Soul Rebels Brass Band formed when Lumar LeBlanc and Derrick Moss, originally members of New Orleans' iconic Dejean's Young Olympia Brass Band, decided they wanted to play the new, exciting music they were hearing on the radio while respecting the tradition they loved. Both New Orleans natives, the pair was steeped in the fundamentals of New Orleans jazz, but inevitably, contemporary styles of music began to seep into their psyches. While LeBlanc attended the famed St. Augustine High School, Moss went to Lil' Wayne's alma mater McMain High School, and paraded alongside soon-to-be Cash Money Records CEO Ronald "Slim" Williams in the school's marching band. All around were new sounds they found as exciting as the horn-combo style featured in jazz funerals since the turn of the Twentieth Century.
"We wanted to make our own sound without disrespecting the brass tradition," LeBlanc recalls, "so we knew we had to break away." They found a stylistic middle ground when they spun off and formed a band of young, like-minded local players from all over New Orleans. All graduates of university music programs throughout the South, they picked up influences from outside the city as well as late-breaking local styles and began mapping them onto the marching band format they had learned in school.
Soul Rebels honed their skills where most New Orleans brass bands doï¿½in the street. But by the time they were a functioning unit, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band had already broken out as an international touring act. That band's success showed Soul Rebels a New Orleans brass band could not only have a contemporary sound, but it could also have a place on stage. Although the Dirty Dozen had updated the brass band tradition with elements of R&B and funk, Soul Rebels took it a step further, incorporating hip-hop, especially through half-sung, half-rapped lyrics. "Most of our originals have vocals," says LeBlanc. "You wouldn't have done that in a traditional brass band."
Soon, Soul Rebels' contagious originals and updated takes on standards won them a loyal local audience. They began rocking some of New Orleans' most beloved live music venues. A chance gig opening for the Neville Brothers got them a real startï¿½and an official name. It was youngest brother Cyril Neville who first called them "Soul Rebels," a band that strived to incite positive change in its treasured musical heritage.
Since those days, the band has settled on a seven-piece lineup, building a career around an eclectic live show that harnesses the power of horns and drums in the party-like atmosphere of a dance club. Their weekly show at Uptown New Orleans spot Le Bon Temps Roulï¿½ has been known to descend into a sweaty shout-along as the band mixes up songs from its five studio albums with hits by Jay-Z and OutKast.
Averaging around 250 shows per year, the Soul Rebels have brought the party to stages as far away as South Africa and Europe, playing some of the world's best-known music events, including the North Sea Jazz Festival, Jazz Ascona, Antibes Jazz Festival, Umbria Jazz Fest, Bonnaroo Music Festival and, of course, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. While touring the U.S., Soul Rebels have shared the stage with notable artists from many corners of the pop and jazz worlds, including A Tribe Called Quest, Green Day, The Roots, Counting Crows, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Digital Underground, Allen Toussaint, Lionel Hampton, Terence Blanchard and Branford Marsalis.
When Hurricane Katrina struck their hometown in 2005, the band scattered across the region. Though a few members relocated to cities in Texas, the band frequently reconvened for gigs in New Orleans, this time with a renewed purpose. "Music has been the number one vehicle for Katrina recovery," says LeBlanc. "That catastrophe has brought so much world wide attention to our music."
Indeed, since the storm, the band has been more successful than ever serving as an international ambassador of the New Orleans sound. Now a hardcore touring band with a solid-as-ever lineup, the band has recently represented its hometown on television, appearing in the season finale of the HBO series Treme and the Discovery Channel hit After the Catch. But the title of its 2009 live album, No Place Like Home, reveals exactly how the band feels about its city's rich cultural heritage and the opportunity to spread it around the world.