras Indians. Notably, “Indian Red” is the only song in the Indian repertoire exclusive to the Big Chief: other songs can be led by other members of the tribe but never “Indian Red.” It is also the only song performed at specific times, traditionally at the close of practices and at the start of the procession on Mardi Gras morning. Finally, “Indian Red” is also the only time when the ranks in a tribe’s hierarchy are formally named. On Mardi Gras morning, these roles are called out in the order of the procession: first, the spy boys who walk ahead and report back if another tribe is spotted; next the flag boys who carry tall pennants to communicate messages to the spy boys back to the tribe; then the Big Chief and associated second, third, and fourth chiefs with their Queens; and the Wild Man who protects the Big Chief and clears space for tribes to meet each other in the street. As ranks are called out by the Big Chief during “Indian Red,” members emerge from the bar or house where the tribe has gathered, displaying their suits and receving accolades from onlookers. During the tribe’s procession through the neighborhood, the choreographed confrontations with other tribes follow this same order as members from each tribe meet their counterparts. In Up from the Cradle of Jazz (1980), a PBS documentary that was also made into a book on popular music in New Orleans, you can see Norman Bell, taking a turn as Big Chief in 1979, singing “Indian Red” as the Wild Tchoupitoulas begins its parade.

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