“When we’re out on the road for the most part we try to have an open mind and do a little local food but, [if we do try New Orleans cuisine] it only winds up making us really miss it and want to go home. Sometimes we try to get accommodation with a kitchen so we can cook our own food,” says bandleader and sousaphone player Bennie Pete.
The homesickness that Pete’s referring to makes complete sense when you consider that Hot 8 Brass Band’s identity is tied very closely to their community at home, playing a huge role in the band’s formation and continued success. A lot has been made about the fact that they come from the projects of New Orleans – the band even featured in the Spike Lee directed two-part documentary series When The Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts (2006) and If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise (2010), which focus on the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill respectively.
Pete reflects on the band member’s lives in New Orleans in 2017, compared with when he first started the band in 1996 by bringing together two Fortier High School student groups: the High Steppers and the Looney Tunes Brass Bands. “[We live in] the same neighbourhood, if not we’ll pass through because some of us have had to move, but no too far because the city’s not that big. We’re [for the most part] in the same neighbourhood, with our kids at the same schools. I think we need that: doing local gigs, hanging out with local bands, just sitting and doing gigs with other cats, we kinda use all that music to charge us up for when we go on the road, to help us kick it without going crazy.
“When we are at home we enjoy that time. Right now we are counting down because we know that we have a month left [before] we gonna be gone for a while, so we’re sitting in with other bands, going to see other bands, everybody making their rounds,” says Pete.
The tour he is referring is going to see Hot 8 Brass Band away from home for a while as they headline WOMadelaide – Australia’s preeminent world music event – as well as performing in every mainland capital city. “We have just released a new EP [Can’t Nobody Get Down] so we will include the songs off that,” says Pete of what their set will be like. “But other than that, we working on it. I am at rehearsal right now, working on the show and how we want to present it dealing with what ever time slot we got and how can we fit everything in. It’s like packing up a present or a gift to send to somebody, we are trying to pack as much as we can into this one box that we bring with us – makin’ sure we got a little bit of everything and put it on stage and just let everybody go for it. We repping our city as best we could, you know what I am saying?”