Chances are you have heard the Soul Rebels, even if you haven’t heard of them. The eight-piece brass band from New Orleans has played and recorded with an astounding number of top artists and bands from eclectic backgrounds. The impressive list includes Kanye West, The Allman Brothers Band, Rick Ross, Metallica, Cee Lo Green, and Arcade Fire, just to name a few. For their current tour the Soul Rebels have teamed up with renowned Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli, with whom they will perform at the 9:30 Club on February 18th.
The band’s patented sound is rooted in the idea of taking a traditional New Orleans brass band and blending it with elements of mainstream contemporary music, namely hip-hop and rock. The versatility of the band is tied closely to its New Orlean roots. Drummer and co-founder Lumar Leblanc cited the city’s rich musical history as a prime influence on himself as a musician: “Growing up I listened to many different styles and types of musical artists ranging from jazz to classic rock, soul and hip hop to traditional New Orleans brass band music.” He listed The Doors, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Frank Sinatra among his influences.
The current tour with Talib Kweli is entitled “The Soul Rebels Sound System” and continues the band’s history of performing with hip-hop artists. On their 2013 mixtape Power=Power, the Soul Rebels covered songs by Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Drake. When asked why he thought jazz and hip-hop mix so naturally, Leblanc pointed to the shared origins and social contexts of the two genres. “I think jazz and hip-hop come from a similar suitcase and embody a lot of improvisational qualities,” he said. “They represent a rich culture. Having that deep soul is the heartbeat of both styles. Hip-hop has a flow and space which is inspired by jazz. Like be-bop, hip-hop is a very innovative art form and culturally influential. Jazz and hip-hop were styles both developed by people in the streets and in the clubs and by people who experienced struggle and survival.”
Leblanc expressed excitement and admiration when asked about performing with Talib Kweli, calling the MC “a true poet and a very expressive artist.” “That man is filled with so much funk, soul, and he lives music,” Leblanc continued. “He’s true to his message and community focused. He’s an activist and stands up and speaks his mind. I find that very important in an artist, and Talib in particular is a strong man. Those qualities have an impact on his art and performance, and the Soul Rebels really connect with that philosophy.”
With a stage bursting with talent, the show is poised to be a truly unique experience. However, for the Soul Rebels, it is also another step in their evolution as a band. “Music is a journey,” Leblanc said. “All our performances are encounters that influence the next step. We experience the energy from artist to artist. We love collaborating and at the end of the day, the artists that have a deep soul and love for music are the ones we connect with regardless of genre or branding.” You may have noticed Leblanc mention the word “soul” in each of his responses. In anticipation of this upcoming show, I would venture to guess that soul will not be in short supply.