Englert’s Mardi Gras Mambo to bring piece of New Orleans to Iowa City

On March 2, the Englert Theatre will host the 2022 Mardi Gras Mambo, with Louisiana bands The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Nathan & The Zydeco Cha Chas. .


Olivia Augustine, Arts Reporter

In Iowa City, Mardi Gras is a holiday that comes and goes without much wide fanfare. But for Louisiana bands The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Nathan & The Zydeco Cha Chas, Mardi Gras is an important holiday that celebrates the deep culture of jazz music — and they’re bringing it to Iowa City.

On March 2, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Nathan & The Zydeco Cha Chas will perform at the Englert Theatre’s Mardi Gras Mambo, enriching Iowa City’s arts community with jazz music.

Arts leaders in Iowa City are actively trying to create a home for jazz music in the community. Englert Theatre Development Director Katie Roche said that some of these programs include the University of Iowa’s growing jazz program, KCCK’s jazz radio programs, and the Iowa City Jazz Festival, which will return in early July.

As a jazz musician herself, Roche said that her band, Dandelion Stompers, played a Mardi Gras show at The Mill for five years before the venue’s recent closing, and that she looks forward to having a space to celebrate the holiday this year after the pandemic put a pause on celebrations. She also said the bands playing have a deep-rooted culture regarding Mardi Gras and jazz music.

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“As a jazz musician and an accordion player, this is a dream bill and I know this music brings them joy, helps people let loose, move their bodies, and forget their worries. We all need a little of that right now,” she said. “It’s the perfect show in the long days of winter and new jazz fans are sure to be born from this night.”

Nathan & The Zydeco Cha Chas play a wide range of jazz music, but Nathan Williams, who formed the band in 1985, said it has a heavy focus on Zydeco music.

Zydeco music is a blend of many jazz subgenres, like blues, Cajun, and R&B. Williams said that Clifton Chenier, from Louisiana, was the “king” of zydeco music, putting a snap on the usual sound of blues. Zydeco music also regularly features an accordion, which is Williams’ instrument of choice.

“You know when you make a gumbo you put a little bit of everything in it? That’s what I got in my music, so it can reach all different types of people,” Williams said. “I got a little blues in there, I got a little reggae, I got a little R&B in it, a little Cajun in it, I got a little everything, you know what I’m saying? It’s all fused together.”

Williams said that Nathan & The Zydeco Cha Chas have played at all sorts of venues, from the Des Moines area to Lincoln Center in New York City, and even collaborated with musicians like Buddy Guy and Cyndi Lauper.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band was founded in 1977 and has been visiting Iowa City since the early 2000s. The band is currently on tour with Nathan & The Zydeco Cha Chas.

Roger Lewis, who plays the baritone saxophone and sings vocals for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, said Mardi Gras is a huge celebration full of life and dancing, and the band’s music reflects that.

“Mardi Gras is a traditional thing, you know, people don’t celebrate Mardi Gras like that [in Midwestern towns],” Lewis said. “They have an opportunity to experience some of that when the Dirty Dozen comes to town, it’s a treat.”