hot music, hot-button issues -- hot 8 brass band
Through my months on end in New Orleans during the past two years, few have inspired me on and off the bandstand and especially in the streets like the members of the Hot 8 Brass Band. In a city pushing hard to move forward yet ever-pulled by its powerful past, hit hard by tragedy yet soothed by transcendent charms, no band better embodies these complicated tensions, nor the simple power of African rhythms, modern black music, and the second-line parade.
I'm in New York now, where the Hot 8 will swing through and, in the space of four days, play Joe's Pub (11/24) and the Lincoln Center tree-lighting (11/26), and, along with me, present a workshop/discussion for students at Harlem's Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts (11/27).
Here's what I had to say about the band in this week's Village Voice:
The white sneaker on the left foot of Bennie Pete, tuba player and leader of the Hot 8 Brass Band, carries an inscription: "Brooklyn in Da House." Spike Lee scrawled it, less an autograph than a thank-you note for the band's indelible presence in his HBO documentary When the Levees Broke.
A four-hour film about a city in ruins isn't the typical vehicle to national exposure for a deserving band. Nor are prime-time crime shows and CNN disaster reports. But many Americans first experienced the gritty glory of this New Orleans band when, following the late 2006 murder of its snare drummer Dinerral Shavers, the Hot 8's story got major play during an episode of CBS's 48 Hours Mystery. And yes, these were the same guys who, weeks after Katrina, were caught by CNN anchorwoman Rusty Dornin in uplifting performance at a Baton Rouge evacuee shelter.
The danger and dislocation you've heard about in the streets of New Orleans is real. Yet so is the devastating beauty you don't hear about as much. The former is a crucible in which the Hot 8 has been forged; the latter, a transcendent truth to which it contributes mightily.
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