There is a chance for a special collaboration at WOMADelaide, as one of Hot 8 Brass Band’s best known tracks is their cover of Ghost Town, which was originally recorded by UK band The Specials, who are also on the bill for the March festival alongside the New Orleans brass collective.
“I hope to do that, I might have to look at that,” Hot 8 Brass Band’s leader and co-founder Bennie Pete says from New Orleans. “If it could happen I would love to do it, it would be a great thing. We could parade on stage and join them for Ghost Town.”
The New Orleans brass band, which blends funk and hip hop with traditional New Orleans sounds, covered the ska anthem – about the de-industrialisation and urban decay of England in the early ‘80s – after Hurricane Katrina, as places such as New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, where Pete grew up, were largely unrepaired after the devastating floods that followed Katrina.
“We finally had a chance to meet the bass player [of The Specials],” Pete says. “He was at one of the festivals we were doing when we were on tour, and that was a great and inspiring moment to meet him. We talked to them and they really enjoyed the tune, our version of it, so you never know,” he says about a possible WOMAD collaboration.
Hot 8 is arguably the most popular and celebrated contemporary brass band from New Orleans thanks to their uplifting brass originals and covers such as Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, The Temptations’ Papa Was a Rolling Stone and the aforementioned Ghost Town. Started more than two decades ago, the band experienced much tragedy during their early years as three of their members were killed due to gun violence, while trumpet player Terrell Batiste lost his legs after he was hit by a car.
And then there was Katrina. Pete says New Orleans is still rebuilding after 53 levees were breached due to the storm and 80 per cent of the city was flooded.“The spirit and the soul is still the same,” he says. “Everybody, for the most part, is in good spirits even though New Orleans is rebuilding. I had to move and relocate to a different part of town. We are still hosting a lot of events here, so, you know, the partying and the food are still cooking.”
It was after Katrina that the band started to get notice outside of New Orleans. They were featured in Spike Lee’s 2006 four-hour doco When the Levees Broke and the Tru Thoughts record label signed them after the owners heard British artist Quantic spinning their cover of Sexual Healing and signed them to their tastemaker UK label. Pete says the band always wanted to tour and travel and knew they were onto something special when people used to catch them practising in a local park two decades ago.
“We’d have 40, 50, 60 people at six in the evening in New Orleans; everyone getting off the bus to catch the band. That’s when we knew we had something going. And we always heard about older [New Orleans] bands travelling and stuff so we had an idea it could happen, but to do it with our original music and have people requesting to hear us is a dream come true. It was always something we hoped – the opportunity to live out our dreams. That was a beautiful thing and it’s still beautiful; people calling and inviting us to their town, country and city.”
The New Orleans way of raucous live shows with no set list will be a feature of their multiple WOMAD performances as the crowd and the mood of the band determines what songs they play.
“It is mostly me calling the tunes; sometimes the guys might have some tunes. If they leave it to me, I might have two or three tunes in mind, but it could always change depending on what happens once we are announced on stage and once we look out and see what type of vibe we’re getting from the crowd.”
As New Orleans musicians, Pete says their main job is to create a feel good party atmosphere.
“We could do a set and be real tight and crisp, that’s good to listen to on a recording but live that atmosphere doesn’t represent New Orleans. New Orleans is open; it’s not this tight neat place. You know what it’s most like? How we cook gumbo. Everybody asks, ‘What’s the recipe for gumbo? You say, ‘We don’t have a recipe’. Some people put hot spices, some people put no spices, some people put chicken; it’s just a mixture of everything. So, it’s a gumbo kind of music style that we try to create. You kind of just relate to everyone and everyone can relate to us and have a party.”
Hot 8 Brass Band
Friday, March 10 to Monday, March 13
Hot 8 Brass Band will also be performing at Adelaide Festival’s Riverbank Palais