December 25, 2006

The influence of "black Indians"

Mardi Gras Indians struggle to survivePost-Katrina, it has become commonplace to lament the decline of New Orleans' distinctive character. But nothing cuts closer to the soul of this city's culture—or the origins of American music—than the endangered art and ceremony of the Mardi Gras Indians.

Though little-known to the public at large, because it operates mostly outside New Orleans' official arts and entertainment districts, black Indian culture has helped shape the course of American music.

Jazz musicians from Jelly Roll Morton to Wynton Marsalis have evoked their chants. New Orleans icons such as Dr. John and the Neville Brothers have performed and popularized their songs. Uncounted bands have covered their most famous melody, "Iko Iko."

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