On Mardi Gras Day, off-the-tourist-beaten path, you can find one of the most colorful and spectacular sights this city has to offer…the Mardi Gras Indians!

A large part of New Orleans, including Carnival, is steeped in African roots.  Fill your calendar this week sampling the African influences on New Orleans arts and culture.  This subject matter is so vast, perhaps overwhelming.  Please consider this is a blog, providing snippets (I repeat snippets!) of information about African roots that hopefully will encourage you to get Out and About in New Orleans.

If you’ve been getting out and about, as advised, then you’ve discovered Mardi Gras Indians, baby dolls, and New Orleans R&B.  Keep your eye out for the documentary “All on a Mardi Gras Day” that focuses on black Mardi Gras in New Orleans and which airs on PBS this time of year.  Mardi Gras Indians are a big part of Mardi Gras in the African American community and this documentary.

Now it’s time to get a little more personal with these elements of African Roots in New Orleans.  On Thursday, visit the Ogden Museum of Southern Art for their Ogden After Hours concert series.  This week it features 101 Runners plus the opening of the exhibit “Well-Suited: The costumes of Alonzo Wilson for the HBO Series Treme”.  The Well Suited exhibit features Indian suits made specifically for the HBO series GTreme.

Tonight, the 101 Runners (funk from the streets of New Orleans) will have their rhythm section joined by War Chief Juan Pardo of the Golden Commanche Mardi Gras Indian Gang.  Juan is a spectacular vocalist and performer whom will add to the depth of your MG Indian experience.  Not to mention that the museum will be hosting a best king cake quest as well.  Their will be about a dozen different king cakes to sample.  Eat, enjoy and vote for your favorite.

On Friday, delve into some African roots at the weekly Marketplace at Armstrong Park.  This weekly gathering features fresh produce, baked goods, Louisiana seafood, arts, crafts, and entertainment.  It is located adjacent to historic Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park.  In the 17 & 18 hundreds, the Congo Square market took place on Sundays, and was an opportunity for slaves and free people of color to gather.

Essentially, this Sunday Marketplace is the reason New Orleans maintains such rich cultural connection to Africa and the Caribbean. (check out the Freddi Evans book “Congo Square: African Roots New Orleans”.)

Breaking news, it looks like the market may be on hiatus until February.  Awaiting confirmation from their Facebook page.  You may want to do the same.  Nonetheless, if you find yourself in that neighborhood, then you ought to continue your “research” on Mardi Gras Indian culture by a visit to the Golden Feather Restaurant Gallery featuring a display of MG Indian suits and foods of Congo Square.

What are foods of Congo Square?  That would be foods with an African influence such as gumbo, okra, smothered fish with those aromatic African spices that are uniquely New Orleans.  Better call in advance for details.  In fact, I offer that caveat for anything associated with Mardi Gras Indians.  Another way to say that would be, all information subject to change.

Don’t let that deter you!!!

Now, don’t miss one of the first bands to back a Mardi Gras Indian chief, The Nevilles!  The Neville Brothers backed their uncle, Big Chief Jolly, in the 1970’s and since then have become the first family of New Orleans music.  Aaron is now focusing on his solo career and no longer sings with the band.  That just leaves more room for the big grooves of Papa Funk, Art Neville.

The Nevilles will fire it up and burn it down at Tipitina’s this Saturday night.  For the uninitiated, this is a most see concert!!! THE NEVILLES … AT TIPS!  No puede ser mejor!!

After this throw-down, be certain that you get yourself out of bed before the sun sets Sunday so that you can once again get out and about. This time to check out a Mardi Gras Indian practice.  In a nutshell, Mardi Gras Indian gangs practice their “song and dance routines” every Sunday from Thanksgiving until Fat Tuesday.  Each gang practices at a different neighborhood bar.  You can roll from practice to practice starting about 5 PM until late into the night. (However, that is best done with an experienced native.)

One practice that starts early and does not take you too deep in the ‘hood is Big Chief Peppy and the Golden Arrows.  Peppy runs a very good practice, usually with a strong percussion presence, and he has such a very distinct singing voice.  Peppy practices at 1700 Louisiana Avenue starting around 5:30 PM on Sunday. If you wanted to roll to another practice, you will surely find the information available from a fellow patron or one of the gang members.

Mardi Gras is still a few weeks away but the parading has already begun.  Get your dancin’ shoes on and hit the streets…

Every thing lovely,

Out and About is a weekly blog by Leslie Compton of Every Thing Lovely, a special event and creative consulting team, and is sponsored by Key to NOLA Properties, a full service real estate brokerage firm specializing in furnished rental properties in New Orleans. Key to NOLA Properties and Every Thing Lovely have joined forces to provide a full array of services for travelers’ (and locals’) personal and professional needs while in the Crescent City.