Mardi Gras in New Orleans is not simply a day, nor just a weekend of crazy parades. Mardi Gras is a season, perhaps even a lifestyle, that officially begins on January 6th, known as Twelfth Night. On this date, it is acceptable to eat your first piece of king cake, a Mardi Gras staple, and everyone prepares for many weeks of parades and general revelry. As we approach the end of Mardi Gras season, here’s a playlist of songs that are often blasted along the Mardi Gras parade routes. They don’t necessarily make sense together, but what fun would it be if Mardi Gras made sense? Whether they’re coming from speakers on the parade floats, from the instruments of local bands, or playing as the soundtrack for our famous dance teams, these songs are a compilation of the sounds of Mardi Gras, as well as a mini love letter to my quirky home city:
1.“Do Whatcha Wanna” by Rebirth Brass Band
If I had to pick a song that sounds like how Mardi Gras feels, this would be it. It is upbeat, jovial, gratifyingly brassy, but still a bit lazy. Although Rebirth Brass Band, one of New Orleans’ most iconic music groups, is no longer playing together, you’ll hear this song played by bands marching in between huge parade floats.
2. “N.O. Bounce” by Big Freedia
Oh, Big Freedia. What can be said about this absolute legend? Before she was featured on Drake songs (without recognition, may I add?) and performing with Kesha, she was leading the scene in New Orleans bounce music. Every dance team in New Orleans has choreography to “N.O Bounce.”
3. “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” by Professor Longhair
This song gives the best advice: “If you go to New Orleans, you ought to go see the Mardi Gras.” Professor Longhair is arguable one of the most important musicians in New Orleans history. His legacy lives on in Tipitina’s, a famous music venue in New Orleans, that keeps Professor Longhair’s musical style alive. You’ll hear this song blasted from the speakers of a parade float while you avoid getting hit in the face with beads.
4. “Choppa Style” by Choppa
It isn’t a Mardi Gras season without showing the New Orleans Saints some love, no matter what the NFL refs decided for our season. Choppa is a New Orleans rapper, known mainly for his hit “Choppa Style” that became the Saints’ unofficial team song. The only thing that can make a Saints fan smile more than watching the Saints dance to “Choppa Style” is getting to jam to it themselves on the parade route.
5. “Back That Azz Up” by Juvenile, Lil Wayne, and Mannie Fresh
A fun fact! Lil Wayne is originally from New Orleans! “Back That Azz Up” is not necessarily Mardi Gras related, but all of the dance teams make sure to feature it in their song lineup. There is nothing quite like watching everyone, from young kids all the way up to grandparents, back it up in unison.
6. “Throw Me Something, Mister” by Buckwheat Zydeco
The most commonly heard phrase on the parade route is “throw me something, mister!” Although begging for beads is not necessary, “throw me something, mister” is one of the first sentences young New Orleanians learn.
7. “Iko Iko” by Dr. John
In all honesty, I have no idea what this song is about or what Dr. John is saying. The lyrics of this song are a mystery originating from very old Mardi Gras history and voodoo, but it is still played today. It’s a fun song, and Dr. John is a New Orleans icon with a classic New Orleans accent, so it must be included.
8. “Jambalaya” by Tab Benoit
This song is one that New Orleanians and Louisianans from outside of the city share. Sure, Mardi Gras is best known in the country for its celebrations in New Orleans,, but Mardi Gras is celebrated all over Louisiana. Although New Orleans is not on the bayou, we love our neighbors that are, and “Jambalaya” is the perfect way to celebrate them.
9. “All On a Mardi Gras Day” by The Wild Magnolias
While Mardi Gras is definitely considered a season, it is still at its core a celebration leading up to the big day. Mardi Gras, as the last day before lent, is the big finale, and this song celebrates the reason for the season. This is a song you let loose to before the chance passes you by.
10. “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” by Louis Armstrong
Ok, I will be honest, this is not a song you will hear during Mardi Gras. Perhaps I am a bit biased, but New Orleans is a very special city, and Mardi Gras is its prime. Although you won’t hear this emotional song played on the jovial streets, this song represents the current that flows through New Orleans at all times. It only takes one visit to understand what it means to miss New Orleans, so we better make the most of it while we’re here.
Image Credits: Jacob Bilich