Band brings mix of traditional jazz and hip-hop to Blackman

Image courtesy/Jay Vultaggio

By Yisu Kim

News Correspondent


Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster that left more than $100 billion in damages and over 1,000 deaths in its wake. Out of the wreckage, however, the Hot 8 Brass Band – who are playing Blackman Auditorium tomorrow night – emerged to help pave the way to restoration.


The Hot 8 was founded in 1995 by band leader Bennie Pete, bass drummer Harry Cook and former band member Jerome Jones. The band performed in the vibrant second line parades that are characteristic of New Orleans. According to their website,, the members became well-known for their habit of playing through both day and night.
After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, they were launched into the public eye as the band committed itself to healing the community by providing entertainment to those affected by the disaster. Today, the Hot 8 performs throughout the US.


“We wanted to do something to help out after Hurricane Katrina and help the people cope,” Pete said. “We understood what they’re going through because we went through it ourselves. We would perform to get everyone miles away from the trauma and allow them to still have a good time. Through performance, we tried to rebuild and move forward.”


Brass bands are musical ensembles that consist of brass instruments like tubas and saxophones. With a rich history that dates back to the mid-19th century in New Orleans, brass bands have left a deep impact in the city’s history, said Eric Jackson an African American Studies professor and host of “Jazz on WGBH.”


“They’ve had brass bands in New Orleans for over 150 years,” Jackson said. “They marched for major events, like opening up a new highway or bridge. The brass brand would often play for those kinds of events, but in New Orleans there always seemed to be a special love for brass instruments and brass bands.”


The Hot 8 Brass Band reflects the merging of traditional New Orleans brass music and a more modern sound. By blending hip-hop and the historical style of parades, the band inspires listeners to embrace the rhythm and let loose, Jackson said.


“The younger players who came along were interested in playing music that younger people back then liked,” he said. “There was a change in the music of brass bands 40 years ago, and the Hot 8 is a descendant of that. They’re not just a band that functions for marching and parades. They play with the idea that you’re going to get up and dance.”


Fueled by a desire to share the culture of New Orleans, the Hot 8 regrouped after the destruction of Hurricane Irene and set out to play their music for thousands in need, Pete said. Performing throughout Louisiana and nearby states, the band used their music as a way to reach out to the public.


“A lot of things inspire our music,” Pete said. “We want to continue and share the tradition and culture of New Orleans. It’s a reflection of what we’ve been through as musicians of New Orleans. After the hurricane, we didn’t have anything, and we lost a lot. We entertain because it’s a way to see how we are rebuilding, too. ”


Because the band’s members were all born and raised in New Orleans, they said they felt the loss of the residents more acutely than any outsider could have. This understanding led them to help the people cope with their trauma and take the first step towards rebuilding all that had been destroyed, Pete said.


The upcoming performance will allow students at Northeastern to get a rare glimpse of the New Orleans’ distinct musical style, Center for the Arts director Jay Vultaggio said. By attending, the audience will witness the culture of a region that has been changed by tragedy.


“The hope is that what the students see will be something that they wouldn’t have access to,” Vultaggio said. “[The Hot 8] play to get people motivated, and their music is such a wonderful cultural representation. This is really the greatest tradition being kept alive by people for 150 years now. The students will be exposed to a different culture that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise.”


The Hot 8 Brass Band will perform in the Blackman Auditorium this Friday at 8 p.m. Tickets are available for $7 for students through myTickets on myNEU and at the Blackman Auditorium box office. Tickets are available to the general public for $22.


Ultimately, the Hot 8 hopes to mobilize listeners and inspire them to come together through the medium of music, Pete said.
“No matter what we went through, we are just happy to be here,” he said. “We want to move forward and see the world rebuild. At the end of the day, you see people get up and dancing, and just enjoying each other. That’s all we want.”