The Advocate

Cha Wa, a different kind of Mardi Gras Indian band, steps out with ‘Funk ‘n’ Feathers’

But since moving to New Orleans more than a decade ago, Gelini has immersed himself in the culture. He apprenticed with two Mardi Gras Indian institutions, the Wild Magnolias and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. Longtime Wild Magnolias bass drummer Norwood “Geechie” Johnson is a mentor and frequent collaborator.

Cha Wa, the Mardi Gras Indian band Gelini founded, is fronted by two vocalists with deep roots in the Indian community: Big Chief Irving “Honey” Banister of the Creole Wild West, and Monk Boudreaux’s grandson J’Wan Boudreaux, spyboy of the Golden Eagles.

On “Funk ’n’ Feathers,” Cha Wa’s new, debut album, Gelini, Banister, Boudreaux and their bandmates convincingly dig into standards from the Mardi Gras Indian canon. They’ll celebrate the new release Friday at the Blue Nile, augmented by guest guitarists Raja Kassis and Papa Mali.

“It’s about respecting the culture and the music,” Gelini says of his entrée into the Mardi Gras Indian community. “If you’re doing it for those reasons, they’re totally accepting — I would say extraordinarily accepting. There’s no color barrier at all. If you’re there to be part of it for the right reasons, it’s all good.”

Gelini started playing drums at 14. He went off to Berklee in Boston eager to be exposed to as many different types of music as possible. In January 1996, he accompanied his father to New Orleans for a convention. Gelini plunged into the local music scene, visiting the Maple Leaf, Le Bon Temps Roule, the Saturn Bar, Tipitina’s and the Mermaid Lounge.

“The audience was just as much a part of the party as the band was. The entire audience was involved, actively listening, dancing and partying. A seamless line went from the audience to the band. Playing in Connecticut, Boston and New York, I had never seen that before. I had never seen people in a city love the music and the culture that they were a part of so much. I was enthralled.”

On subsequent visits during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival — he skipped finals at Berklee in favor of the festival — he heard the Wild Magnolias. The music was “on another level,” Gelini said. “It felt like a spiritual thing to me, and it still does.”

Back at Berklee, he delved into the Meters, Dr. John and the Neville Brothers. His path was set. After graduation, he moved to New Orleans to be a musician.

He went right to the source — Handa Wanda’s, the Wild Magnolias’ traditional home at Second and Dryades in Central City. He met masters of Mardi Gras Indian music, who welcomed his interest. The first time he played drums with Monk Boudreaux, Gelini nervously asked if the tempo was correct. “He was like, ‘Ain’t no mistakes in Mardi Gras Indian drumming,’ ” Gelini recalled. In other words, “as long as it feels good, it’s cool.”

At Indian practices, “there was certainly a learning curve. I would be up there playing, and sometimes people would look at me with a bit of surprise, like, ‘Oh, he kind of sticks out.’

“But I was so serious about trying to do it the right way. People would go from a look of confusion, to their heads starting to bob. That personifies what it’s been like for me as a total outsider.”

In addition to working with Monk Boudreaux’s band, Gelini joined the Wild Magnolias toward the end of Bo Dollis’ performing life. Gelini produced and played drums on the 2013 release “A New Kind of Funk,” the first Wild Magnolias album to feature Bo’s son, Gerard “Bo Jr.” Dollis, as bandleader.

By then, Gelini already had launched Cha Wa. After years of Indian practices, marching on Mardi Gras and Super Sunday, and playing sporadic gigs with other Indian bands, “I thought the natural next step was to try to put together my own group.”

The early incarnation of Cha Wa included guitarist Colin Lake and Monk’s brother, Yeti Boudreaux. Over the next five years, the roster evolved. J’Wan Boudreaux was only 17 when he joined Cha Wa. Honey Banister’s family history also runs deep: He is the son of Irving Banister Sr., the prolific New Orleans guitarist whose many credits include the original recording of “Jock-a-Mo.”

Cha Wa also generally includes John Fohl and Seizo Shibayama on guitar, Stephen Malinowski on organ, Yoshitaka Tsuji on piano and Devon Taylor on sousaphone and bass. “It’s developed into something that feels really right,” Gelini said. “It’s a very organic feeling when we get onstage. We find a place in the middle that everybody’s comfortable with so that it’s not too formulaic and not too chaotic.”

Galactic saxophonist Ben Ellman produced “Funk ’n’ Feathers.” Ellman was a “great musical coach and a good motivational speaker, too,” Gelini said. Ellman crafted a contemporary production around Cha Wa’s traditional rhythm section of sousaphone and Indian and second-line beats.

For Gelini, it was important to establish Cha Wa’s bonafides with such traditional songs as “Injuns, Here They Come,” “Shallow Water,” “Ooh Na Nay” and “All on a Mardi Gras Day.”

“We didn’t want to stretch away from it too much because ... that’s what we’re good at and what we know. But also because we wanted to establish the basic sound and where the tradition comes from.

“It wouldn’t make much sense if we started to stretch out on our first release and overshoot what we were trying to establish as a freshman band.”

With Cha Wa, “when you stop thinking about how different each element is, it has a commonality. That’s what we’re all striving for.”



Big Chief Irving "Honey" Banister of the Creole Wild West and J'Wan Boudreaux, spy boy of the Golden Eagles and grandson of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, break down their massive, hand-stitched suits — which double in weight once they're soaked in sweat onstage — into separate suitcases every night on the road. The vocalists in Mardi Gras Indian funk outfit Cha Wa "are always sewing," says drummer Joe Gelini.

  "After every show these guys have to hang their stuff up, air it out, wipe it down — they got to repeat the whole thing the next day," Gelini says. "The suits take the highest priority of anything in the luggage."

  Cha Wa released its debut album Funk'N'Feathers April 1, building on the Wild Magnolias' funk and the rhythms from Indian street parades.

  Gelini first met Banister at weekly Indian practices at Handa Wanda's, where Wild Magnolias drummer Norwood "Geechie" Johnson got Gelini up to speed. "He really got me straight. I was a little overconfident for what I thought I could do," Gelini says, laughing. "Geechie was like, 'Hold up. Let me show you how to do it.'"

  As a new Indian band in a genre that has only a few, Cha Wa is challenged with rearranging traditional and seemingly ancient holy music while respecting the culture and invigorating the genre with and for a new generation. Gelini said he hopes "to expose people to Mardi Gras Indian music so they appreciate it as much as I did, but also have a situation where the Indians themselves respect, listen and enjoy it, and we can cross over to audiences that might never have been exposed to Mardi Gras Indians and draw from the funk side of it."

  Cha Wa's diverse lineup on Funk'N'Feathers also includes guitarist John Fohl, Stephen Malinowski on organ, Yoshitaka "Z2" Tsuji on piano and Haruka Kikuchi on trombone. Johnson adds bass drum and backing vocals, and Ellman jumps in with saxophone. Davell Crawford also guests performing his grandfather "Sugar Boy" Crawford's "Jock-a-Mo," and Colin Lake plays lap steel on "Li'l Liza Jane."

  "I think it was really trying to blend the classical nature of it and the contemporary, where our generation's influence comes from," Gelini says. "There's a void in having the traditional rhythms, the street rhythms, in a contemporary production. ... Rhythmically we're keeping the Indian beats, the second line beats, the bamboula beat. ... There's a lot of history there. Why not try to expose people to that?"

  Produced by Galactic's Ben Ellman, Funk'N'Feathers collects a bulk of the Mardi Gras Indian canon, from "Ooh Na Nay" to "Hold 'Em Joe," wrapped in slick production and bursting with live energy.

  On album opener "Injuns, Here They Come," the band builds an atmosphere, first with immersive percussion, then the familar mantra, then swirling organs and funk guitar riffs. Gelini arranged a propulsive "Shallow Water" to pay homage to the psychedelic funk on the Wild Magnolias' early recordings. "When I listen to those old Wild Magnolias records, which are huge influences to me and the rest of the band, there's that vibe," he says. "You got Indian practices, you go on the street on Mardi Gras, on St. Joseph's night, on Super Sunday — it's all vibe. The hair on the back of your neck will stand up."

  That "vibe" carries over onstage — the band doesn't necessarily rehearse songs but learns to speak a common language that Gelini jokes is "100 percent" improvisation.

  "What we've been able to develop, which is what a lot of bands strive for, is the intuitive nature of playing with other musicians," he says. "There's a level of trust we've built playing with each other. Even the mistakes can become super musical."


“We’re really looking forward to it,” Cha Wa founder and drummer Joe Gelini said.

Cha Wa’s core members also include singers and Mardi Gras Indians Irving “Honey” Banister and J’Wan Boudreaux, plus organist Steve Malinowski.

Banister’s and Boudreaux’s roots stretch deeply into New Orleans music and Mardi Gras Indians history.

Banister’s father, Irving Banister Sr., played guitar with classic New Orleans rhythm-and-blues artists Danny White, James “Sugar Boy” Crawford and Eddie Bo. Boudreaux’s grandfather, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, leads the Golden Eagles tribe and performs with the Wild Magnolias. The Magnolias are credited with the convergence of Indian chant and New Orleans funk and R&B.

“Honey” Banister toured with the Wild Magnolias for years, standing alongside Dollis.

“Honey credits Bo with inspiring him to have the energy it takes to put on a great show, no matter what the circumstances,” Gelini said. “I’ve seen Honey perform after having the flu, being sick, you name it. He always brings his A game.”

Cha Wa’s members range in age from 18 (Boudreaux) to the 20s, 30s and up to 50.

“We’ve got young fire,” Gelini said. “We’ve got people in their 30s who are starting to make their mark. We’ve got guys who are part of New Orleans musical royalty.”

A graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Gelini formed Cha Wa in 2010. He named the group after a Mardi Gras Indian phrase that translates to “We’re coming for ya!”

In the first three months of 2015, Cha Wa played several Carnival season shows and gigs in Shreveport, New Mexico, Memphis and, as opening act for the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s sold-out homecoming concert, Jacksonville, Florida.

On May 2, Cha Wa will make its fourth consecutive appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. In July, it will perform at the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games in Toronto.

“I feel so much gratitude for the opportunities that we have now and for the musicians we have in the group,” Gelini said.

Gelini’s father, a professional broadcaster, introduced him to New Orleans during the then-college student’s first winter break from Berklee.

“He said, ‘I want you get off the plane, jump in a cab and say, ‘Take me to Snug Harbor,’” Gelini recalled. “We went to see Ellis Marsalis play. And every night we went out to hear music. I was blown away. The thing that blew me away most was that the audiences were a part of the music. I went to the Maple Leaf Bar and saw people dancing with their entire souls. I had never experienced that before. I said, ‘This is the place where I want to be.’ ”

Gelini moved to New Orleans after graduating from Berklee. A performance with Monk Boudreaux introduced him to Indians music. He loved it. After studying classic Indian recordings, Gelini, taking Boudreaux’s advice, attended Indians practice at Handa Wanda’s on Dryades Street.

“It can be intimidating because it reaches a fever pitch,” Gelini said. “But all of these men were so welcoming to me, once they realized I was there to play and learn.”

Cha Wa singer “Honey” Banister holds court at Handa Wanda’s, leading practices.

“All of the singers get up and challenge each other,” Gelini said. “It’s the real deal.”

Meanwhile, Cha Wa plans to record its first studio album in May.

“We’ve been gigging and honing our skills,” Gelini said. “I was hesitant to release a record earlier, because I want to make something that represents the Indians and New Orleans culture and brings our generation’s voice to the table. I think we’re ready now.”

Living To Listen: Reflections Of A Music Junkie

Good to My Earhole: Bo Dollis, Jr., and The Wild Magnolias’ A NEW KIND OF FUNK


Technically, this record is a 2013 release (it came out last September), but, if’n I get a chance to vote in any record polls in 2014, it’s sure to be in my Top 10. My decision will be justified: it’s on a tiny New Orleans label (One More Time), it’s distributed by CDBaby, it features no mega-stars, it arrived with no hoopla (when I bought my copy at Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans, the very well-seasoned owner couldn’t even get excited about it when I asked about it), and, well, it’s out of New Orleans, the still-fabulous music scene of which may be back in the public eye thanks to Treme but still gets very, very little critical love and mainstream coverage. So: we may as well call it a 2014 release....

In view of both the general lack of consumer and critical attention given to Mardi Gras Indian music and the historical evolution of the subgenre, the record is a very significant one. Bo, Jr. and his producer Joe Gelini have achieved a rare trick: usually, when an artist or producer tries to “rock up” a non-rock genre, the result is a tasteless, unsubtle, desperate aural brew that disappoints everyone involved, specifically including listeners; here, the frequent dabs and splashes of guitar crunch, supplied by St. Louisan Mike Zito and Brothers’ son Devon Allman, are nicely accompanied by deftly mixed and soulfully played dobro, fiddle, piano, and horns (none familiar aspects of the subgenre), as well as the usual funky percussion and tambourine. The intelligence and touch behind the conception, playing, and production, best exemplified by the Dollis’ opening “We Come to Rumble,” makes A New Kind of Funk the best chance yet for Mardi Gras Indian music to jump off the island of esoterica onto the mainland of Americana. That is, if the project had more commercial and media support behind it–a guy can dream. Also, Dollis’ decision to weave in his own originals and Indian-style covers of classic New Orleans jazz (“Tootie Ma,” “Little Liza Jane”), r&b (“Hey Now, Baby” featuring fine Professor Longhair-style piano from Tom Worrell), and soul (a not-entirely-successful “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky”) with traditional battle cries like “Fire Water Big Chief Got Plenty” and “Hell Out the Way” pays off big in two ways, appealing honestly to outside fans as well as expertly connecting four Crescent City musical traditions–and helping to keep the music in a state of evolution.

A New Kind of Funk is an exciting, spirited, and various set that deserves much more attention than it likely will get, and it comes at a time when the tribes are struggling to keep that ever-infernal “younger generation” interested in their rich history of exuberant and stylish resistance. If the kids followed that history back to mid-1800s Congo Square, where it started, they might just discover it is the wellspring of theirmusic. And, oldsters, you might find it’s also the wellspring of yours. If you do buy this album, and like it, please please please go right on ahead (or back, I should say) to The Wild Magnolias and The Wild Tchoupitoulas. You will feel the fire of a sound that’s kept folks off their knees for a long, long time.



02 January 2013 — by Zachary Young  

“I can’t sing like I used to sing, but I’m-a try one more thing,” sang Bo Dollis Sr. before the launching into the chorus of “Hey Now Baby (One More Time)” during a December 18 session at Nola Recording Studios in Mid-City.The recording will make its way onto Bo Dollis Jr.’s debut record as a leader, scheduled for release at Jazz Fest 2013. “Hey Now Baby” also marks the first time that Bo Dollis Sr. and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux have recorded together in over a decade. 

 OffBeat‘s Zachary Young had a word with Monk and Bo Jr. at Nola Studios during the session, as well as with producer/drummer Joe Gelini. Listen up by heading to the following links.

 Bo Dollis Jr. Interview

 Joe Gelini Interview

 Big Chief Monk Boudreaux Interview

Photos courtesy of Golden G. Richard, III.



Offbeat Magazine's JAZZ FEST FOCUS: CHA WA


Drummer Joe Gelini was playing with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux during Super Sunday 2010 when something caught his ear. “I heard this voice that was so commanding, this big, booming, rhythmic voice,” he says. It belonged to Mardi Gras Indian singer Eric “Yedi” Boudreaux. “Yedi and I started playing together in the street. It just felt so natural.”

The result was Cha Wa. “We start out with the traditional Mardi Gras Indian call-and- response music that you hear in the streets,” says Gelini. “Some of these songs have been played traditionally for over a 100 years. We weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but we were trying to do our own version, which is inspired by our love of the music.” He cites the Wild Magnolias, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles, and the Wild Tchoupitoulas as influences.

In their live shows, Cha Wa is all about building a groove. “It’s really about using dynamics, about being able to build things up then break it down,” says Gelini. “To be able to have tension and release even though you’re keeping the same repetitive rhythm or form.” Lake’s lap steel is one of the most distinctive parts of Cha Wa’s sound. “He infuses a little more blues into it than the normal funk approach,” Gelini adds.“For me the exciting thing is this band is so young. We’re really just getting started.”

Jams Plus Media

10-07-11 Alvin Youngblood Hart’s Muscle Theory and North Mississippi Allstars, Tipitina’s Uptown, NOLA

New Orleans is guaranteed to be a great place for live music, and Tipitina’s Uptown is one of the most renowned small venues in town.  The wide open floor and upstairs overlooking balcony make for an intimate music hall built for gettin’ down.  Tipitina’s was ready to rock when Alvin Youngblood Hart took the stage and began strumming his guitar.  A slinky-smooth groove worked its way off the stage and got the crowd warmed up.  What followed was a hard-rockin’ set full of energy.  Alvin’s soulful voice and soaring guitar are perfect for dancing enjoyment.  The deeply resonant bass playing of Bill Blok, and the skillful sharp drumming of Joe Gelini provide a solid soundscape for Alvin to accentuate.  The Muscle Theory lineup of Hart, Blok, and Gelini is a strong combination, and was a great way to start the evening!