The Soul Rebels, or, if you want to get formal, the Soul Rebels Brass Band, take the tradition of the New Orleans brass band sound and mixes it with contemporary R&B, soul, hip-hop, pop, Latin and whatever else they can think to do.
Picture a marching band strutting down Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras with Aretha Franklin twirling a baton in front; Jay-Z with a megaphone walking alongside; and Michael Jackson moonwalking in back. The band’s energy and sound is immediately enticing, as demonstrated by an experience with a colleague. Five minutes after handing her the Soul Rebels’ latest CD, Unlock Your Mind, she wrote me to say that she was hooked.
Drummer and founding Soul Rebels member Lumar LeBlanc was flattered by this story, and explains what attracts people to the band. “I think it’s the energy, the beat, the rhythm and the vibe and definitely the horns,” he says. “The horns have such crispness and clarity along with a groovy, funky beat. It’s captivating.”
LeBlanc, like all members of the group, is a formally trained musician who is equally inspired by the historical New Orleans sound as much as the pop, rock and hip-hop he grew up with. In the ’90s, he played with Dejan’s Young Olympia Brass Band, a group founded in the ’50s with a rotating lineup of musicians that kept it active through the decades.
It was at this time that LeBlanc experimented with blending the sounds he heard on the radio with the standards he was playing. His favourites were Public Enemy, Sade, Dr. Dre and Tears for Fears.
“We received a lot of criticism early on, being that we were breaking from the tradition,” LeBlanc describes. “But I think that because we were good musicians and put scholarship into our art form we were able to get approval. So I think when people honestly put their blinders away and their phobias about how jazz and music should be played and just listen, they begin to appreciate our sound.”
The Soul Rebels sound is ever evolving. With a large collection of musicians, there could be a danger of clashing personalities and approaches to music, but LeBlanc doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s only eight members – a snare drum, a bass drum, a sousaphone, two trumpets, two trombones and a sax,” he says. “Basically, we do the democratic process. That’s why the music covers so many genres from R&B to reggae to rock to classical to Caribbean – it covers so much because every member brings in their own style.”
The blending of styles works for the Soul Rebels because, at the root, these guys can really play. LeBlanc can hear it, and he knows the band can handle the versatility.
“Horns, every instrument has the personality of the person playing it,” he explains. “I can hear the tone and know which person is playing which horn. I’ve been so much trained in the marching band for endurance that a lot of that early impetuous comes out in my playing, the aggression, the consistency, so as time goes on being trained in classical and jazz I’m able to alter it for whatever tone you want.”
The band tours extensively, more than 250 shows a year, and with so much time on the road you know that the players value their high-energy performances. “We implement not only music but a show,” says LeBlanc. “We have dance steps and choreography that separates us from every other band. It’s all organic, real people playing real horns and drums. The venue is just walls and air conditioning, but the real energy is the people.”
Most people who see the Soul Rebels get swept up in the music. Bands like Metallica and Green Day are fans, and have invited the band to share the stage with them. The Soul Rebels have hit on a sound that is magnetic to music lovers.
“I think of how we are orchestrated with the horns and drums, the sousaphone, people have never seen anything like this produce that kind of ‘in your face’ sound,” LeBlanc theorizes. “I think as word is catching fire, the fire is growing and it’s real hot.”
You can experience the Soul Rebels live in Toronto, St. John's Halifax and Quebec City in June and July.
The Soul Rebels Brass Band
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Jelly Roll Morton’s Vancouver
on Jun 26, 2012