Helping Y’all People Notice

How Music Wrote the Lives of the Men of Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

HYPNOTIC BRASS ENSEMBLE

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (aka The Bad Boys of Jazz) are seven brothers from the south side of Chicago.

Ask a member of the seven-piece band Hypnotic Brass Ensemble how they got their name, and you may get a surprise answer.

It started as an acronym for the band’s mission: Helping Young People Notice . . . hypnotic. Notice what, though?

Music. Jazz. Funk. Themselves. The power of young black men channeling the cosmos the way their father taught them.

The band, all sons of famed Chicago jazz musician Phil Cohran (Sun Ra Arkestra, Chaka Khan, The Pharaohs, among others), began their apprenticeships with their dad early in life. Some started as young as four years old, but all had instruments in hand by their sixth birthdays. Cohran, who grounded himself in elevating the arts scene in Chicago and working with community youth, had a sweeping and macro view of humanity’s relationship to music. Cohran wanted to know his place in the cosmos, and he knew music held the answer. He studied all over the world to integrate a sound and teaching technique that connected musicians (and, by extension, their audiences) to the harmonies of the universe.

Kelan

Jazz musician Kelan Phil Cohran. The honorific “Kelan,” which means “holy scripture,” was given to him by Chinese Muslims while he was visiting China.

He implemented this view in his teaching, and his sons, masters as they are of Afrobeat, R&B, funk, soul, traditional jazz and hip hop, always weave their music back to the over-picture: that their sometimes strange improv instrumental tangents construct a tone link to the nonstop harmonies emerging from planetary electromagnetic fields. They have, as they say, some harmonies that can only be heard in space.

… Now imagine Jupiter speeded up with a funky James Brown drum and horn section:

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble took to the streets of Chicago early in their career where they grew a grassroots fan base and earned a dope reputation purely by word-of-mouth. In time, “helping young people notice” outgrew their neighborhood radius, and HBE realized they were destined for bigger things. Thus, “helping young people notice” became “helping y’all people notice” as HBE began its interplanetary mission as “superheroes of jazz sent to rescue those in distress—and that is the entire musical community of planet Earth,” as they say in the British documentary about HBE and their work with Fela Kuti’s drummer Tony Allen.

These men, these brothers, these direct descendants of musical spiritual master Phil Cohran and veterans of the mean streets of southside Chicago, do not merely play music. They are made of it. They are acutely aware of the role jazz, hip hop, soul, funk, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll and the intricate musicality of Asia and Africa contribute to their organic make up. This acute awareness transmits through their musical compositions and has the ability to reach into the soul of the listener.

Such is the way of HBE.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble performs at The Straz this February, and we are thrilled that they will be holding two school outreach workshops, one at Dunbar Elementary and the other to be determined. It is our privilege and mission to give local young people access to artists like HBE and do our part to “help young people notice” the world is large, diverse and full of incredibly cool people and opportunities to connect themselves to the bigger picture.

 

This program is funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the State of Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

dev-logos-for-blog

Cool Facts About Performing Arts: Afrobeat

The journey of rhythm is like water. It is a building block of life, to make and sustain it, and water takes many forms, traveling, growing, changing, and converging with other water sources to create incredible phenomena such as the Okavango Delta in Botswana or Florida’s very own Everglades. In its own way, rhythm works to sustain life. Some would argue rhythm is life, taking many forms, traveling, growing, changing and converging to create new and impressive musical genres.

One such phenomena of rhythm happened in the 1970s when a Nigerian musician named Fela Kuti drew on traditional Nigerian and Ghanaian music, converging these polyrhythms with American jazz, funk, chants and call-and-response lyricism. In the 1960s, Kuti and other socially conscious artists used their art as a means to carry messages of social criticism to inspire social change. Challenges to the status quo and political injustice imbedded in the lyrics, creating a unique, gigantic, big band African-drums-meet-American-jazz sound whose infectious, horn-filled thumping traveled around the globe in a new brand of music that Kuti dubbed Afrobeat.

Afrobeat spread, and one of the greatest American-based Afrobeat bands today, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, teams up with African soul-and-R&B artist Zap Mama for a rare appearance together on the Ferguson stage on Thursday night. Afrobeat is also enjoying a resurrection in the UK, erupting from the underground into mainstream mixes.

We are really excited to present Antibalas and Zap Mama on Thursday night, bringing this ultra-fun, enormous, funky African sound to Tampa Bay for long-time fans and, hopefully, new audiences who may best appreciate the life-giving joy of Afrobeat by experiencing it—like a long drink of cool, cool water.