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Monday, February 8, 2016

Brass band musicians weigh in on monuments controversy with new Mardi Gras song

Posted By on Mon, Feb 8, 2016 at 2:45 PM

TBC Brass Band featuring Glen David Andrews perform at Gumbo Fest 2015
  • Shalanda Adams
  • TBC Brass Band featuring Glen David Andrews perform at Gumbo Fest 2015

It seems that everyone who lives in New Orleans whether born and raised or just landed here last week has an opinion on the controversy swirling around what should be done (if anything) with the city’s confederate monuments. In the last six months, the city has become racially charged on subject of whether or not several monuments to the confederacy should be removed. Named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Lee Circle had long been a thorn in the sides of black New Orleanians and Mayor Mitch Landrieu seized the opportunity during the #BlackLivesMatter campaign sweeping the country to recommend that it and the others be removed.

Around the same time the issue began fomenting in City Hall meetings and on talk radio shows, the local brass band scene began bumping a catchy tune after famed New Orleans trombonist Glen David Andrews dropped in on TBC Brass Band’s regular Wednesday night gig at Celebration Hall. The band had been toying with the groove for some months when Andrews jumped up, grabbed the mic and began improvising lyrics, luring the crowd to join in on call and response:

Wild Magnolia! Wild Magnolia!
Big Chief Bo Dollis! Big Chief Bo Dollis!

The club went wild for the song, buckjumping and singing this new ode to one of the city’s most beloved Mardi Gras Indian Chiefs. TBC knew immediately they had another hit on their hands. They began playing the song at second lines with a plan to formally release it Mardi Gras week. But along the way, the song picked up another lyric that took it deeper from cultural to political waters. Last November at the 2015 Gumbo Fest in Armstrong Park, Andrews joined TBC on stage to sing the song and was inspired to add another line (7:55 minute mark):

“We gonna name Lee Circle… after Allen Toussaint!”

(read the rest below the jump!)

Andrews recalls the the inspiration behind heralding the two cultural icons. “I’d swung by Celebration Hall one night. We had just buried Bo Dollis and I’d been listening to him all day. His son is my barber. We was just messing around with the song. Later on, after (Toussaint) died, I tweeted ‘We need to rename Lee Circle after Allen Toussaint’ and the shit hit fan! I got all this blowback for even mentioning it. People started bringing up my legal cases, ‘The nerve of him!’, ‘He’s been in jail!’… But I said ‘I’m standing up for this.’”

That same week, TBC tuba player Brenard "Bunny" Adams called and invited Glen David to perform the song with them at Gumbo Fest. “So I stopped by Armstrong Park and added Allen Toussaint to it… This musical legend was the humblest man I ever met in my life. He chose to stay here, send his kids to school here, be part of New Orleans.”

While the song has no official title, trombonist Edward "Juicy" Jackson says they’re leaning towards "TBC Wild Magnolia."

“We been making the song about a year. (Trumpeter Chris Davis) originally wrote the melody and lyrics, I did trombone and base line. I arrange a lot of the tunes but its a group collaborative effort.

No stranger to stirring up political controversy with their original music, TBC Brass Band came out with a song after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the levee system failure demanding the City’s housing projects to be restored and repopulated with it’s original tenants. Named after our now disgraced convicted ex-mayor, ‘Nagin’ became a popular hit on the New Orleans music scene with the catchy chant "I wanna talk to Nagin…and give him a piece of my mind! Gimme my projects back!"

Trombonist Edward "Juicy" Jackson retraced the song’s origins. “The band is from 9th and 7th ward and the St Bernard and Desire projects were not that messed up. There was a thought that we coulda all went home. At band practice, that was a regular subject of conversation. We just wanted to go home.” Throughout Nagin’s Administration, the band enjoyed success playing to large crowds nightly on the corner of Bourbon and Canal but were promptly kicked out of the French Quarter by NOPD with threats of arrest once the Landrieu Administration took over. Jackson says although he thinks their politicized music is one of the reasons they were chased off of Bourbon Street, the band still doesn’t mind taking political stands. Laughing, he states, ’We couldn’t think of a way to put (Mayor) Landrieu’s name in it. But ‘Allen Toussaint’ got a little more sauce to it anyway.” 

Wild Magnolia with Big Chief Bo Dollis
  • Wild Magnolia with Big Chief Bo Dollis

And early tomorrow morning, Mardi Gras Indians from Uptown, Downtown and the Westbank will be debuting their stunning and wildly colorful new suits and revelers, culture bearers and tourists alike their will be following their lead, walking throughout the city all day long just as the have for over a century. Glen David Andrews reminisces, “I’ve been watching the Wild Magnolias since 80’s…I used to follow them Uptown, (Bo Dollis) would be on stage singing Indian music over funk. Around Mardi Gras time, if you not listening to the Wild Magnolias, you not listening to jack! That man sang! He didn’t get half the credit he deserved.” And on the subject of the renaming Lee Circle after Allen Toussaint, Andrews remains unapologetic. “We making a bold statement. If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.”

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