The potential disaster that is climate change is playing out in real time in Louisiana. Katrina brought to the fore just how fragile the living culture of New Orleans can be. In 2021, the coastal communities of Cajun country are being battered by Hurricane Ida. The people of Louisiana are resilient. Katrina didn’t destroy New Orleans’ unique culture and Ida won’t kill Cajun culture. Louisiana’s culture traditions have deep roots and that helps the people adapt to challenges.
Cha Wa are a personification of the deep roots and adaptation that ensures that the culture survives. Lead vocalist Joseph Boudreaux Jr. is the son of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and grew up in the Mardi Gras Indian tradition. Aurelien Barnes is Cha Wa’s trumpeter and vocalist and is a member of the Northside Skull and Bone Gang. Complementing the deep roots of Barnes and Boudreaux are the transplants guitarist Ari Teitel and drummer Joe Gelini bringing outsider appreciation for the tradition. Cha Wa’s sound is rooted in the street sounds of Brass Bands and Mardi Gras Indian rhythms and chants. Carrying on the tradition of the Dirty Dozen, Rebirth and Wild Magnolias, Cha Wa blend new sounds like hip hop with the roots.
“My People” opens the album with an anthemic assertion of the people’s resilience. Singing lead, Aurelien points out “Rich people living high and dry. Poor people watching the waters rise.” The song celebrates that despite neglect and adversity, “My people, we still here and one day we all gonna be in the same boat.”
“Wild Man,” “Bow Down” and “Firewater” are firmly based in Mardi Gras Indian tradition. The hip-hop connection comes through strong on “Second Line Girl.” Cha Wa enlists some friends to help out on a couple songs. Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph sings lead on the smooth soul ballad, “Love in Your Heart. For the anti-War standard, blues legend, Alvin “Youngblood” Hart takes the lead.
In these trying times, I take a measure of solace knowing that, no matter how bad things get, people will find a way to keep going. The culture bearers on Louisina keep getting knocked down and finding ways to regroup and keep the flame alive.