But before I start with those, let’s take a brief look at the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans. These are African Americans who have formed gangs that dress in truly wild Indian costumes and whose songs are full of fighting words. Unlike the songs in the previous two posts, here the Indians are neither martyrs nor laughing stocks--instead they’re proud warriors. And unlike Outkast, the Mardi Gras Indians take great care and pride in dressing like Indians. I’m posting the Wild Magnolias’ “Two Way Pak E Way,” my favorite song from their 1974 self-titled LP (which, curiously, is still in print but not on CD). I suppose there’s not a world of difference between the Mardi Gras Indians and Adam and the Ants, except for the fact that the former have been around a whole lot longer. But let’s consider some history for a moment. About two hundred years ago Louisiana slaves escaped to Western Florida and joined the Seminoles in battling the white man. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to call the Mardi Gras Indians their descendants.
Now in case you were wondering whether Outkast’s “Hey Ya” has any real Indian basis, here’s a traditional Navajo Mocassin Game Song, “Cicada or Locust Song,” recorded in 1933 at the Chicago Century of Progress Exposition. Here’s a gorgeous Creek lullaby, sung by a young woman named Margaret, recorded for the Library of Congress in 1943. And here’s Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Cree, singing a rousing version of the traditional Cree call “Isketayo Sewow” in the late 1960s. These songs are as authentic as you can get.
Now for a real treat, especially for you folks who enjoy rarities. I here post three versions of Jim Pepper’s “Witchi Tai To,” a pop arrangement of a Kaw peyote chant. Here is the rousing original version recorded by Jim Pepper’s band Everything Is Everything (1969) on their self-titled Vanguard LP. Here is the hit recorded by Harpers Bizarre the same year--but please note, this is the real version from the LP, not the atrocious digital remaster. This has to be one of the most gorgeous recordings ever made. And lastly, from Jim Pepper’s 1971 LP Pepper’s Pow Wow, here’s the original chant, as it probably sounded when chanted by Kaw Indians. Pepper was an Indian descended from the Kaw and Creek tribes, and on Pepper’s Pow Wow he performed traditional, jazz, and pop versions of traditional Indian songs, accompanied by his relatives. (He also performed a couple of songs by Peter LaFarge, the subject of our next post.)
There have been any number of American Indian songwriters and performers. The jazz singer Lee Wiley was part Indian, so I’m posting her 1954 version of Rodgers & Hart’s “Give It Back to the Indians.” Link Wray was also part Indian, and his song “Days Before Custer” (1971), here sung by Mordicai Jones (from Jones’s self-titled LP), is one of my favorites. Other Indian performers and groups include Blackfoot, Rita Coolidge, Redbone, Robbie Robertson, and John Trudell. There's a very informative article about contemporary American Indian pop music here, written by Neal Ullestad.
But the greatest Indian songwriter--the one who wrote most perceptively about Indians and their plight--has to be Peter LaFarge, the subject of my next post. Watch for it in the next few days.
P.S. Thanks to David Scott for the "Witchi Tai To" files.