Brass bands have become so ingrained in the culture of New Orleans that the youth of the city aspire to a career as brass musicians. Red Bull Street Kings 2022 returned to the Big Easy in September showcasing the new hip-hop flavour of the musical movement.
– Following the American Civil War, military bands returned to New Orleans where they were quickly utilised by Black Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs for their community events including funerals.
– Most brass bands began playing hymns and music rooted in black churches, which led to the incorporation of secular music, show tunes and jazz with the last six decades seeing other genres such as funk, soul, R&B and hip-hop becoming a part of the sound you now hear all over the city.
– Funeral parades, known as Second Lines, start with a slow and sombre hymn or dirge then, by the end, the music is lively and fast with everyone dancing. An all-female Original Pinettes Brass Band member explains, “We’re not celebrating death, we’re celebrating life. And that’s what New Orleans always does, takes tragedy and makes it into something great.”
– Second-lining is a black artform wholly unique to New Orleans consisting of a shuffle that also manages to be a strut, with spins and kicks, and if you’ve really got it, the occasional flip.
– Paul Robertson of Soul Rebel Brass band – who have collaborated with Metallica, Nas, and Katy Perry – adds, “In other cities, it’s the high school quarterback who’s the cool kid. Here, if you have a trombone, a baritone, a sousaphone, or a drum in your hand, you’re the cool kid in school.”
– Red Bull Street Kings was created in 2010 and challenges four brass bands to go head-to-head in front of a live audience and a panel of local judges, including famed producer Mannie Fresh.
– For 2022, each band collaborated with a local hip-hop artist to produce an original composition and, after three rounds, the last band left standing is crowned the reigning “Street Kings” of New Orleans.
– On September 24, the open-air stage of Music Box Village became a sonic showdown that left the crowd dripping with perspiration. Host Downtown Lesli Brown declared, “If your thighs aren’t burnin’ by the time you leave, you done did it wrong.”
– The Kings of Brass were the first to march into the arena, following the lead of two traditional second-line dancers and a Mardi Gras Indian, dazzling in orange feathers and sparkling beadwork.
– Sporty’s Brass Band engaged the crowd in call and response in keeping with traditional second-line music, while The Big 6 Brass Band showed out with four dancers twirling brightly coloured parasols. The first round was closed out by the Young Pinstripes Brass Band, who arrived with their own Mardi Gras Indian chief – this one in a black headdress and feathers.
– The second round of competition saw female rappers $leazy EZ and Treety hit the stage with Alfred Banks and Stone Cold Jzzle closing it out as the crowd got a chance to catch their collective breath.
– Bands were scored on-stage appearance, material, energy, musicality and innovation, with judges – including Fresh and Mia X – putting Kings of Brass and Sporty’s through with Kings of Brass playing a version of Kool and The Gang’s seminal “Get Down on It” before both were given a surprise second chance by Fresh as Kings of Brass’ “Graveyard” song edged out Sporty’s funky rendition of 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P” to win.
– Kings of Brass trumpeter Aurelien Barnes revealed: “At the end of the day, we didn’t want to just play any old song that everybody had heard before. We wanted to really create something original. We felt like we needed to bury the competition – put ’em in the grave, you know?”
– Banks added: “The collaboration is fun. We need to do it more often. Hip-hop and brass are more similar than people think. This is the start of something cool, it’ll only continue from here.”
– Mia X, the first female hip-hop artist signed to No Limit Records, enthused: “Ain’t nobody like us; nowhere in the world. The culture, the food, the people. New Orleans is touched with something special.”
Project / Event:Red Bull Street Kings 2022 New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Photographer Credit:Justen Williams / Red Bull Content Pool