Song of the Day: 79rs Gang – Drama

Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Today’s song, featured on the Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is “Drama” by 79rs Gang from the 2015 album Fire On The Bayou on Sinking City Records.

79rs Gang – Drama (MP3)

No amount of wind and water can wash away the heritage and pride of New Orleans. Ten years after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, the Crescent City is still a fertile ground of community and creativity. No matter their loss, or maybe because of it, residents of New Orleans cherish their traditions and keep them alive against ever growing threats from the modern world. Jazz, blues and R&B thrive there like nowhere else, as do the lesser known traditions, like those of the Mardi Gras Indians. Named for, or at least based upon the ideas of, the Native Americans who assisted those escaping slavery in Louisiana, Mardi Gras Indians formed localized tribes whose members masked themselves to both celebrate Mardi Gras in times of racial segregation and also to settle scores with members of different groups amid the annual chaos. Over the years, fighting gave way to dancing and elaborate costume making, so that a Big Chief’s feathered suit, which might take a full year of planning and sewing and quite a bit of money to complete, has become his weapon and his song his battle cry. Today, competition still abounds but not so fiercely that the tribes don’t appreciate each other’s work or even collaborate, as with today’s featured artists, 79rs Gang.

With “two different chiefs” and “two different styles”, 79rs Gang combines the talent of two Mardi Gras Indian tribe leaders, Big Chief Jermaine Bossier of 7th Ward Creole Hunters and Big Chief Romeo Bougere of 9th Ward Hunters, who join forces on songs old and new. Today’s featured song, “Drama” is one of their originals and features a classic combo of call and response atop a steady polyrhythm of congas, bottles, handclaps and other percussion. The song itself is like a ward against would-be disrupters or violent offenders to the Mardi Gras festivities (“them boy don’t want no drama”). In the first half, Big Chief Jermaine brags about the prowess of his crew, who are clearly not to be messed with (“play around with my gang / you’ll lose your hat”), while Big Chief Romeo warns in a detailed account about how the Indians catch blame when someone pulls a gun at a parade – i.e. it’s bad news for everyone. It’s gritty reality meets traditional style in this funky modern mix.

Although Jazz Fest has begun in New Orleans, the 79ers Gang aren’t slated to perform. They don’t have any shows scheduled for the near future, but head over to their website in case anything should come up, and check out all of the amazing photos of the Big Chiefs in their Mardi Gras suits. For now, here’s a clip of them performing an extended version of “Drama”, sans costumes, at Louisiana Music Factory during Mardi Gras this year:

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