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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

I'm Melissa Block. And get ready to dance. It's Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, a day to cut lose before Lent begins. In New Orleans, that means it's a day of parades, costumes and music everywhere you turn.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: We're listening to the New Orleans funk band Galactic, which celebrates the sounds of Mardi Gras in its new album, "Carnivale Electricos." Galactic has been together for almost 20 years now, and three members of the five-piece band join me from New Orleans. Ben Ellman plays sax and horns and harmonica. Hey, Ben.

BEN ELLMAN: How you doing?

BLOCK: Robert Mercurio plays bass.

ROBERT MERCURIO: Hey. Happy to be here.

BLOCK: And Stanton Moore is on drums and percussions. Stanton, hi.

STANTON MOORE: Hello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: Mardi Gras for you guys actually starts earlier than Mardi Gras, right? It starts on Monday. You have a Fat Monday tradition.

ELLMAN: We have an annual gig that we play till the sun comes up at a local club, Tipitina's.

MOORE: And that's one of the biggest nights in New Orleans. It's one of our biggest gigs of the year.

BLOCK: Stanton, you're playing through the night, all through - straight through until the sun comes up.

MOORE: Till the sun comes up, and then people go out and try to find the Indians, or they'll go out and line up for Zulu or whatever early thing that they want to do. But some of our older friends have started getting wise and they'll actually go to sleep early, like 8:00 or 9:00, wake up around 4:00 or 5 A.M. and then come see us bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Now, Stanton mentioned go out and find the Indians. Let's talk about that. Ben, we're talking about Mardi Gras Indians and the new album, which leads us, really, through the whole day of Mardi Gras, the arc of how the day goes by, starts with a song called "Ha Di Ka."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HA DI KA")

ELLMAN: That's Juan Pardo from the Golden Comanche tribe from New Orleans. He just represents one of the many tribes of Mardi Gras Indians. And they spend all year making these beautiful, beautiful suits. And they come out a couple of times a year and show off and parade through the streets and do their thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HA DI KA")

BLOCK: I love listening to one of the songs, "Karate," which features the KIPP Renaissance High School Marching Band.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KARATE")

BLOCK: Stanton Moore, how many kids are we talking about there?

MOORE: I think there was about 40.

BLOCK: Forty. And as the drummer in Galactic, I imagine you're hearing the rhythm of those drums, and it's an incredible thing.

MOORE: Oh, yeah. I mean - and that's what got me interested in playing drums in the first place was my mom started bringing me to Mardi Gras parades when I was 8 months old.

BLOCK: No kidding.

MOORE: So there are pictures, you know, pictures of me from that first Mardi Gras in a clown outfit. No joke.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MOORE: As I got a little bit older - 3, 4, 5 - I started to really be impacted by the drums coming down the street at the parades, and I was - I took note of the excitement that people would get from the drums coming. And you will hear the drums first when the band was coming down the street. And I started hitting on everything I could find in the house, and I knew about then that I wanted to hit on stuff for a living.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KARATE")

BLOCK: Ben, what's it like to be out on the street for Mardi Gras and to see one of those marching bands heading your way? What's that feeling?

ELLMAN: It's amazing. When you're watching a parade go by and there's a hundred-piece marching band walking by you, it's just extremely powerful. And there's always, like, bass drum players. If you're lined up right on the street, they'll walk right by you, just like bash the bass drum in your face.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ELLMAN: And it's really exciting and powerful, and you can hear a lot of music. Mardi Gras day, I mean, it's not only that from parades, but depending upon where you are, you'll hear different things. You'll hear Indian in some places. You'll hear marching bands in some places. You'll hear hip-hop. All over the place, you'll hear Mardi Gras music. It's - there's so much music.

BLOCK: Speaking of hip-hop, you have the song "Move Fast."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOVE FAST")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Rapping) Go, Mystikal. Go, Mystikal, go. (Unintelligible), go.

MYSTIKAL: (Rapping) Look, I'm partying. Baby, go slow. My bag is full. I can't party like that no more. (Unintelligible) the flow. My knees won't let me get that low...

MERCURIO: That's the world-famous Mystikal. He's a revered rapper here in New Orleans, and also on the track is Mannie Fresh, who is a producer.

BLOCK: And where would you be hearing hip-hop during Mardi Gras?

MOORE: People will set up their pickup trucks or even box trucks. They'll put a box truck on the parade route and use that as their party headquarters, and they sometimes have small PAs blaring their music of choice out the back of these box trucks.

ELLMAN: They're under the overpass - a freeway overpass, too, you know, like DJ set up like sound systems and such. And it's a party.

BLOCK: Now, you guys are the instrumental backup for singers who you brought in, and two of them are two of The Neville Brothers, Cyril and Ivan Neville, doing this song called "Out in the Street."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUT IN THE STREET")

THE NEVILLE BROTHERS: (Singing) Watch my feet, yeah, run for the street, you all. I'm where I need to be. Trumpets are humming. Snare drums are drumming. Hear the rhythm of a tambourine.

ELLMAN: It's a Tuesday everywhere else, but in New Orleans, it's Mardi Gras. Everything is closed. The streets are packed. There's different kinds of parties everywhere, so, you know, I find it really hard to stay home. I never have.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUT IN THE STREET")

THE NEVILLE BROTHERS: (Singing) Everybody knows that it's time to go. It's the time to see. You got to get out on the streets.

BLOCK: Well, all great things must end, right? So Mardi Gras leads into Ash Wednesday, and that's how you close the album with this song, "Ash Wednesday Sunrise."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ASH WEDNESDAY SUNRISE")

BLOCK: And, Stanton, I think I can feel in my bones what you're feeling like the next morning.

MOORE: You're spent, and you had a great time, but you're also sort of glad it's over because it's so exhausting.

ELLMAN: Ash Wednesday is sleep. That's what it is: Sleep all day.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ASH WEDNESDAY SUNRISE")

BLOCK: Stanton Moore, Robert Mercurio, Ben Ellman, they are Galactic. Happy Mardi Gras, guys.

ELLMAN: Thank you so much.

MERCURIO: Thank you.

MOORE: Happy Mardi Gras.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ASH WEDNESDAY SUNRISE")

BLOCK: Galactic's new album is "Carnivale Electricos." You can hear Galactic live in concert on Thursday night at nprmusic.org or with the brand-new NPR Music iPad app.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ASH WEDNESDAY SUNRISE")

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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