Iko-Iko. Photo by Mark Columbus

Iko-Iko Casts a Voodoo Spell at Butchertown

By Tim Roberts

On tour to promote their third CD Protected by Voodoo, Miami's Iko-Iko stopped by the Butchertown Pub on March 12 and served up a two generous sets of musical voodoo enchantment.

The band is enjoying a surge in popularity, thanks to their breakout single "I Got Gris-Gris." According to the band and Daniel East, their manager, Louisville was the breakout market for that single, thanks to a push from Dan Reed of WFPK, where it has been in rotation during both its morning and afternoon drive programs.

Fronted by the burly lyricist and lead singer Graham Wood Drout, who wore bluesman shades during the entire performance, the sextet included Ronald James Dziubla on saxes and keyboards, Danny Leibinger on additional horns and keys, Stewart Jean on drums, Michael Mennell on bass, and former Louisvillian Larry Williams on lead guitar. The sound was tight, balanced, studio-clean as if it were coming from your stereo.

Their music is a well-arranged blend of most southern musical traditions: straight blues, rhythm and blues, tent-revival gospel, and lively Cajun that plunks you right onto Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. Iko-Iko touched on each several times during the show.

They opened the show with "Miller's Wood" and "The Flood," the same two songs that open Protected. The show also included selections from previous work in addition to "Riding the Rim," providing a preview of their next release, which they are preparing to record. Two other selections, "These Are the Days," with excellent saxophone work from Dziubla, and "American Dream" demonstrated their tight harmonies. During "Don't Drink the Strychnine," their ode to snake handling and deep religious beliefs, Drout recited one of the stanzas in the manner of a rapid hellfire sermon. It sounded genuine, not mocking, authentic enough that he may have converted some people in the audience.

Throughout the two sets, Iko-Iko maintained the sound and tone that are on Protected, especially the final two selections for the night. The first was their breakout single "I Got Gris-Gris," featuring a slow fade into the haunting introduction, just as it sounds on the recording. Next they segued into the eerily sensuous "Walk With the Zombie," managing to create the spellbinding ambience of a loner treading through the dark regions of the voodoo. The tune featured Williams in a deep blues solo on guitar and climaxed with a wild tenor sax solo from Dziubla.

Shortly before the show, as I spoke with the band in the dressing room Butchertown, I asked lead singer Drout what Gris-Gris was. "It's French for 'grey-grey,'" he said, "the kind of voodoo that can be used for good or bad."

As they demonstrated that night, there's nothing gris-gris about Iko-Iko's talent and showmanship. It is being used for us to enjoy.