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On the Saturday preceding the Courir de Mardi Gras years ago, I found myself winding through an early-morning street party towards the sound of an accordion ringing out bright and tinny from a tiny nearby bar.
But this kind of pre-noon merriment isn’t just a Carnival-specific happening.
“Handa Wanda,” the first single by the Wild Magnolias, came out in 1970.
Its follow-up, the first full-length Mardi Gras Indian funk album — with drumming, backing vocals and beadwork for the cover art by Big Chief Monk Boudreaux — was released in 1974 on the Polydor label.
As master accordion maker and Cajun music expert Marc Savoy writes, “[Cajun music] is a people’s music that expresses…an entire cultural history. It makes no difference if the songs are in a language that the rest of the world can’t understand.
What they do understand and connect with is the rhythm of life this music possesses.” Stumbling out of Fred’s that day, squinting and blinking in the harsh light of the sun, the band played on as I wandered into the crowd of revelers, singing along quietly to myself: It was in the late ’60s that Quint Davis first heard Theodore Emile “Bo” Dollis singing.
Davis was also a fan of keyboardist Willie Tee, who’d had several R&B hits — notably “Teasin’ You” — in the mid-’60s.
Davis booked Tee, who would soon form the seminal New Orleans funk band the Gaturs, to play a show alongside Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias on Tulane’s campus.
It’s been the topic of a 2008 PBS documentary, a 2017 New York Times article and photo essay, and certainly plenty of good-natured arguments between Alabamians and Louisianans over the decades.
Some parades throw rubber dog poops to their crowds. The King of Barkus is traditionally a purebred, with papers and lineage and all that fancy dog show stuff. The temporary emergency “shelters” back then were, in large part, death factories. Meredith was out in Acadiana helping with pet rescues when she spotted Biscuit on the euthanasia line. She had a soft, beautiful mane, the looks of a yellow Lab, a spirited disposition and the most magical eyes you’ll ever see. She taught me a long time ago when we used to cuddle ourselves to sleep together that life is bigger than me. Enter Cocktail & Sons, a New Orleans-based maker of sugar syrups designed for cocktails and developed by Max Messier and his wife and business partner, Lauren Myerscough.
But instead of a bunch of masquerading rich folks tossing baubles and beads from floats to the crowds assembled in the streets below, Barkus is a gathering of costumed four-legged friends trundling through the streets of the French Quarter and generally making a spectacle of themselves. During those frantic times, nobody had the means, time, energy or money to actually save all those pets. But she’s still my spirit dog, the one with the omniscient eyes, incandescent stare, indefatigable mischief and uncompromising loyalty. They also require quality mixers, bitters and syrups.
A pinprick of a town with no more than 3,500 residents, Mamou has become a touchstone for all things fiddle-and-accordion, and a destination point for visitors from around the globe.
After all, it isn’t called the “Cajun Music Capital of the World” for nothing.