REBIRTH BRASS BAND featuring SOULJA SLIM / “You Don’t Want To Go To War”

Lady buckjumpers, y’all buck with that And you ain’t rolling with it if you don’t sweat Soulja Slim with The ‘Birth, they’ll never forget And you ain’t saying nothing, so stop talking that shit We don’t want nobody to get hurt today All we really want to see is footwork today —The late James ‘Soulja Slim’ Tapp, from “You Don’t Want To Go To War”
In many forms of Black music, there’s a tradition of competition. In jazz, it’s called a ‘cutting session.’ Horn players square off against each other to see who can play the hottest solos. In hip-hop, there was the ‘park jam.’ DJ crews would set up on opposite sides of the park and spin their best records—sometimes simultaneously. In both cases, there was no input from judges, there were no score cards or computerized results. The winner was decided by audience response, period. So when New Orleans’-own Rebirth Brass Band names a song “You Don’t Want To Go To War,” they aren’t talking about Iraq or Afghanistan or any of the United States’ other attempts at ‘nation building.’ They aren’t making a political statement at all. They are saying in effect, “We’re Rebirth and you’re not. Don’t mess with us.” Or like they put it themselves in the opening refrain: “Don’t start no shit, won’t be no shit.” rebirth 09.jpg Last week, we heard music from one of the other internationally-known brass bands from New Orleans, The Dirty Dozen. If you thought that all brass bands sounded the same, you’re about to find out how wrong you were. Both the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth are from New Orleans and both bands use the traditional brass band structure of bass drum, snare drum and tuba (or sousaphone) backing up multiple horn players, but that’s about it for the similarities. The Dirty Dozen are polished and sophisticated musicians. Their rearrangements of Marvin Gaye’s classic tunes are well thought out and perfectly executed. The cats from Rebirth may be capable of playing clean and tight like the Dirty Dozen does, but if they are, they sure aren’t trying very hard. Listen to the opening horn salvo from “You Don’t Want To Go To War” (from Rebirth’s 2001 release Hot Venom). It sounds like 20 or 30 horns all playing sort of approximately the same tune, but with a wild and reckless attitude that only hints at the words ‘harmony.’ rebirth 05.jpg When Rebirth rearranges soul and R&B tunes, it’s usually to add hoarse-voiced and sometimes profane sing-a-longs a la “Rebirth Melody”/“Casanova” (also from Hot Venom) in which they re-imagine Levert’s “I’m so in love with you, baby” lyrics as (and I paraphrase) “I would like to have sex with you immediately.” No matter which tune they happen to be playing, the rhythms usually remain the same—a fiery polyrhythmic brew of tuba blats and bass drums licks that manages to sound African, Brazilian and hip-hoppish all at the same time. rebirth 04.jpg The origins of New Orleans’ second-most-famous brass band sounds like an urban myth. Eight teenagers from the same high school marching band ran out of beer money (actually, in this case, it was wine coolers) and decided to play on Bourbon St. for tips so they could buy more drinks. Whether you believe that story or not, this much is true: it’s twenty-some years later and they’re still playing. rebirth 07.jpg Sure, there’s only one original member left, tuba impresario Phillip Frazier, but Rebirth isn’t one of those made-for-the-casino-circuit scams with one original member and three or four other guys who were still in diapers back when the band was actually popular. rebirth keith frazier.gif Phillip’s little brother Kevin has been holding down the bass drum for over twenty years and several other Rebirth members have been playing with the band for nearly as long. rebirth derrick.jpg I was there when Rebirth did an in-store performance at Tower Records in New Orleans—that had to be sometime in the late ‘80s. Trumpet player Derrick Shesbie wasn’t even a teenager yet. I remember thinking that he looked barely bigger than his trumpet…and his trumpet wasn’t all that big. Today, Shesbie is a grown-ass man in his early thirties. Rebirth has been funkin’ it up for a looong time. rebirth 01.jpg Whether rhythmically or lyrically, this isn’t music for the faint-hearted. It’s not elegant, erudite or intellectual. It’s not the type of thing you want to play for your impressionable kids or your church-going mother. It’s party music, period. It’s music steeped in centuries-old tradition, certainly. But it’s a tradition that includes working hard all week, than going out and drinking, smoking, sweating and dancing damn near until you drop. If you should you ever have the opportunity to see Rebirth play live, by all means, go. But like I mentioned earlier, this isn’t some well-dressed, clean-shaven casino lounge act. You’re going to see eight or nine unkept-looking, sweaty black men in jeans and t-shirts. Their shouted refrains will probably remind you as much of 2 Live Crew as they remind you of Louis Armstrong. Sometimes, if the spirit hits them, one or two of them will quit playing right in the middle of a tune in order to cut a funky dance step or two. But on the other hand, they’re going to play hard and they’re going to play late and you’re probably going to lose at least a few pounds from dancing all damned night. For my money, you will never, ever, hear anything that grabs you by the gut quite the way Rebirth’s pounding drums and shrieking horns do. So if you don’t believe in shaking what you got, stay at home. Or, as Rebirth has been known to yell from the stage, “If you ain’t come to dance, get the fuck out the way!” —Mtume ya Salaam They want the music, but…         rebirth 08.jpg It was Clark High School they went to. And as “urban mythic” as the legend sounds, the truth is even more mythic: they played literally to help pay the rent and keep the lights on. It was not just for fun, it was also for survival. Back in the Eighties, I produced music. I took Rebirth on the road both nationally and internationally (to France twice). I remember once in New York, some of the band members had been walking up and down Broadway the day before we left and one of them had purchased a cover-your-whole-head gorilla mask. Not only did he decide to wear it to the airport, but he never took it off until we landed in New Orleans and never spoke a word of English the whole time. Of course, this was pre-911, but it is only a mild example of uninhibited “Rebirth” behavior. Yes, there are challenges in traveling with them, but their primal music is worth the disturbances. They keep alive a raucous and vital tradition. I love these cats. There is an interesting contradiction inherent in Rebirth’s hometown popularity. My dear colleague Jayne Cortez has a wonderful poem about Nigeria consisting of two lines repeated over and over: "They want the oil / But they don’t want the people." As she repeats the lines, Jayne puts emphasis on different words. You get the point immediately but her recitation is so on point and humorous that you are laughing the whole time even though it’s not a funny situation. rebirth 03.JPG In an analogous way, it’s the same story when it comes to Rebirth, who regularly play at the Maple Leaf, a club in the University district of Uptown New Orleans whose patrons are largely white collegiates and middle class residents: they want the music but they don’t want the people. There are people who brag about dancing all night to Rebirth and yet for fear of crime and uncomfortableness around large numbers of poor Black people (i.e. more than one maid, one handy man, one gardener and his helper), those New Orleanians would not be caught dead parading through the streets of overwhelmingly Black Central City neighborhoods or even the racially mixed Treme area. Yeah, we want to party to Rebirth in safety, but many of us won’t support the return of poor Blacks back into our city. Forgive me if I sound bitter, but it’s a classic case of class privilege buttressed by racial fears and antagonisms, even as a self-professed love of Rebirth is worn as a badge of liberalism. To be fair, I should make clear that there are also a significant number of Black folk who won’t roll with Rebirth through impoverished neighborhoods. The fears of what could happen is too much to risk. One could get mugged or shot or murdered. And for anyone, regardless of class or race, those are not unreasonable concerns. The streets of inner city New Orleans are mighty mean during the best of times and are especially mean in this post-Katrina era. rebirth 02.jpg But on the other hand there’s no secondline like a Rebirth secondline. Parading with Rebirth is a unique and exhilarating thrill, sort of like the rush of participating in that perilous Spanish tradition of running down narrow streets just ahead of a herd of thundering cattle, only here you might find yourself dodging bullets rather than bulls. Implicit in Rebirth’s raw lyrics is a celebration of combative street culture. What Mtume doesn’t say is that though Soulja Slim brags and boasts, he was no match for the assassins who shot him to death a couple of years back. The people laugh and dance, shout and party, but people also get mugged and murdered in this environment. Rebirth’s songs are not just entertaining braggadocio, these cats roll with the weapon of their music, stomping through valleys of death singing a defiant song. This wild music is so full of life precisely because it is joy snatched from the jaws of merciless, oppressive poverty. Yes, it’s vulgar. Yes, it’s often anti-social. Yes, for sure it’s prone toward condoning (if not outright advocating) violence. But it’s also some of the strongest music on the planet precisely because it’s the sound of those who have come marching through the slaughter, those who some-magic-how have summoned up the strength to laugh, dance and artistically celebrate their own survival against oppressive odds. —Kalamu ya Salaam Marching through slaughter        Very well put, Baba. Yeah, I wasn't gonna really get into the whole thing with Soulja Slim. This was a Rebirth thing, so I was just gonna focus on them. But since you brought it up.... The first thing I noticed when I listened to Slim's verse was how ironic his verse becomes once one takes into account the circumstances of his death:
"Y'all don't wanna go to war, we got heat" ... "I'm a nigga [who's] never gonna squash the beef" ... "I'm Wild Magnolia, all about that blasting" ... "I got niggas who know where your house is"
The last line is particularly ironic in that Slim was gunned down on the front lawn of his mother's place, where he was staying. Apparently, niggas knew where Slim's house was too. soulja slim_3.jpg For a while, it looked like Slim was getting his life together. After serving time on an armed robbery charge and after beating an addiction to heroin (all of this before his early twenties), Slim scored a couple of regional hits and had a new album set to come out. Apparently though, he hadn't left all of his past life in the past. The way he was killed—execution style and at close range—clearly indicated that the shooting was no random crime. Somebody wanted Slim dead. Although one suspect was arrested and later released, to my knowledge, Slim's murder remains unsolved. And, if the rumors about how and why Slim was killed are true, the murder will never be solved. Like the killing of Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. and Big L and Jam Master Jay, etc. etc. etc., Slim's death is the kind that street cats prefer to adjuticate on their own, without benefit of the legal system. Like Kalamu said, these young men are stomping through the valley of death, marching through slaughter. It shouldn't be surprising that they sometimes don't make it out alive. —Mtume ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Sunday, September 10th, 2006 at 12:24 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “REBIRTH BRASS BAND featuring SOULJA SLIM / “You Don’t Want To Go To War””

Qawi Robinson Says:
September 12th, 2006 at 11:02 am

Thanks for the exposure. I was impressed by the musicianship that this Band shows. Explicit lyrics aside, this is more than a High School/College Band. “You don’t want to go to war” is powerful, musically and lyrically. It is actually two songs or movements.

I guess each region has their own type of “unihibited” music and groups. The equivalent of Rebirth and their style of music in the Washington DC Metropolitan area is Go-Go. Where Rebirth is Brass heavy, Go-Go bands are percussion heavy. African rhythms, cowbells, congas, and roto-toms. Even with the musical differences, the passion, energy, edgy lyrics, and cadence is very similar.

Neither music can really be classified…unless you call it raw or gutteral funk.

Editor B Says:
September 12th, 2006 at 12:09 pm

I was thinking about Kalamu and Slim because I just watched NO Exposed last night. One of my wife’s students loaned it to her. Then, listening to this track again today, I just had to come back and say: Thanks for this post.

“This wild music is so full of life precisely because it is joy snatched from the jaws of merciless, oppressive poverty.”

So true. I’ve long thought that the soulfulness of New Orleans comes from pain. I would like to see us minimize the pain. Does that mean we’d lose the soul? I don’t know, but it doens’t look like we’ll confront that dilemma anytime soon.

youngblood Says:
September 12th, 2006 at 11:37 pm

I would be remiss in my duty as a lover of music if when running across a blog featuring Brass Band music of New Orleans, especially the revival or I should say the progression of traditional New Orleans music, and not at least mention Mr. Danny Barker.

Mr. Barker is principally responsible for Fairview Baptist Church to The Dirty Dozen and Rebirth. Roger, Blodie, Kirk, Kermit, Jamil and all the rest will tell you that it was Danny Barker who not only taught them the music but the preeminent banjo and guitarist gave first-hand accounts of the history of jazz from pre-Armstrong era through bebop. Danny played with all of “the cats” and could tell stories, the intimate details of which, you will never hear in jazz history or biographies. Danny was a beautiful man who was always willing to teach and share what he had.

I met Mr. Barker in the mid seventies at Xavier University where he was teaching music appreciation. Danny Barker’s class was always the first to close and everyone who took his class received an A. Not because he gave out A’s freely. Every student earned an excellent grade because Danny had a gift of instilling a genuine love for music. Danny had a wealth of both musician friends and talent both of which he utilized with amazing results in class. Students and teachers would literally crowd outside the door trying to catch a riff or anecdote. He was a master storyteller and communicator and students sensed genuineness in him. I personally took the class eight times and never once for credit.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2:00pm the cats in the jazz lab would hang out on the quad and wait for Mr. Barker to stroll by. He was our ticket into the class and we were looked up to by others by virtue of the fact that we were with him. Holding out a dollar bill, he once asked me to get him a cup of coffee from the student center. That was the first and last time he ever had to ask. Every time after that I always brought him his coffee to that class in the band room and was proud to do it. The man played with everyone from Pops to Bird.

Danny Barker showed up for class on the first day of school in or around 1978-79 only to find out he had been fired. Most of the cats at XU who were into jazz left soon thereafter. It was a classless move by the university.

I soon found myself at Willie Metcalf’s Academy of Black Arts. Willie immediately sent me over to Danny Barker’s house to get the New Orleans music. The Academy was on St. Bernard and London Avenues, right down from The Circle Food Store and right across from the hot tamale stand that didn’t really sell hot tamales. Danny lived on Sere Street right across from the St. Bernard project. On the walk over I was going over in my mind how I was going to show this man all the respect and appreciation I could muster. When I finally knock on the door (Blue) Lu Barker greeted me and almost before I could say good evening invited me in, sat me down and offered me something to drink. It may not sound like much but these were world-class people in every sense of the term treating me like I should have been treating them. I don’t know how many times we went over Royal Garden Blues.

This is the kind of life, the kind of reverence for culture and humanity that is fostered in the society of Black folks in New Orleans. Our sons are connected to our fathers by spiritual bonds, cultural bonds, by bonds that are hard to express with words. But once it has touched you, once you have felt it you know Black people culture in New Orleans is unique. Do they still make em like that? Do they still make men and women like Danny and Blue Lu Barker?

“Box-back coat
Stetson hat
Twenty-dollar gold piece (to let the boys know I was)
Standing pat”

BEE Says:
March 9th, 2007 at 2:34 pm


Muscle3 Says:
October 23rd, 2008 at 10:59 am

man rebirth is one of them bands that never dies,when i heard u dont wanna go to war,ive back flipped in my mind cause slim was letting it known that rebirth is a living joice of music and when he said we only wanna see foot work that let it be known new orleans got a go on and its real a heard me

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