Top Brass: the best brass bands leading a renaissance

You might think they're restricted to New Orleans or collieries, but all over the world we’re falling in love with the energy of brass bands all over again.

I have always loved the sound of brass bands. Nothing beats hearing the intertwined harmonies of trombones, saxophones, trumpets and sousaphones. I admire the skill it takes to move while playing and performing complex routines. The rhythmic, almost hypnotic, drum patterns, the horns serenading you one moment and screaming for your attention the other. Let’s not forget their uniforms always adding pizazz and colour.

Think brass bands and you will probably picture New Orleans for its rich history and numerous bands, but in the UK in the 1900s, the sounds of brass bands were the norm with coal mines and collieries. It was subsidised by their unions and as the coal mines closed during the Thatcher era, the brass bands disappeared.

Now brass bands are back all around the world and here to stay, from festival stages to TV series Treme, weddings and more, we are all falling in love with them all over again.

Don’t believe me? Ask Beyoncé, whose 2018 Coachella headline shows (as featured on the Netflix documentary Homecoming) were full of the NOLA brass band sound and George Ezra, who featured the Hot 8 Brass Band as part of his band for his recent tour.

Here are some of my top bands.

Mr Wilson’s Second Liners

I first came across Mr Wilson’s Second Liners [pictured top] at the Hull Freedom Festival. Before I heard them, I felt their energy, costumes gleaming in the sunlight and anticipation from the crowd. They blew us all away. Their sound is New Orleans meets Britain. Second Lining is a quintessential New Orleans art form, the band are the pied pipers and we the audience are a part of the procession. We march, sing, dance and wave anything we can find and we become part of the second line. Mr Wilson’s Second Liners are party starters for sure, and they are guests on series two of my CBeebies show YolanDa’s Band Jam, scheduled to transmit early next year.

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Hackney Colliery Band

I first came across them as I dined in a restaurant, the background music was No Diggity by Blackstreet, but in a colliery sound. Out came Shazam and I fell in love. A few years later, I saw them at the Mobo Awards, they paraded through the crowd, playing and dancing as we all sang along. Their debut album was released in 2011 and since then they’ve put the East End on the brass band map, with their combination of brass, reeds, percussion and electronics. From playing at the London Olympics closing ceremony to sets at the Brit and Mercury Award, there is no stopping them.

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Hot 8 Brass Band

They are Grammy-nominated, opened on tour for Lauryn Hill, featured in two Spike Lee documentaries and are selling out dates in their own right. Hot 8 Brass Band have the vibes and leave it all on stage every time. Originally from New Orleans, Hot 8 have had to endure changes from the original line-up due to illness and street violence. In a similar way to the line-up changes of the legendary Motown group The Temptations, the legacy of the group outweighs the personnel. This legacy has been carried on through the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, the band regrouped and toured the world promoting New Orleans’ recovery. They recorded two albums and one with the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band

In India brass bands are also a thing! They bring their own unique harmonies and melodies and they certainly blow your mind when your hear the unique fusion of pop covers on traditional Indian instruments in a brass band style. High in demand and always on the road, Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band are phenomenal musicians from Jaipur, Rajasthan’s renowned ‘Pink City’, and the surrounding villages. Their sound? Trumpet, trombone, euphonium and sousaphone fused with some traditional Indian instruments.

There are way too many brass bands to mention, but here are a few more of my favourites to add to your playlists and check out on YouTube: Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Rebirth Brass Band, Soul Rebels Brass Band, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Treme Brass Band.

YolanDa Brown is a musician and broadcaster.