Assistant Professor of Music, Tulane University
In New Orleans, the instruments of the brass band are sound technologies utilized to communicate particular messages to a community of listeners. In the local tradition of the jazz funeral, musicians determine the emotional register of the procession: mournful hymns regulate the slow march to the gravesite and upbeat popular songs signal the transition to celebratory dancing after burial. The musicians not only organize the memorial by changing tempo and repertoire, they communicate to the living and the dead through the material sound of their instruments. Black New Orleanians occupying public spaces where lynchings, race riots, segregation, and gentrification have taken place “give voice” to these submerged histories by marching and dancing to the beat of the brass band. And the most recent generation of musicians has drawn upon hip-hop, integrating the direct language of rap into a polyphony of voices that includes horns, drums, and group singing. In this case study of the brass bands of New Orleans, a holistic approach to sonic materiality integrates the spoken, the sung, and instrumental sound in a densely layered soundscape that creates meaning and value for racialized subjects of power.