“Hot 8 music is feel good music…music with a message. It’s life music.” – Band leader, Bennie Pete
New Orleans’ Hot 8 Brass Band was founded in 1995 by tuba player Bennie Pete, Jerome “Bay Bay” Jones (trombone) and Harry “Swamp Thang” Cook (bass drum) to play brass band music professionally. Although many of the current members began playing together in high school, over time the line-up has inevitably shifted and changed, and continues to do so. But any incarnation of Hot 8 Brass Band will boast eight or nine players of the highest rate, bringing the passion and noise through a bevy of trombones, saxophones, trumpets, snare and bass drums, all buoyed up by the immense tuba basslines of band leader Bennie Pete. These musicians over the years have been inspired by artists such as Tuba Fats, Leroy Jones, Louis Armstrong, JJ Johnson, Stevie Wonder and Jackie McLean, and have variously recorded and performed with some of those mentioned and more. They also continue to cite each other as influences.
Robert Luis and Paul Jonas of Tru Thoughts first heard Hot 8 Brass Band when Quantic (having got his hands on a rare copy via DJ Concerned) played their cover of “Sexual Healing” in a New York DJ set. Witnessing first hand the unprecedented and spontaneous round of applause that sprang up from the crowd, they knew this band had something special. So they had a scout around for more of Hot 8’s music. The band had previously been signed to the label “Louisiana Red Hot,” a label which had been, along with so much else in New Orleans, all but wiped out by Hurricane Katrina, and much of their previous material had been taken with it.
Over the next few months Tru Thoughts signed Hot 8, and released “Sexual Healing” as a very limited edition single in summer 2007. All 500 copies were snapped up immediately, making it the fastest-selling single in the label’s history. Following a flood of enquiries, the single was then given a wider release on 1st October and the album “Rock with the Hot 8” came out on 15th October 2007 to widespread acclaim. Listen to the elegant jumble of jazz & soul, thrown in a sack with traditional boisterous brass band music and shaken roughly with unmistakable hip hop attitude, and you will know this music could only have come from New Orleans. The band’s first ever UK live dates came in February 2008, with a sell-out tour which blew the minds of audiences up and down the country and won an army of dedicated new fans. The second single, “What’s My Name? (Rock With The Hot 8)” was released at this time, and this rambunctious cover of the Snoop Dogg track was a huge crowd-pleaser and received rave reviews.
Whilst in the UK, Hot 8 Brass Band attracted a phenomenal buzz, appearing on The Culture Show on BBC 2, recording a Maida Vale session for Gilles Peterson’s show on BBC Radio 1, and laying down a couple of tracks with Basement Jaxx. Their music has also featured on a Volkswagen advert. The phenomenal success of the tour prompted a call from the Big Chill festival, where they played a crowd-pleasing set in August 2008 and were picked as a festival highlight by the Observer newspaper, along with a series of other UK dates.
With a second album in the pipeline and new material at the ready, Hot 8 Brass Band have just completed another comprehensive UK and European tour, this time upping the stakes to included a set at Glastonbury festival (where they were interviewed by the Guardian, appearing in the paper on the following Monday; and filmed for BBC2’s prime time coverage of the event). Other major dates on this tour included the immense Roskilde festival, and a roof-raising show at London’s Scala.
Hot 8 Brass Band have always believed in contributing to their culture by playing in traditional Second Line parades, expressions of freedom and community through music and interaction. They have earned a great reputation on the streets, with seemingly boundless work ethic and energy: Hot 8 have been known to pack in nine shows in a single day.
Having survived one of the worst natural and political disasters the USA has ever known – Hurricane Katrina – Hot 8 have thrown themselves into the subsequent relief and awareness projects to aid their community’s redevelopment and recovery. They have been a key band in “SAVE OUR BRASS!” a local grass roots project that has brought music to evacuee shelters, temporary trailer parks and reached out to New Orleanians. Through their music, and the spirit that pulses through it, this group of New Orleanian natives are bent on keeping the traditional street brass of their city alive, albeit embellished with their own edge, and using that history and tradition to unite people in confronting the problems that face them today. They were also featured in the Spike Lee post-Katrina documentary “When the Levees Broke.”
Over the years Hot 8 Brass Band have faced more than their fair share of adversity. Four band members have died (two of them lost to violent acts on the streets of New Orleans) and the band are now active figures in the group “Silence is Violence,” an anti-violence campaign that was founded following the murder in December 2006 of Hot 8 member Dinerral Shavers. “Finding Our Folk” is another organisation which is a prime concern. It seeks to assist New Orleanians displaced after Hurricane Katrina. The band members’ focus now lies with keeping the problems of the city on everyone’s minds as they travel around the country and the world.
Members of Hot 8 Brass Band have toured in Japan, Europe and the UK. They regularly play at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (“Jazz Fest”) and have performed at the San Antonio Zulu Association Festival and the City of New Orleans New Year’s celebration among other major events.
Hot 8 band leader Bennie “Big Peter” Pete sums up what their music means to them and the wider world: “Hot 8 music is feel good music…music with a message. It’s life music.”
For information on charities that directly help the community in New Orleans, please see the label notes for the album “Rock with the Hot 8.”
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