The Soul Rebels are a hip, groundbreaking group out of New Orleans. The eight-member band performs jazz, hip hop, R&B, soul, funk, rock and pop hits with brass instruments.
Their latest release, Power = Power, is a 12-track mixtape that features the band covering Jay Z, Kanye West, Bruno Mars, Drake, Nicki Minaj and Daft Punk. The brass collective’s live performances are vivid reminders of The Big Easy’s festive Mardi Gras spirit married to an HBCU halftime show.
Like any collection since the band’s 1994 debut release, Let Your Mind Be Free, The Soul Rebels’ music promotes empowerment and embracing humanity. “It’s good to see the swag that we carry. We play and perform music that’s akin to our bloodline. We’ve always been a fashionable group. We just want to continue to show that style,” says co-founder, snare drummer and resident sneaker head Lumar LeBlanc.
LeBlanc, along with his Soul Rebels co-founder, bass drummer Derrick Moss, were originally members of the Young Olympia Brass Band when they met. The pair set out to organize a band that played the types of music they listened to and would pay homage to their 504 musical lineage.
The Soul Rebels were originally christened The Soul Rebels Brass Band in 1991 by hometown legend Cyril Neville of The Neville Brothers. The band’s adopted name, a thoughtful LeBlanc adds, is a direct reference to Bob Marley.
“Our name has always been synonymous with the purpose. Every album that we do is a step in our evolution. We’re about rebelling for, not against, positive expression. We’re rebelling against oppression. We want people to be able to love and express their inner self,” says LeBlanc with a syrupy, heavy New Orleans accent.
While attending Texas Southern University, LeBlanc, nicknamed “Big Cheeky,” was the marching band’s drum major. Moss was also a drum major at Southern University. LeBlanc, a self-proclaimed “aggressive drummer that brings the flavor”, attributes The Soul Rebels’ precision, unison blares and discipline to his on-campus drills and practice schedules.
The Soul Rebels are also partially inspired by military bands. “The marching bands there are very serious. [Discipline] is one of those focal points that gets all of those drummers to listen to each other and play as one. You have to really learn your art and listen to the person next to you. You want to sound like one unit,” says LeBlanc.
The Soul Rebels’ energetic sets and bombastic sounds have exposed them to a legion of diverse audiences. They’ve appeared on the hit HBO original series, Treme. Stella McCartney invited them to perform at one of her fashion shows in New York. Metallica even requested The Soul Rebels to perform with them in celebration of the rock band’s 30th anniversary in San Francisco.
The brass ensemble’s distinctive sound earned them invitations to share the stage with an eclectic range of performers including Green Day, Maceo Parker, Slick Rick, Suzanne Vega, Rare Essence, Juvenile and Rick Ross among others.
To LeBlanc, whenever popular artists collaborate with The Soul Rebels, there’s always a creative mutual exchange. “To make the music still sound rich and bold is what gets these artists’ juices flowing. We’re doing what we do from the soul. Those artists seek out bands like us because we’re so different. We want to try to incorporate things that can expand their mind because that’s what we get when we play with those artists,” says a gracious LeBlanc.
The Soul Rebels have weathered storms, too. The band members were scattered across the Gulf at one point because of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. They still performed as a group. To this day, The Soul Rebels hold regular group meetings and roundtable discussions without any instruments in sight.
Bands often allow egos, greed and shady music executives to lead to their demise. Not fazed by major label deals or mainstream success, The Soul Rebels collectively make efforts to communicate with each other.
The music is a team effort on their terms. “Every band goes through it when you try to climb the ladder. The Soul Rebels is a family, and it’s a journey. We try to connect with each other. If you’re able to touch another person’s soul, you can get so much more out of them. That’s how we’re able to persevere for so long,” says LeBlanc.
At the time of the interview, The Soul Rebels were preparing to perform at Le Bon Temps Roule. The band performs at their hometown venue every Thursday if they’re not booked or on tour. The band was collecting toys to deliver to kids for Christmas presents during that performance.
Firm believers in karma, The Soul Rebels still get the same energy playing for their hometown as they would in any part of the world. “You have to be in tune with yourself and what you’re doing. That was one of the first major venues to give us an opportunity. It’s home-based and a good place for us. People like to see that,” says LeBlanc.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.