You may have seen them onstage behind Gerard "Lil' Bo" Dollis during Sunday night Mardi Gras Indian practices at Handa Wanda's at Second and Dryades streets. You might have caught them playing percussion with Big Chief Roddy and the Black Eagles on Fat Tuesday. The Indian Rhythm Section (IRS) is ubiquitous on Uptown streets and has been running around those neighborhoods "since we were doing small jazz parades beating on cardboard boxes," says Eric "Yetti" Boudreaux.
IRS began as a bunch of kids following the Mardi Gras Indians in Central City. "We all lived in the Calliope projects and followed Big Chief Percy Lewis of the Black Eagles playing on drums," explains Boudreaux (brother of Mardi Gras Indians Monk and Larry Boudreaux). "After a while we started doing Indian practices with the Wild Magnolias, the Black Eagles and the White Cloud Hunters. Then we formed the band and called it the IRS."
The rhythms of Mardi Gras Indian music are distinct and have their own syncopation. "You have to go from what the singer is singing and go with him," Boudreaux says. "We do a different beat, whether it's the Spy Boy, Flag Boy or Big Chief. Some songs are fast, and some are slow. Some songs have a meaning to what you're singing, and some songs you sing straight out of your head singing about what you know has been happening on the street. You have to be organized and on that beat, or it sounds shitty."
As part of a living culture, the music evolves as well. "It used to be just tambourines and congas," Boudreaux says. "Now they've got bass drum and cowbell. The beat changes, and the songs change as the people change. You've got to keep the groove and listen to what the singer is saying and what he is singing about. Otherwise you're beating about nothing."
mardi gras indian rhythm section 11:30 A.m. friDAY, may 2 | JAZZ & HERITAGE Stage
- Cheryl Gerber
- The Mardi Gras Indian Rhythm Section grew out of Indian practice events and years of marching with Uptown tribes.