The union of 7th and 9th Ward Indian gangs makes Mardi Gras Indian music sound fresh again.

79rs gang photo by greg miles for my spilt milk
Big Chief Romeo and Big Chief Jermaine of 79rs Gang, by Greg Miles

This time last year, I reviewed The 79rs Gang at Jazz Fest: 

In recent years, Mardi Gras Indians have felt like a dead end at Jazz Fest as Indians recreated classic songs with a stronger connection to Treme than Treme. Too often, the songs seemed like obligations performed the way those before them did. 79rs Gang pulled together members of 7th and 9th ward gangs to create the first genuinely funky Mardi Gras Indian band in a long time. The Golden Arrows brought post-Hendrix psychedelic funk to Indian chants when June Yamagishi was in the band and set the template for the Indian band. The 79rs Gang updates the effort with sounds shaped by DJ culture as the core band draws eclectically from funk ideas made to support vocalists. As such, their “Beats Electric” was dubwise, and “Wrong Part of Town” was equal parts threat and party. 

The Indians arrayed across the front of the stage play bass drum and timbales in addition to tambourine, and Jermaine Bossier draws as effectively from hip-hop as he does from decades of Indian vocalizing. The only thing about the group that makes me wonder is that they’ve now recorded twice without the band. Why keep such an asset on the shelf?

The 79rs Gang—Big Chief Romeo and Big Chief Jermaine—return to Jazz Fest Friday at 3 p.m. on the Jazz and Heritage Stage, and we recently caught up with Jermaine Bossier to talk about what’s new with the group.

What’s new for 79rs Gang?

Well we're going on tour this fall season. We did a documentary called Take Me to the River. I think the video we did with DJ Pretty Lights will be a part of the film as well.

Last year, you released a single. Why has it taken so long to get an album out? 

We're working on our new project. We don't have a for-sure date of release. 

We just put more into this project, so it's taking longer. It's coming. 79rs Gang is the wave of Indian music. 

What is essential in Mardi Gras Indian funk? 

In most of our music, keeping the bamboula beat is important. We're going to record with the band really soon. None of that will be traditional. 

What artists or sounds shaped your thinking about how to make your funk sound fresh?

We're really trying to create our own lane. We don't want to sound like everybody else. I think that's one of the worst things we could ever do—sound like everyone else. It's a new wave of music in almost every genre. We the wave. 

Our lead guitar player Catfish is also responsible for our sound. This guy just has that thing, ya know? When he plays,. the words just come together. We try to keep coming with as many new stories as possible. Keep in mind, we never played with Monk or big Bo Dollis like all he rest, so we have to be different to get people to even listen to us.