Features February 10, 2022

Common Ancestor: LowDown Brass Band’s New Hotness Has Roots

by Kevin Johnston

“Being a brass band, you’re always aspiring to learn from the legends of the genre,” Shane Jonas tells BandWagon, “from New Orleans and the roots of this deep American culture.”

But times have changed. Or at least evolved.

Jonas is one of the founders of the LowDown Brass Band, a Chicago-based group whose first musical forays back in 2008 were authentic instrumental interpretations, loyal to classic New Orleans Second Line traditions. Today, they still bring a parade-level party, but with a future-facing sheen.

“As a collective we began to let the music help us evolve into who we are and what we want to represent,” Jonas says. As the message in their hooky, new dancefloor hit “Be The One Tonight” states, LDB are “ready to live for right now.”

That lyric was penned by MC Billa Camp, aka Anthony Evora, the group’s rapper and co-front man, alongside Jonas who’s role as lead trumpeter has evolved into lead singer as well. 

The LowDown Brass Band (pictured at The Chop Shop in Chicago) kick off their nation-wide tour at The Moxi Theater in Greeley, Colorado on Thursday, February 24 – jumpstarting the Mardi Gras weekend. CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS

Billa first appeared in LowDown’s catalog in 2014 on the album Lowdown Sounds, a record also featuring legendary jazz composer Roy Ayers. Ayers and Billa each graced one track on that album, and it’s a fitting crossroads. From then on, the band evolved further away from classic influences to the more modern “boom bap” on Lowdown Breaks, where the band references a multitude of hip hop hooks, from A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders to Pharoe Monch’s “Simon Says.”

“LowDown Brass Band has roots in the Jazz education world,” Billa Camp tells BandWagon, “but the Jazz education world has the habit of treating Jazz like an island. As if – Jazz isn’t birthed from the same struggle as Hip Hop. As if they are not Black father and son, born fighting the same fight.” 

Lowdown Nights, appropriately released during Black History Month, takes things further out of the pigeonhole and into the pan-genre stage, using the history of the African American experience as its guide. 

On this, their fourth major release, they go mainstream – and that’s a good thing. The collective has enough talent within its ranks to deliver a show with as much variety as Beyoncés 2018 Homecoming at Coachella. It’s the multi-lingual, multicultural, multi-genre kind of mainstream pop and dance music that encapsulates the musical stew of 2022. Giving vocalists the spotlight, bringing in trap electronic percussion, keyboards and bass sounds tweaked beyond the acoustic boom of “tuba titan” Lance Loiselle’s sousaphone, LDB are “stirring the pot” as Billa Camp says in “Be The One Tonight.” 

But the change isn’t just the band “going pop.” It stems from a strong throughline. It’s literally an evolution and a product of its time. 

“Our goal is to embrace and honor our collective influences to tell the story of our experience,” Billa Camp says. “Touring was the catalyst that fueled the change, and remixing the album during the spring/summer of 2020 [at the height of the BLM movement and COVID pandemic] gave our writing more purpose and perspective.”

“As a Black hip hop artist I’ve always felt the duty to speak truthfully without it being ‘de rigueur,’ Billa says. “The band is comprised of people from all walks of life but what brings us together is Black American Music.”

Billa references that impetus and the evolution of culture on “Bourbon Street.” He says the mix of influences that the band employs all share a common ancestor – the African American experience – and Jonas concurs.

Lowdown Nights, released this month, is the band’s most contemporary effort, using the guide of the African American experience to shape its myriad of dance and pop stylings. Get tickets to their tour kick-off show February 24 HERE.

“It is very rare these days for a song to not be touched by several of the artists in the collective, Jonas says of the diversity. “On Lowdown Nights you hear great Chicago hip hop, RnB, Pop, Soul, Reggae, Dancehall, improvisation,” he says, “and all the beautiful tradition of Black American music presented in modern form.”

“With the racial tensions of the U.S. and throughout the world,” Jonas continues, “we feel like people seeing us work together as a collective is an important message. Billa is from Harlem, NY and I’m from Krum, TX. It doesn’t get much more different than that, but it speaks to the power of music; how it has the ability to bring people together and heal.”

“We learned a lot from being on the road,” Billa says. “How people perceived us, what worked across North America, how far we could take the sound in either direction (traditional or contemporary) and what kind of impact that choice would have on our audience and ultimately the band itself.”

“It’s a band,” Billa says, “and of course everyone didn’t agree with the change. We went from a 10 piece to a 7 piece, partly due to this sonic shift but to the pandemic as well.”

But ultimately, Billa and Jonas say the band’s writing continues to evolve through the personal and collective challenges they face while continuing to execute and grow as artists.

“We’re willing to confront these challenges, Billa says, “which in turn gives us something to write about.”

“What really sticks out to me about Lowdown Nights is the message,” Jonas says. “There’s something for everyone on this record. From dance party tracks to conscious contemplative hip hop, there is a depth in the music that you can feel. It sticks to your bones.”

“We felt inspired to let our influences shine through on Lowdown Nights,” Billa says, “because we wanted to show that a brass band has no limitations.”

The LowDown Brass Band kick-off their nation-wide tour on Thursday, February 24 at The Moxi Theater in Greeley, Colorado with Trash Cat, jumpstarting Mardi Gras weekend. Get tickets at BandWagonPresents.com (click here) hear Lowdown Nights on all platforms now and visit lowdownbrassband.com for more.