One of the consultants working with us on “Treme” is saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr. A veteran of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Mr. Harrison has impeccable jazz credentials.
Last week he shared with us a track off his next album. It’s a hip-hop track... with vocals by Donald his own self. Click here to hear “Oh-Nah-Nay” on my Vox blog.
Couple of interesting things about this track. It was co-produced by Deezle, a young beatmaker who has worked with fellow New Orleanian Lil Wayne.
(Donald Harrison is a mentor to Deezle, whose real name is Darius Harrison... though the two are not related. “Oh-Nah-Nay” was also co-produced by Donald’s daughter, Victoria Harrison.)
Then there’s the lyrics. For decades, New Orleans R&B has drawn from the esoteric culture of the “Mardi Gras Indians” with songs such as “Iko Iko” and “Hey Pocky A-way.”
“Oh-Nah-Nay” draws from it also... except Donald Harrison is a bona fide Mardi Gras Indian. His father, Donald Harrison, Sr., was Big Chief of the Guardians of the Flame. Donald is the Big Chief of his own tribe, Congo Nation.
In 2007, Harrison wrote on his website: “My father taught me that I had to go through the ranks to earn the right to sing New Orleans cultural chants. I was taught that if you have not paid the dues and earned your respect from masking you should not chant prayers like Oh-Nah-Nay and Tu-Way-Pockey- Way.
“Musicians and others that chant without knowing what they are talking about show the deepest disrespect to our culture.”