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Brass Roots: The Untold History of New Orleans Brass Bands

Written by  InthekNOwla.com



You ever seen somebody second linin’ so hard, it looked like they caught the Holy Ghost? Head and hands waving in the air, feet and legs moving a mile a minute stepping to that beat of the brass band…that unmistakable beat. That “Do watcha wanna. Early in the morning.”  Or “I feel like funkin’ it up, feel like funkin’ up.” No matter where you are or what you’re doing, that beat will stop in your tracks and make you move.

For us New Orleanians, brass band music is simply a part of life…you can hear Rebirth Brass Band at weddings and parties, To Be Continued Brass Band on the street corner, Soul Rebels Brass Band at Le Bon Temps on Thursday nights or Hot 8 Brass Band at The Howlin’ Wolf on Sundays.

If you love brass bands as much as we do, then you’ll definitely want to see Brass Roots: The Untold History of New Orleans Brass Bands, “a documentary chronicling the history, people and culture that has encompassed modern New Orleans brass band music,” directed by Alejandro Enrique de los Rios Caballeros and Jonathan Bachman.
Alejandro’s foray into brass band music began with his first live performance of the Soul Rebels at Le Bon Temps one Thursday night. He said, “That performance changed my whole perception of music. I saw everything that you can do with music, the types of genres that you can have, and what you could do with a brass band. I never thought something like that was possible.”

He added, “Brass band music is the most organic music that I’ve ever encountered in terms of how these bands come together and play. They’ve been able to establish musical careers in a non-conventional sense where they haven’t had to sign with a major record label. It’s astonishing in this day and age that you can have the success that they have had and not have to be commercial. Take the Rebirth story, for example. Basically, a couple of friends from high school just started playing on a street corner. From there, they grew into doing parades then to clubs and the next you know, they’re touring. Brass band music is just so pure and authentic in a way that other types of music aren’t. From life to death, you have these brass bands with you and you see them grow, which is something that you don’t see anywhere else. I would even argue that you don’t see this with any other musical genre because no other musical genre is ingrained within the culture of the city. The music is not only ingrained in the people, it’s still active and alive. A good way to explain it is that in other places, people read about their history, but here the history is still currently and constantly being written.”

And since we live our history every day, it’s important that it’s recorded and told the right way by the people who are actually living it. Brass Roots intends to tell the history of brass band music thoroughly, from the days of Danny Barker, founder of the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band in the 1970s, to the current time of hip hop and other popular music being mixed in. “Our goal is to be as comprehensive as possible,” explained Alejandro. “We want to provide the most comprehensive oral history that we can put together by interviewing many of the musicians that were alive then and all the musicians that have played since then. We’re also going to provide a brief introduction to give people the context of the music, where brass bands come from, why it’s such a popular form of music in New Orleans, and why it emerged the way that it did.”

Alejandro and his team have collected tons of footage since starting in July 2009 and plan to donate a great deal of it to universities and museums to be used as an open source for anyone who is a fan of or is interested in brass band music. In addition, Alejandro hopes to get Brass Roots into a film festival to try to leverage some type of wide distribution and allocate some of the proceeds to The Roots of Music, a free, music education program founded by Rebirth Brass Band member, Derrick Tabb. Alejandro added, “From this film, we want people to see that there is this really organic, natural, and authentic music that exists in New Orleans and is still representative of New Orleans. We want to show the people behind the music and their incredible life stories. These band members have so much to share and we want to give people a true sense of the human aspect behind the music because it’s not just them playing every once and a while on stage; it’s something that follows them throughout their entire lives and defines them in many ways. We’re doing something that hasn’t been done before and we’re taking so much care with it that seeing it come together is truly rewarding."

And what a documentary this is going to be; the best of the best of New Orleans brass band music. "
We have been really blessed with the generosity and spirit that these guys from the brass bands have shown us,” Alejandro said. I think they realized early on that we have a deep love and appreciation for the music and what we’re trying to do more than anything is just tell, in a journalistic sense, their stories.”

So, Brass Roots needs your help. The goal is to finish the film by September 2011 in order for it to be submitted to film festivals and hopefully premiere in 2012. The vast majority of the interviews have been completed, but there are still some performances to be filmed.

If you would like to donate to Brass Roots, you can do so at their Kickstarter. Even though, the goal of $20,000 has been reached, you can still donate to give them a little extra boost. The deadline is Thursday, May 5, and all donations over $1 are accepted.

To learn more about Brass Roots: The Untold History of New Orleans Brass Bands, please visit www.brassrootsmovie.com, and their Facebook and Twitter. In the meantime, "Do watcha wanna!"


Brass Roots Teaser Trailer from Come See About Me on Vimeo.

Last modified on Thursday, 08 November 2012
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