Big Chief Monk Boudreaux – Won’t Bow Down
18th July 2011 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
Mardi Gras Indian chants often tell the history of the gangs and their experiences, encounters and battles on the streets. On Monk Boudreaux’s latest album, Won’t Bow Down, the renowned Big Chief of the Golden Eagles makes it more personal with many of the tunes offering insights about his life as both a Black Indian and a man. Monk celebrates the release of his CD on Saturday, July 23, 2011, at d.b.a.
Boudreaux credits the album’s producer Keven Brennan for the disc’s biographical theme. “He said, ‘Monk, let’s do some of that stuff that you be doing at your house all the time – that you’d be talking about,’” the Big Chief remembers.
The opening song, “Monk’s Mardi Gras,” begins much like a book might with Boudreaux in his clear voice speaking over the sound of drums: “Yeah, go back to when I was a kid, daddy wakin’ up at the break of dawn. He say he had to go and carry on.” The tune then jumps into the funk complete with horns and the provocative keyboards of Dr. John plus the repeated refrain, “Here comes Big Chief Monk.”
It was Monk’s father, Raymond, who was a member of the Creoles and Wild Squatoolas Mardi Gras Indian gangs, who introduced him to the culture. However Boudreaux didn’t mask with his dad. At age 12 he became the Second Spyboy for the White Eagles that was then led by the noted Big Chief Lawrence Fletcher. The gang changed its name to the Golden Eagles in 1962 and Monk took over as chief in the early 1970s. Remarkably, his father, who had left the tradition, came back to join Monk as his Second Chief in the Golden Eagles.
On the disc, Boudreaux pays tribute to his mother, who passed away last year, on the gently poetic “Mama’s Song” on which he’s joined by vocalist Jaqueline Hudson.
“She never did no sewing,” Monk says of his mother. “I don’t believe she wanted to get into that part of it. She prepared food for us. Every Mardi Gras, every St. Joseph’s Night she’d cook for us and feed hundreds of people. That’s where I get the cooking from.”
Monk’s passion for cooking, especially around Mardi Gras time, is the topic of “Footsteps,” a light-hearted number with its title referring to those hungry friends lingering around his door. One can almost see him smiling when he says, “Gettin’ ready to put that gator in the pot…”
“I can cook just about anything,” he proudly exclaims. “Every holiday I cook and give big yard parties and people come around and enjoy themselves.”
Boudreaux has always had an affinity for reggae and has often infused the style in his live and recorded performances. Backed by the Los Angeles group Orgone, the beauty of Monk’s voice, which encompasses the Jamaican flavor of his idol Bob Marley, is perfectly set off by the sway and emotion of “Don’t Take My Flag Down.” He explains that when he was a kid, flags identifying a gang used to hang in front of the bars where they would hold their practices. So the song’s title represents an old Indian saying as well as expressing the post-Katrina promise of coming home.
He turns to reggae again to tell a true story about his childhood on his poignant “Education.”
“I’ve been holding it in for a really long time,” Monk Boudreaux says of writing about a principal who made him repeat the fifth grade for three years following the transfer of him and other students from a school that had closed.
“The principal didn’t want us in the school and he made it known,” Boudreaux explains with bitterness remaining in his voice. “Every time he saw me he’d just grab me by the ear and put me under a desk. The song tells the whole story. I never told anybody about that. You know it’s not the kids all of the time,” Monk adds in the hopes that in telling his tale he might help out a child who has been undeservedly labeled as bad.
On “Don’t Run Me Down,” a hard-hitting funk tune Monk wrote for this CD, the Big Chief sings in an atypical angry tone, “Mardi Gras morning is a holiday… I didn’t do no crime.” He’s making reference to Carnival Day 2010 when, before the sun set, members of the New Orleans Police Department converged on him, Big Chief Bo Dollis as well as other Indians and folks gathered to observe their rituals on the corner of Second Street and Dryades, a longtime Black Indian meeting place. With sirens wailing, the police’s aim was to disperse the crowd, showing no respect for the Mardi Gras Indian culture.
“It’s like the things that are going on now used to go on back in the 1950s and ’60s when the police used to run the Indians down and put them in jail,” Boudreaux explains. “That’s until a judge told them not to bring the Indians back there because this is their tradition. It really upsets me because all of this was over with and now it’s coming back.”
Monk gets back into the funk and fun on the remake of his signature tune “Lightning and Thunder,” the title cut of his 1988 Rounder Records release. That edition, recorded in the Golden Eagles’ regular practice spot, the H&R Bar, was raw in its approach. Some 23 years later, Monk beefs it up with a full band and a hefty electric guitar plus a rap by his 25-year-old son. The Big Chief was successfully in bringing “Lightning and Thunder” to modern times without sacrificing the significance of the deep eye of the storm.
That eye, that core is the remarkable Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, an Indian of great stature, a musician of true talent and man of goodwill that, as the title of this moving CD announces, Won’t Bow Down.
This article was originally published in the July 18, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper