On "Carnival Caravan," Nation Beat and Cha Wa team up to merge New Orleans' Carnival with Brazil's Carnaval.
The isolation that insulated New Orleans’ music for so long died with the Internet. If someone in Salt Lake City wants to know what’s going on here, they can find out instantly with Periscope and almost as quickly through YouTube, Instagram, Vine, Facebook and Twitter. We’re not alone in this. The only truly solitary places left in America are those with limited Internet access. That means New Orleanians are now part of the country and the world in a way that we haven’t been before. Generally, I think that’s a good thing, but not always.
I’m excited by the possibility that New Orleans musicians are now part of a national community, but when the result is Carnival Caravan by Nation Beat featuring Cha Wa, the thrill is easily contained. Nation Beat is an American group that specializes in Brazilian maracatu drumming and New Orleans’ second line rhythms, so on paper this five-song EP sounds like a good idea—Carnival meets Carnaval as played by knowledgeable fans of both sounds. Unfortunately, the EP mashes up of styles in ways that highlight the least interesting elements of each. The second line lacks grit and there’s no heat in the Brazilian drums. Each track seems sanitized, and rather than integrate Nation Beat’s influences, it organizes them. Songs start on a Brazilian track, then segue into something from the Mardi Gras Indian canon, then they might repeat the process. The chance to hear an Indian chief genuinely join Brazilian Carnival music was missed, as was the chance to add new percussion and beats to New Orleans street music. None of it seems particularly contemporary or fetishistically faithful.
Over time, we’ll hear New Orleans elements in others’ music, and the results will succeed or fail for the same reasons that most music succeeds or fails—artistic nerve and imagination. Who can conceive of something interesting and follow the idea to the end? Sadly, Carnival Caravan is an opportunity squandered