On street corners in the Big Easy, you'll find pots of noodles, various meats, and hard-boiled eggs boiling together in a no-rules stew known as "ya-ka-may." It's revered as a hangover cure, something New Orleans knows a thing or two about. The multiethnic soup is not unlike the city's music — a free-for-all, use-whatever-you've-got-on-hand jam session.
It's a fitting name for what might just become a quintessential New Orleans album. Galactic recorded Ya-Ka-May over the last year, bringing legendary and cutting-edge musical guests into their home studio, and in the process, compiling a complete and definitive documentation of post-Katrina New Orleans musical culture.
R&B hall-of-famer Allen Toussaint wrote and contributed piano and singing to the song "Bacchus," while soul queen Irma Thomas powerfully sings her way through "Heart of Steel." Horn-led tracks like "Boe Money" and "Cineramascope" sound more like familiar Galactic, featuring the Rebirth Brass Band and Trombone Shorty. The real surprise comes from cross-dressing rappers Cheeky Blakk and Sissy Nobby. That pair are at the forefront of New Orleans' up-and-coming "bounce" hip-hop movement, and tracks like "Katey vs. Nobby" take the Galactic rap phenomenon they initiated on 2007's From the Corner to the Block into a realm of booty-shakin' henceforth unvisited by a band of white men.
"We kind of felt our way along, and didn't know if we'd land on our feet, with pulling all these things together and still having some sort of continuity," says keyboardist Richard Vogel of the band's attempt to capture a comprehensive survey of New Orleans music in an album. "At the end of the day, we realized that it all makes sense together. It all comes out of the spirit of this city. From the stuff we all know and love from the '50s, '60s, and '70s, to the bounce rap in the clubs now, it all comes out of the same place. It's music to entertain partying people."
The heart of New Orleans music, says Vogel, is in the non-descript clubs, jamming until dawn for a party that seemingly never ends. "That's something that every artist on this album has done, cutting their teeth out there in that kind of environment," Vogel proclaims. "Whether it's one of the brass bands or the bounce rappers, there's a musical happening, and people are there to party and enjoy, and you've got to keep that party going."
To bring an album chock-full of special guests to the stage, Galactic recruited Cyril Neville, of both the Neville Brothers and the original Meters. In addition to his full percussion set-up, Neville's assuming singing duties throughout the show.
"We have a lot of vocal material that's pretty difficult, so we realized we needed to bring in a ringer," says Vogel, adding that they've worked up some classic Meters gems to let Neville shine on. Corey "Boe Money" Henry of the Rebirth Brass Band also joins Galactic on this tour, filling in the album's horn parts.
The band's stop through town this year coincides with Mardi Gras, and they'll continue south from Charleston, in time to play their annual Lundi Gras all-night concert the following Monday in New Orleans. They'll also be toasting their storied Saints, who made their first ever Super Bowl appearance last week and upset the Colts.
“We’ll be toasting our champions,” says Vogel, who bought a ticket to fly home for the game Sunday night from their tour in New England. “Before the game, I felt like either way, New Orleans had already won. We’ll be holding our heads high.”