by Gus Marshall
In New Orleans and most of the post-colonized Catholic world, Mardi Gras is a day of ruckus spiritual celebration before an internal spiritual self-reflection about what should be kept and what should be let go. For most people, it’s just another great reason to party on a Tuesday.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, the attitude on the culture and customs of New Orleans and Mardi Gras, in general, is usually made up of genuine curiosity, hindered by many historical misconceptions on the cultural appropriation of America’s genealogical gumbo-pot.
Many African Americans who grew up in the inner city of New Orleans felt they could not participate in the typical Mardi Gras parade. Historically, slavery and racism were the underlying reasons for people of color to not feel accepted or correctly represented at these wild exhibitions of over-indulgence. The Black neighborhoods in New Orleans took what they wanted from Mardi Gras culture and left out what didn’t culturally resonate with them, and gradually developed their own style of Mardi Gras, that culturally shaped the distinct sounds and styles of New Orleans music for years and years to come.
The Black Indians of New Orleans
People of color practicing their own form of Mardi Gras in New Orleans named themselves after Indians, using the European name for native tribes as a way of paying homage for their aid to people who had escaped slavery. Tribes often accepted runaway slaves into their society after obtaining their freedom and the New Orleans African American community has never forgotten this support.
Commonly referred to as the Black Indians of New Orleans, these tribes are made up in large part by the residents of the New Orleans inner-city’s predominantly Black communities. While the Black Indians of New Orleans have paraded for over a century, their parade and secretive counter culture is perhaps the least recognized Mardi Gras tradition.
In his book, All on a Mardi Gras Day: Episodes in the History of New Orleans Carnival, Ried Mitchell explained, “‘Masking Indian’ was a form of Black protest in a Jim Crow New Orleans. It contrasted significantly with Black New Orleanians’ day-to-day compliance with the city’s norms. People had to put on a mask to take off another.”
Traditional folk songs like “Iko Iko,” “Big Chief,” and “My Indian Red” are direct examples of the Black Indians of New Orleans’ cultural influence on the language and customs of New Orleans musicians and more specifically the basis for an entire genre of music.
Columbia City Beatwalk Mardi Gras Celebration
The Columbia City Beatwalk will celebrate Fat Tuesday in the bars and restaurants of the South End’s flourishing music scene, with an impressive lineup of live acts, bringing their own brand of Mardi Gras flavor to the air of Seattle.
One thing synonymous with New Orleans music and culture is the “second line,” a procession of musicians playing brass, reeds, and drums following a parade or “first line.” Those who choose to not parade in front but rather hang in the back and follow the band while enjoying the music are also part of the second line. The Garfield High School Marching Band will lead the second line starting at 6:00 pm outside Lottie’s Lounge.
Mark Smason and the Chicago Seven, a throwback jazz outfit playing vintage-jazz and ragtime from the 1920s and 1930s, will entertain inside Lottie’s. The Chicago Seven emulate the polyphonic era of early jazz born and shaped in the great cities of New Orleans, Chicago, and New York.
Across the street, the Island Soul Rum Bar and Soul Shack will feature the funky jazz stylings of The Overall Express playing their own renditions of classic soul and R&B covers ranging from Parliament-Funkadelic to John Legend.
Down the way the Royal Room will host an assortment of timeless hits from the crescent city performed by The Meter Maids, a funky four-piece made up of Jeff Fielder (guitar/vocals), Wayne Horvitz (organ/piano), Bob Lovelace (bass) and Mike Stone (drums) with special guests Ray Larsen, Jerome Smith, and Ayesha Brooks adding some extra soul for this special Mardi Gras day set.
At the Humming Bird Saloon, you’ll be able to experience in-demand drummer Mike Daugherty and his Washboard Cutups. This rowdy hot-jazz-band’s syncopated arrangements of blues, stomps, rags, and early jazz will instill the sudden urge to cut-a-rug.
Finally, Backyard will host a special performance by Seals and Real, featuring prolific drummer Conrad Real of the infamous early 90s rap group Digable Planets.
The Columbia Beatwalk is an opportunity to taste Mardi Gras and the great music it has inspired.
What: The Columbia City Beatwalk featuring Marc Smason and the Chicago Seven, The Overall Express, The Meter Maids, and The Washboard Cutups.
Where: Lottie’s Lounge 4900 Rainier Ave S, Island Soul Rum Bar and Soul Shack 4869 Rainier Ave S, The Royal Room 5000 Rainier Ave S, The Hummingbird Saloon 5041 Rainier Ave S.
Featured image is a cc licensed photo attributed to Mark Gstohl