Mardi Gras Indians, the African-American revelers known for their elaborate Native American-influenced attire, have paraded the streets of New Orleans since at least the mid-19th century. Their musical origins took root over a century ago, evolving from rhythmic chants and primitive percussion to a sound that blends African and Caribbean traditions with modern funk. The compilation Best of New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians offers an overview of this vibrant culture, featuring songs about the joy of music ("Hey Pocky Away"), the tribe member responsible for choosing the parade route ("Big Chief"), and of course the creation of those ornately detailed ensembles ("Sew, Sew, Sew"), performed by classic artists like Bo Dollis and Monk Boudreaux's musically inclined tribe Wild Magnolias, as well as emerging artists like Hundred & One Runners. Some opportunities are missed -- Boudreaux's 2000s tribe affiliation, Golden Eagles, and the Meters-Indians amalgamation the Wild Tchoupitoulas, are not included, and iconic songs that have crossed over from Mardi Gras Indians culture into popular music ("Iko Iko," "Jockomo," "Oops Upside Your Head") as well as more traditional tunes ("Herc-Jolly-John," "Meet De Boys on de Battlefront," "Yella Pocahontas") don't appear here -- but listeners looking for an introduction to this unique American tradition will be off to a good start.
AllMusic Review by Chrysta Cherrie