Behind the splendid theater and music of the Mardi Gras Indian parade lies a turbulent history: both the legacy of American slavery and segregation that birthed the unique New Orleans tradition and the internecine conflicts that marked its early days, after it took shape in the 1800s to honor the bond between Native Americans and Black Americans in their distinct but entwined struggles against white oppression.
In this context, it was a significant moment when Big Chief Romeo Bougere of the 9th Ward Hunters and Big Chief Jermaine Bossier of the 7th Ward Creole Hunters, who had a personal rivalry to match that of their krewes, joined musical forces as 79rs Gang. After announcing their reconciliation-minded Mardi Gras Indian music to the world in 2014 with their debut album, Fire on the Bayou, they elevated it to another level of pop panache on the 2020 breakout Expect the Unexpected.
The duo teamed with producer Eric Heigle, who plays in the contemporary Cajun band Lost Bayou Ramblers and has worked on records by Arcade Fire. Heigle added sleek, zooming electronic production to 79rs Gang’s supple, singsong fusion of parade chants, drumlines, and hip-hop, drawing in collaborators such as LCD Soundsystem’s Korey Richey, Arcade Fire’s Win Butler, and trumpeter Nicholas Payton. The result is a danceable, dexterous popular watermark for a celebrated but guarded cultural form for which 79ers Gang are the best ambassadors since The Wild Magnolias in the 1970s.