If you've clicked on this article, it probably means you're preparing for Mardi Gras, otherwise known as Fat Tuesday! Each year, people around the world gather for the events of the Carnival celebration. Often characterized by large parades and elaborate costumes, masks, and beads, Mardi Gras marks the final celebration before the fasting season of Lent.
The biggest Mardi Gras celebration in the U.S. happens in New Orleans, Louisiana. The celebrations in the city occur for two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. In New Orleans, there is usually one major parade each day (weather permitting), and many days have several large parades. Other events include balls, masquerade gatherings, and parties.
Aside from New Orleans, other cities that have notable Mardi Gras celebrations include: Rio de Janeiro; Barranquilla, Colombia; George Town, Cayman Islands; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; Quebec City, Quebec, Canada; and Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico.
Mardi Gras is all about music, parades, picnics, floats and fun. It's one of the most festive holidays there is! So to help you celebrate the holiday, we've compiled 10 of our favorite Mardi Gras songs. We hope they put you in the carnival spirit!
1. "Carnival Time" - Al Johnson
Al "Carnival Time" Johnson (born June 20, 1939, in New Orleans, Louisiana) is an American singer and piano player who literally got his nickname because of this iconic Mardi Gras song. Recorded back in 1960, "Carnival Time" is a jazzy feel-good romp with pure New Orleans soul. It mentions Claiborne Street (a real street within the city), as well as "burning down" the Plaza and drinking some wine with pals. Everybody's havin' fun when this jam plays!
2. "Cassanova" - Rebirth Brass Band
The Rebirth Brass Band is a New Orleans brass group founded in 1983 by Phillip "Tuba Phil" Frazier, his brother Keith Frazier, Kermit Ruffins, and their fellow classmates from Joseph S. Clark Senior High School. The Grammy Award-winning band's most beloved Mardi Gras hit is "Cassanova", which is a blaring, bouncy funk tune that will make you feel like you're walking in a parade. It's essentially an instrumental reworking of LeVert's 1987 song "Casanova", but totally New Orleans-ified.
3. "Mardi Gras Mambo" - The Hawketts
This cute little tune is a fun listen for all ages! Written by Frankie Adams and Lou Welsch, the best known version of "Mardi Gras Mambo" was recorded in 1954 by the Hawketts. Their membership included the legendary Art Neville: a founding member of the Meters and the Neville Brothers. (Two New Orleans-based funk groups.) You'll be sure to shuffle your feet and "Party Gras" to Mardi Gras when you hear this bop!
4. "Hey Pocky A-Way" - The Meters
Speaking of the Meters, this is another thrilling tune often played during Mardi Gras celebrations. Recorded in 1974, "Hey Pocky A-Way" isn't just a Carnival-appropriate jam, but also an important funk standard. The groovy tune has been covered and re-recorded numerous times since its release. The memorable chorus – which allegedly stems from early Native American dialects in the region that would come to cradle New Orleans – has lost most of its linguistic meaning, but none of its emotional acuity. The Grateful Dead’s cover of "Hey Pocky A-Way" popularized this song further, even as members of The Meters went on to join The Neville Brothers later on.
5. "Go To The Mardi Gras" - Professor Longhair
With jubilant piano melodies, snazzy horns, and carefree whistling, "Go To The Mardi Gras" is another festive song that will make you want to book a plane ticket to New Orleans. Like other songs on this list, the snappy tune mentions two real New Orleans street names - St. Claude and Dumaire. (An intersection in the Treme neighborhood that no longer exists, being taken over by Louis Armstrong Park.) It also mentions a "Zulu King" and queen, no doubt being a reference to the the Kingdom of Zululand: a monarchy in Southern Africa.
6. "Do Whatcha Wanna, Pt. 3" - Rebirth Brass Band
Another Rebirth Brass Band song we love! "Do Whatcha Wanna, Pt. 3" is one of those songs you can imagine playing in a smoky ballroom. Sultry, horn-heavy, and very easy to clap along to, this mostly-instrumental tune is tailor-made for any kind of dancy affair. It's even able to sneak some whistle sounds in the mix. We can only imagine the numbers people can choreograph with this pumped-up tune blasting in the background.
7. "Jock-A-Mo" - Sugar Boy and his Cane Cutters
There's no way we couldn't include this beloved R&B classic on our list. It's appropriate for any kind of blues-y celebration, but considering the Mardi Gras mention in one of the choral bits, it's most associated with the festive holiday. The recognizable lyrics in the chorus come from Louisiana Creole. “Ena! Ena! / Akout, akout, an déyè” roughly translates to, “Hey now! Hey now! / Listen, listen at the back”. A merry song for the New Orleans queens dressed in red, indeed.
8. "Street Parade" by Earl King
Earl King asks listeners to clap their hands and shake their tambourines in this groovy party song. "Street Parade" is an exciting listen, but also has a sense of New Orleans chill to it that appeals to any cool cat in the city. Funky brass bedazzles Earl's vocals, which shimmer like the sparkling beads and mask of the Mardi Gras holiday. As King would say, "Street Parade" is a "big time serenade" that will have you moving your hips and lifting your feet off the ground.
9. "Big Chief" - Professor Longhair
Besides "Go To The Mardi Gras", Professor Longhair also has this jazzy instrumental bit that's often played during New Orleans' biggest holiday. Many consider parts 1 and 2 of "Big Chief" to be theme songs of the city itself. The chipper tune certainly captures the hustle, bustle, and hype of The Big Easy. It's also another song that features Longhair's iconic whistle.
10. "My Feet Can't Fail Me Now" by The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
This song begins with a mischievous and hooks you in with hyped-up vocals. "My feet can't fail me now!" a voice repeats over and over as the pace of the tune shows no signs of slowing. The bop has a James Brown feel that appeals to the young and old, and we can't imagine Mardi Gras partying without this earwormy tune to keep us steady.
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Article image: A Mardi Gras festival in New Orleans. (skeeze via Pixabay.)