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Delivering the feel of New Orleans: Mardi Gras Indian funk band Cha Wa performs in NM

New Orleans-based band Cha Wa will perform two shows in New Mexico as part of the New Mexico Jazz Festival. (Courtesy of Blind Ambition Management)

Bringing the feel of New Orleans to the masses is what Cha Wa does.

It can be exhausting, yet worth every moment.

“We just had a killer show and it was one of the biggest audiences that we’ve seen,” says Joe Gelini. “It was an absolute blast.”

Gelini is a member of New Orleans-based Mardi Gras Indian funk band Cha Wa.

The band will perform two shows – one in Albuquerque and one in Santa Fe – on Wednesday, July 17, and Thursday, July 18, respectively.

J’Wan Bodreaux is the vocalist and grew up singing alongside his grandfather, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, in the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indian tribe.

Dating back to the late 1800s, the Mardi Gras Indian tradition began when African American men first marched in Native American dress through the streets of New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day.

The tradition, which includes a host of songs shared among the various tribes, has been kept alive for over a century and today is as vital as ever.

Mardi Gras Indians have influenced the biggest names in New Orleans music – The Meters, Dr. John, the Marsalis family, the Neville Brothers, Trombone Shorty and others.

The most prominent Mardi Gras Indian today is Monk Boudreaux, the Big Chief of the Golden Eagles tribe, and his grandson J’Wan Boudreaux.

The group has released two albums – 2015’s “Funk n Feathers” and 2018’s “Spyboy.”

The latter was nominated for a Grammy Award and helped raise the profile of the band.

Boudreaux says the band has been working on new music while it’s on tour.

And it recently got a break from touring and headed to the studio on July 4.

“We’re recording a single that will be released this summer, “Gelini says. “This is in preparation for our upcoming album in 2020.”

As far as writing goes, Gelini says there is a deep bench of songwriters in the band.

“We try to utilize everyone by co-writing together,” Gelini says. “It really kind of just depends on what the song needs. Sometimes, songs come from basic lyrics and then grow from there. We base our music in the New Orleans style of Mardi Gras. There’s call and response to it.”