79rs Gang breathes life back into live music

Clara Lacey , Senior Staff Reporter

the 79rs gang on stage at the broadside
The 79rs Gang brought energy and excitement to The Broadside. (Clara Lacey)

Last Thursday, April 1, the 79rs Gang took the stage at The Broadside with an energized performance of their full-length album “Expect The Unexpected.” With the album released last summer when the pandemic had shut down live music across the country, the group had not been able to perform new music with their signature modernized Mardi Gras Indian sound until now. With lots of audience participation and dancing at the socially distanced outdoor venue, New Orleanians celebrated the return of the band’s live shows and groovy music.

The duo, comprised of Big Chief Romeo Bougere of the 9th Ward Hunters and Big Chief Jermaine Bossier of the 7th Ward Creole Hunters, banded together to form the 79rs gang in 2013, putting aside territorial differences for the common goal of continuing and expanding Mardi Gras Indian musical traditions. Their second album with Sinking City Records blends together traditional chants and instruments with sounds of hip-hop, rap, electronic and dance music. It features unexpected collaborators like Arcade Fire’s Win Butler, LCD Soundsystem’s Korey Richey, Haitian music collective Lakou Mizik and Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Nicholas Payton. 

After an opening act from hip-hop beatmaker Seprock, Bougere and Bossier took the stage with their band and a fully dressed Mardi Gras Indian who brought the traditional cultural vibrancy to the show. Though the album itself is phenomenal and fun, this music is meant to be performed and heard live with the lively energy of the stage and audience exchange. Songs like “79rs Bout To Blow” and “Brand New Day” opened the show with a hip-hop rhythm and voice as well as eclectic instruments, chants and beats sure to get people moving. Other tracks like “Culture Vulture” and a shorter acapella song “History” speak insightfully and honestly to the history of Mardi Gras Indians and the experience of New Orleanians, with deep and reflective lyrics infused with catchy beats. 

At one point before the song “Stop The Water,” which expresses the traumatic experience of Hurricane Katrina, Bougere spoke about his desire to have his grandmother sing the chant prayer in the track. Unfortunately, his grandmother passed away before she was able to do so, but the haunting and soulful waves of chant and prayer in the song remain powerful and continue the musical storytelling tradition of Mardi Gras Indians. In this way, the 79rs Gang impressively updates the music while still staying steadfast to tradition. Many of the chanted call-and-response lyrics and instruments like bass drum, cowbell, cymbals, tambourines and handclaps in their songs come from traditional chants and sounds of Mardi Gras Indians who have for 100 years masked in beautifully elaborate handsewn suits while chanting to call on ancestors and warn others to stay away. With new hip-hop styles, the 79rs Gang brings Mardi Gras Indian music to ears unfamiliar with it alongside the culture it is intrinsically tied to.

Throughout their performance, the founding duo Bossier and Bourgere interacted with the crowd from the stage with an exciting stage presence and passion that made even the meekest of audience members dance in their seats and contribute to call-and-response songs. With music quite unlike anything else and solidarity between these Chief musicians, the 79rs Gang delivered an electrifying performance grounded in Mardi Gras Indian roots yet accessible in its modern push of the musical form. As live music continues in New Orleans and more venues open up, you can expect to see more performances from 79rs Gang soon.