Show Review: Cha Wa Celebrates New Orleans’ Rich History

Show Reviews

A dreamy introduction with guitar riffs and wind chimes set the ambiance for a formal announcement that it’s “time for their experience.” The hypnotizing atmosphere quickly morphs into a driving bass groove as ticket holders fill Antone’s Nightclub in Downtown Austin. 

Spyboy J’Wan Boudreaux and Second Chief Joseph Boudreaux Jr. lead the audience in their miraculous Mardi Gras suits while they chant the band’s name Cha Wa. As the Thanksgiving weekend rolls to an end, the second-line-style party is everything you need to shake those sweet potatoes into a distant memory. 

Tambourines rattle like a seismograph meter reading the tectonic plates in Los Angeles as the heavy brass from Joe Maize and Aurelien Barnes bursts into the air. 

“We came to get down tonight,” Boudreaux asks the crowd. “Is that alright with y’all?”

The audience whistles with delight as they follow the prompts from the stage. It’s part chant, part funk, all groove, all Mardi Gras, all a celebration to drive us into the new year.  

J’Wan Boudreaux and Joseph Boudreaux Jr. lead Cha Wa at Antone’s Nightclub. Photo by Rick Moore. 

Cha Wa originally formed as a backing band for Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, leader of Mardi Gras Indian Tribe the Golden Eagles. As a Texan with little knowledge of the bayou culture, I was left with a million questions as my senses kicked into overdrive. Thankfully band leader and percussionist Joe Gelini filled me in on the rich heritage displayed on stage. 

Louisiana is filled with different tribes of Mardi Gras Indians, and their elaborate suits are handmade throughout the entire year between celebrations.

“It’s a tradition that dates back hundreds of years,” Gelini said. “They’re paying homage to their ancestors who were Native American and African.” 

African slaves that were able to escape their horrific captivity in the Gulf Coast Region were protected and taken in by Native American tribes.

“After Emancipation, black men still weren’t allowed to participate in the white Mardi Gras crews,” Gelini said. “On Mardi Gras Day, when everyone’s in costumes in New Orleans, they would dress up to pay homage to their ancestors, and it was still a day that they had anonymity because everyone was in costume, so they could still go around and get lost in plain sight.”    

Native Americans also suffered tremendous persecution at this time, making a celebration of their unique history of partnership a life-threatening proposition.  

Cha Wa takes inspiration from the countless second line celebrations that occur every Sunday in Louisiana to honor holidays and loved ones that have passed away. 

“It really is like a gumbo of all the different street music in New Orleans,” Gelini said. “Even if we were doing a different style of music, it would still be through the voice of that tradition. We try to take it from the street to the stage.”


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