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Brass from the Big Easy

BY SARAH LARSON | OCTOBER 08, 2009 7:20 AM

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It is not often that bands experience the type of tribulations that the Hot 8 Brass Band has faced.

Since the group’s start in 1995, three members have been shot and killed. Then, Hurricane Katrina took its devastating toll on the band’s home city and musical base, New Orleans. Shortly after this, trumpeter Terrell Batiste lost his legs after being hit on the freeway trying to set up cones to alert drivers to his broken-down car.

Through all of this, the group has remained strong. Bandleader and tuba player Bennie Pete praised Batiste.

“He’s one of the biggest inspirations of all, with us losing other members to the senseless violence of the streets of New Orleans,” Pete said. “I just want people to know his strength, and to know our position as culture bearers, and know the strength of the music and having our own situation that we’ve been through as a group to help us to change.”

Traveling around the country as part of the Finding Our Folk Tour, the Hot 8 Brass Band has been raising awareness about the recovery efforts taking place in New Orleans and the culture that is rooted within the city. The band will perform in Friday’s Homecoming parade, which starts at 5:45 p.m. It will also play the IMU Main Lounge at 2 p.m. on Oct. 11.

“One of my favorite kinds of music is New Orleans brass bands,” Hancher programming director Jacob Yarrow said. “To have street music from New Orleans here in Iowa City makes me very excited. To have it free on our beautiful Pentacrest is that much more exciting.”

The band gained popularity at the beginning of its career with a combination of jazz, R&B, and hip-hop. After Hurricane Katrina, the group performed at various evacuee shelters and for many of the people displaced by the storm while dealing with the aftermath themselves.

Pete said one of the more difficult aspects of the storm was the deaths of many influential older musicians in the city. Then, the group received national attention when it was featured in Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.

Not only has the band dealt with the difficulties of a devastated city, it also has suffered its own tragedies. In 1996, trumpeter Jacob Johnson was shot; in 2004, police killed trombonist Joseph Williams. In 2006, Dinerral Shavers was shot and killed while driving with his family. Despite these hardships, the band members remain optimistic and embrace music as a source of healing.

“The Hot 8 Brass Band is one of the best bands out of New Orleans,” Pete said. “We bring a party atmosphere. We like to relate to it as feel-good music. People can just take off whatever is on their minds. Just let themselves unwind through the music and through the dance.”


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