Big Chief Kevin and the Flaming Arrows
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Big Chief Kevin and the Flaming Arrows

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With hurricane winds scattering tribes westward, Mardi Gras Indians find themselves reinstating their festive customs here in Austin. Founded by his father in 1963, Big Chief Kevin Goodman's troupe of Flaming Arrows translates second-line traditions to the funk format as they run through a full menu of New Orleans standards. "Big Chief" by Professor Longhair, "Iko Iko" by the Dixie Cups, "Fire on the Bayou" by the Meters, and "Meet de Boys on the Battlefront" by Wild Tchoupitoulas each flashed feathers on the Red Eyed Fly stage like warring social clubs in exuberant strut. Chanting a Creole patois that bridges the gravelly gap between Louis Armstrong and Juvenile, Goodman fronts a band that stretches numbers into meditative mantras à la Funkadelic milking a third encore. While sound issues and the inexperience of new recruits to the group resulted in a shaky presentation last Thursday night, the Flaming Arrows should eventually coalesce as a mighty riverboat of swamp magic. Teaching his newly adopted city that Mardi Gras entails so much more than merely booze, beads, and big tits, Big Chief Kevin regaled his audience with a hand-stitched costume fit for a shaman. Representing the crossroads of Native American, African, Spanish, and French cultures, even a seasonal children's song such as the Meters' "They All Ask'd About You" teems with implied functionality. At a point in time when eating King Cake without swallowing its baby seems like a lost art, Big Chief Kevin busies himself by soothing the souls of those in exile.
- Austin Chronicle


With Fat Tuesday weeks away, New Orleans isn’t the only city getting ready to host its first post-Katrina Mardi Gras. In places far from the Crescent City, Carnival is also taking root, with Mardi Gras Indians playing a central role.

Rooted in the city’s blue collar African-American neighborhoods for over a century, Mardi Gras Indian costumers have dressed in elaborate handmade “suits” of feathers, rhinestones, and beads, taking to neighborhood streets for wild celebrations and ritualized songs and dance.

Since Hurricane Katrina, two Big Chiefs – Kevin Goodman and Jamal Casby – have carried the art and traditions of Mardi Gras Indians to audiences worldwide. They recently returned from a tour sponsored by Jazz at Lincoln Center that included stops in India, Sri Lanka, and the United Arab Emirates. Now they’re bringing the celebration back home.

For Casby, that means the Algiers section of New Orleans, across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter, where he’s lived all his life. For Goodman, home is now Austin, Texas, where he was evacuated after his home in New Orleans East flooded.

“Austin is a great. I love it here,” said Goodman, who will be participating in the city’s own Carnival celebration on Feb. 28. “What I’m doing now is bringing the Mardi Gras Indian tradition to a brand-new place.”

Big Chief of the Flaming Arrows tribe, Goodman spends thousands of hours every year stitching his costumes by hand. His father, Therdot, founded the 7th Ward tribe in 1963, and Goodman began costuming himself when he was six years old. Goodman’s daughter, Kavon, 5, and son, Dillon, 8, have costumed as Indians for the past four years.

“I’m teaching them how to sew, how to sing and dance and run their own tribe. It’s inherited, you pass it down through the generations.”

Goodman lost everything in Katrina, including sewing material worth thousands of dollars and two Indian suits considered priceless. He waded through floodwaters to the New Orleans Convention Center and waited five days to be evacuated to Austin. He first lived at the Austin Music Co-op, a cooperative housing community founded by the city’s music industry to aid musicians. After Katrina, hurricane relief became a major focus of the co-op, as dozens of New Orleans performers and artists relocated to the city. Goodman, an accomplished vocalist who performs the traditional songs and chants of Mardi Gras Indian culture, quickly found a niche in the city’s vibrant art and music scene.

“Right now my focus is on making a new life in Austin. I still have the Indian spirit that carries me everywhere I go, that gets me through whatever situation I’m in.”

Casby is Big Chief of the Mohawk Hunters, a tribe his father started in 1937. On Mardi Gras, he will take to the streets of Algiers as he has since he was a child. A West Bank resident, Casby was more fortunate than many New Orleanians who lived across the river. His house had wind and water damage, but his neighborhood didn’t flood.

“I lost two suits, but I’ll just have to deal with it,” says Casby. “The only way through the pain is joy, like a jazz funeral. We live on the river, things do happen.”

Counting the days to Mardi Gras, Casby is spending every free hour working on his new suit. Once 15 members strong, the Mohawk Hunters tribe will only have about half of its usual Indians this year.

“You can’t let the hurricane take away everything,” says Casby. “If it didn’t take everything, if it didn’t take your life, then do what you’re supposed to do with life. Keep on living.”

FACES is a weekly column that profiles survivors of Hurricane Katrina who are rebuilding their lives and communities in the Gulf Coast Region. To recommend a story for FACES, contact wmsasser05@yahoo.com.
- The Beehive


Discography

1.The Flaming Arrows - The Indians Are Coming
2. Big Chief Kevin and the Flaming Arrows- Live from Floribunda

Photos

Bio

After Hurricane Katrina washed the Flaming Arrows to Austin, Big Chief KEVIN assembles the Funky Flaming Arrows band. Big Chief Kevin stands tall in his full costume and sings in the tradition of mardi gras indian chiefs. One of the best singers of all mardi gras chiefs, Big Chief captures the audience with style, as the band grooves in the tradition of New Orleans second line and funk. The band is led by the Caesars brothers funk box, who also play with Cyril Neville and grew up around New Orleans funk masters before bringing their style to Austin.