The fascinating history and musical culture of the Mardi Gras Indians

Rob Bowman has been writing professionally about R&B, rock, country, jazz and gospel for close to 50 years.

Nominated for six Grammy Awards, he won in 1996 in the category of best album notes for a 47,000-word monograph he penned to accompany a 10-CD box set that he also co-produced: The Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles, Vol. 3: 1972–1975. In total, Bowman has produced, compiled and/or written liner notes for more than 250 records. He’s also the author of Soulsville, U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records.

For a number of years, he’s served on the blues committee for the Juno Awards, as well as a number of Grammy committees.  He’s also written part of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony program for the past 22 years, typically penning the essays for blues, soul and funk inductees including Buddy Guy, the Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes and Prince.

Among the artists Bowman has interviewed extensively over the past 40 years are Bob Marley, Robbie Robertson, the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Funkadelic, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Pink Floyd, Buddy Guy, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, Al Green, Santana, Mavis Staples, Booker T. & The M.G.’s, Jerry Garcia, Smokey Robinson and Jackie Shane.

He is known as “Canada’s rock ‘n’ roll professor,” having pioneered popular music studies in the country beginning in 1979 at York University.

It’s quite a resumé.

Bowman joined us in the Gumbo Kitchen to talk about his career, but also to engage in an in-depth discussion of the cultural origins and history of the Mardi Gras Indians tradition of New Orleans.

One of the most mysterious and colourful facets of New Orleans culture, the tradition dates back to the 1800s when Native Americans helped shield runaway slaves. Consequently, the vibrant suits, lively dances and rhythmic music are influenced by both ancestral enslaved Africans and their historical friendship with Native Americans. Today, the Mardi Gras Indians comprise more than 40 tribes made up of members of the city’s Black communities.

Listen below as Bowman discusses the fascinating history and tradition of the Mardi Gras Indians.


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