Papa Mali's secret musical lineage | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Brass bands, zydeco, Cajun fiddles and gee-tar funk, rollicking pianos and boogie-woogie -- Louisiana is the indigenous home to myriad styles that have become lingua franca for American music. But in the background and the backwoods, behind the fans of swamp-cruising airboats, down on the bayou there's always been a secret musical lineage -- one that can only be described as "fucked up."

The best architects of swamp-pop's weirder side took all the rhythms and moods of New Orleans' '50s and '60s music and caressed them sexually with a hammer and tongs -- and a laissez-faire attitude toward both the English and French languages. While weirdo swamp-pop rarely scored hits, its legacy lives on -- at least in the primordial stew that is Papa Mali's sonic DNA.

Check out the title track on the Shreveport-born Mali's latest, Do Your Thing, a guitar-dirge take on the Charlie Wright and Lyn Collins funk standard that sounds more like Tom Waits' funeral than its original theme of funky liberation. Or "Bon Ton Roulet," Mali's disjointed and drunken cover of Clarence Garlow's New Orleans R&B hit, from Mali's critically acclaimed debut, Thunder Chicken, in which the guitarist sounds more interested in cowbell than in tuning his strings.

At times, Papa Mali gets too close to his regional influences: His "Honeybee," for example, could almost be part of a Dr. John tribute act. But for the most part, as an example of pure modern pop-rock originality, Papa Mali should be an institution. And institutionalized.

Papa Mali with Galactic. 8 p.m. Wed., Jan. 31 (doors at 7 p.m.). Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $18 (21 and over). 412-821-4447 or

click to enlarge Doin' his thing: Papa Mali
Doin' his thing: Papa Mali

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