Since the early '90s, New Orleans band Galactic has seamlessly traversed various genres: Jazz, Funk, Electronica, Fusion and Hip Hop. Galactic’s 2010 release, Ya-Ka-May, celebrated this fact by likening the group’s musical palette to a New Orleans dish that combines NOLA soul food with other cultural flavors. Their latest release, Carnivale Electricos, is a marriage of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras traditions and Brazil’s Carnival.
“Ha Di Ka” gets the party started, starting with thumping drums and chants, culminating in an oh-so-funky mash of bass strums, keyboards and everything but the kitchen sink. “Hey Na Na” keeps the energy with electric guitar, horns, and low-fi vocals courtesy of The Revivalists’ David Shaw. “Out In the Street” is dripping with funk, with Cyril and Ivan Neville’s everyman song lyrics about chasing the almighty dollar and the allure of music are instantly relatable.
The cultural influences abound on this album. “Magalenha” combines the Sergio Mendes hit of the same name with Casa Samba’s Afro-Brazilian styles. Aside from the cited Brazilian influences, “Voyage Ton Flag” finds its roots in Zydeco, and samples a traditional Cajun Mardi Gras song, “La Chanson de Mardi Gras.” The tremendous horns on “Karate” are courtesy of KIPP Renaissance High School’s marching band, a nice touch that really gives the listener a sense of what the New Orleans music scene is all about.
Speaking of influences, Galactic’s Hip Hop track record is stronger than many realize: in addition to their 2007 release From the Corner to the Block, which featured Lyrics Born, Mr. Lif, Gift of Gab, Chali 2na, Boots Riley, Juvenile, and Ladybug Mecca, the group collaborated with Dan The Automator for their 2003 release Ruckus. Carnivale continues that tradition, as “Move Fast” features NOLA natives Mannie Fresh on the hook and Mystikal delivering some of his most quirky and hilarious rhymes in some time: “Eat rappers with crackers and vegetable soup... / I’ma tell you the truth, do that too / You ain’t gonna make a solo, get in a group! / I was gone six, still in the loop / go Mystikal, go Mystikal, go! / Hold up – look I’m forty, baby, go slow! / My backs’ sore, I can’t party like that no’ mo’ / Get off the flo’, my knees won’t let me get that low!”
It’s not an understatement to call Carnivale Electricos one of the most fun, vibrant, and culturally-diverse albums in recent years. With each album, Galactic has expanded its repertoire, all the while remaining firmly rooted in New Orleans Funk and Jazz. This release is no exception. The sheer range of sounds and styles on Carnivale make it the sort of rare album that will simultaneously keep the party going whilst providing inspiration to music ethnocologists writing their theses. If nothing else, it’s a must-listen in 2012.