The Wild Tchoupitoulas

Bryan Wagner | English | 33 ⅓ Series, Bloomsbury, 2019

The Wild Tchoupitoulas (Island Records, 1976) is a classic example of the modern New Orleans sound that draws on carnival traditions stretching back more than a century, adapting songs from the Mardi Gras Indians. Music chanted in the streets with tambourines and makeshift percussion is transformed across the album into electric R&B accented by funk, calypso, and reggae. The Wild Tchoupitoulas bridges not only genres but also generations, linking the improvised flow from George Landry, better known as Big Chief Jolly, to the stacked harmony vocals sung by his nephews Aaron, Art, Charles, and Cyril—the soon-to-be-formed Neville Brothers, playing together on this record for the first time. With production from Allen Toussaint and support from the Meters, the city’s preeminent funk ensemble, the album helped establish the terms by which processional second-line music would be commercialized through the record industry and the tourist trade, setting into motion a historical process that has raised more questions than it has answered about authenticity and appropriation under the conditions of a new cultural economy.