Hot 8 Brass serves up a gumbo of New Orleans music
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 06:00 am
Hot 8 Brass Band
Saturday, Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m.
Hot 8 Gumbo
Sunday, Jan. 27 at 2 p.m.
Tickets: Saturday $35 and Sunday $18 adults, $15 students/seniors. Call 780-459-1542 or purchase online at www.ticketmaster.ca
No other group has done more than Hot 8 Brass Band to rework the powerful traditions of New Orleans marching music or invigorate the Katrina blasted city.
With a strut, swing and swagger, Hot 8 released their second studio album, The Life & Times Of… in November 2012.
Mining an up-tempo groove, the band has earned a reputation for its New Orleans contemporary style, a mix of jazz, R&B, hip-hop, blues and gospel. Call it funk straight from the heart.
“When you listen to this music, it invites you to be a part of it. You want to shake a leg. There’s all this culture and meaning behind it. And when you be part of it, a person feels alive,” says the soft-spoken bandleader Bennie Pete, 36, a mountain of a man who plays tuba with a ripping intensity.
One album cut that’s been earning critical raves is Ghost Town, originally recorded in 1981 by British ska band The Specials. It was recorded during the Thatcher era funding cuts, and the New Orleans band has given it new relevance as a comment on the American government’s lack of support in Katrina’s wake.
Tramping about the continent, Hot 8 is spreading its sound to St. Albert for an Arden Theatre debut concert on Saturday, Jan. 26 followed on Sunday by Hot 8 Gumbo, a family performance.
“Our instruments are loud. We’re a parade marching band and we’re used to playing out on the street where sound travels. We’ll probably start with something soft, easy and traditional and work up,” Pete says.
Formed in 1995 by Pete, Jerome Jones and Harry Cook (bass drum), the band boasts eight or nine players playing trumpet, trombone, tuba, saxophone and drums. The band’s roots run thick, with some members growing up and playing together in middle school.
“We wanted to have fun. We go to one of the guy’s houses and practise, and hang out and listen to established brass bands. We didn’t want to be in street gangs,” Pete says.
In 2011, New Orleans experienced 199 murders. On a per capita basis, it is considered the murder capital of the United States. Although crime is going down, murder statistics remain high.
In its early years the band’s reputation steadily grew as one of the city’s more animated second-line parades as fans trailed them dancing and clapping to the rhythms.
New Orleans is a city of parades, from Mardi Gras to straight-ahead jazz funerals. Second-line bands are an outgrowth of competitive high school bands that have long been an incubator and training ground for generations of musicians.
The street parade culture is known for playing all day under the hot sun and then heading off to clubs for an all-nighter. At its zenith, Hot 8 squeezed in nine gigs in one day.
“All of us (are) like brothers. None of us have brothers,” Pete says. “When we perform in the community, we feel our spirit marinate together. Everything we stand for come together. We pray before shows and we believe in taking the hard road if we need to.”
But despite the strong fan support, Hot 8 started to face more than its share of adversity due to handgun violence.
In 1996, 17-year-old trumpeter Jacob Johnson was found shot execution style in his home. In 2004, trombonist Joe Williams was shot dead by police in a controversial incident. In the spring of 2006, trumpeter Terrell Batiste lost his legs in a horrible roadside accident. And in December 2006, snare-drummer Dinerral Shavers was shot dead while driving his family. The killer was aiming for his stepson.
With the loss of so many members to violence, the group slipped into a depression.
“We didn’t want to do it anymore. We still show up, but we were in auto-mode,” Pete says. “I wanted to leave. I wanted a new start. I tried to pack up and move. We were all over the place mentally.”
Making matters worse, Katrina wiped out New Orleans and destroyed much of the material they recorded through the Louisiana Red Hot label.
Buoyed by Katrina’s destruction, Hot 8 threw itself into offering relief and furthering awareness projects for redevelopment and recovery. Showing up unexpectedly at rescue centres, they would throw together a spontaneous concert, offering a musical lifeline to displaced residents in need of hope.
National networks brought Hot 8 into America’s living rooms. Their career gridlock was broken with exposure in Spike Lee’s post-Katrina award-winning documentary When the Levees Broke where they became poster boys for New Orleans’ liveliness and enduring strength.
Healing has been a large part of Hot 8’s second growth – healing for their culture, their city and their lost band mates.
“We’ve been through a lot of crime and a wall of oppression,” Pete says. “We like to provide another country the chance to feel our spirit and soul. Then they can connect to it and it’s a spiritual thing. So come to the concert and enjoy a gumbo of New Orleans music.”