A scholarly account of the rites, rituals and traditions of the famed brass bands of New Orleans.
In his debut book, ethnomusicologist and journalist Sakakeeny (Music/Tulane Univ.) delves into the subculture of brass bands in New Orleans. By focusing on three bands—Rebirth, Soul Rebels and Hot 8—the author attempts to elucidate the ways in which music influences the larger community. “The experiences of New Orleans musicians like those in the Hot 8 Brass Band say something about the vitality of local black culture,” he writes, adding that for a significant portion of the population, music creates an important “sense of community.” Yet as Sakakeeny makes clear, the story of the city’s brass bands is far more complex than music alone. Beyond its entertainment value, music serves as the “site where competing social, political, and economic vectors intersect.” In many ways, these vectors serve as a microcosm for the problems within the city at large. While many of these musicians have achieved global recognition, in New Orleans, their talent is often overlooked. As a result, they fall victim to poverty, unemployment and dependency issues, the latter of which “eventually take all but the sturdiest musicians out of the game.” Yet in a city notorious for its murder and incarceration rates, Sakakeeny uncovers a silver lining as well: “young people respond to their circumstances by picking up an instrument.” Though the author does a fine job of highlighting the many positives music brings to the city, his work is no lighthearted romp. As he makes clear, beneath the blaring of the horns remains the familiar hum of problems that have long plagued the city.
An occasionally dry but competently told tale of a celebrated musical tradition whose story is rarely told.