Healing with the Hot 8 Brass Band for Make a Move festival in Limerick

Alan Owens


Alan Owens

BENNY ‘Big Peter’ Pete is hot. It’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit in New Orleans, and 80% humidity. He listens with envy as we tell him about the teeming rain here.

BENNY ‘Big Peter’ Pete is hot. It’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit in New Orleans, and 80% humidity. He listens with envy as we tell him about the teeming rain here.

“It’s hot man! I can’t get wait to get over there. Wet and cold? That sounds good! It’s hot, humid, sticky, sweaty, disgusting! We gotta get out of here. I really needed to hear that,” laughs the tuba player, band leader and co-founding member of the Hot 8 Brass Band.

Benny - who was 6’7” at the age of 11 - is looking forward to being on the road in the summer, looking forward to being in Ireland, looking forward to Limerick and Dolan’s Warehouse, where his band will perform. Promoters Choice Cuts have told him stories about this venue, where the Hot 8 will perform as part of the Make A Move hip-hop festival.

“I am looking forward to visiting Ireland. It has been a while man, about two years, but it feels like five. So we are really eager to get over there and down to Limerick and spread some love,” he drawls down the phone from his native New Orleans.

The last time the marching band hit these shores they played in Dublin and “people dug us”, Benny explains.

“They knew us, I guess, from the social networks - they knew our nicknames and everything,” he laughs.

What a cast to even try and mention - featuring anything up to 14 members, with names like ‘Swamp Thang’ - that’s bass drummer Harry Cook, a fellow founding member of the Hot 8 along with Jerome ‘Baybay’ Jones on trombone and Benny, the group coming together out of high school in 1995 with the merging of two bands, the Looney Tunes Brass Band and the High Steppers Brass Band.

The Hot 8 are an original marching brass band mixing traditional New Orleans music with hip-hop, jazz, funk - and were the first American act signed to the UK label Tru Thoughts, home to Bonobo and Quantic.

People “dig” these guys wherever they go, and it is no surprise that ardent fans have their many nicknames off by heart. They are aiming for that connection with their audience.

“Definitely yes. From the first drumbeat, that is what it is about, connecting with the audience and appreciating that,” says Benny.

“I believe it is because it is feel good music for one thing - if you have any feeling or any rhythm inside good music is going to hit you. That is what makes music good, when it hits you and makes you feel something,” he explains.

“Besides that I just think it is the struggle that everybody goes through as part of the human race, day to day, going to work, whatever it may be, it aggravates your spirit sometimes. But once we come together, we as musicians pour that into our music and try and share that through music and reach the people so that our souls are connected. It is something you really have to feel, you can’t explain it.”

The band came to prominence in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and particularly Spike Lee’s 2006 documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. They have since been heavily involved in relief initiatives, most notably Finding Our Folk and Save Our Brass, two grass-roots projects that have brought music and instruments to shelters, temporary trailer parks, and communities across the Gulf Coast.

“We have a movement that we live by and made up when we were younger and we stick to it, everything we feel like doing, we do it,” says Benny of their policy of using music to ‘heal communities’.

“Music has been used that way all the time, through wars, even back to slavery. If you can have some rhythm or something that you can hold on to take your mind away from what you are going through, it can make it that much easier to go through with it.”

The Hot 8 are set to release a much anticipated follow-up to their 2007 debut album later this year, and recently appeared with the Blind Boys of Alabama on record, as well as playing live with Dr. John and Lou Reed. Having toured with Mos Def and Lauren Hill, we wonder who Benny would ideally like to play with next?

“I am open for really collaborating with anybody who is willing or interested, or shares the same musical concept as us,” he says.

“One of my favourites - I would have to say - if we can work with the big timers, Puff Daddy or someone, that would be different. That would be good. He always brings excitement to the music.”

We wouldn’t bet against them achieving that milestone. In the meantime witness the excitement they generate live in the flesh when their short Irish tour comes to Limerick this week.

The Hot 8 Brass Band play Dolan’s Warehouse on Thursday July 5. See Dolans.ie for tickets. The band play in Limerick as part of the Make a Move festival; see Make A Move for details.