Flag Gang – Super Sunday Before the Storm

The Sound Before the Storm

  • The Hot 8 Brass Band Lost Recording Series
  • New Orleans, Super Sunday 2005
  • Flag Gang

Just about a year before the parade, the virtuoso Hot 8 trombonist, Joe William, got shot and killed for nothing nobody who saw can figure to be right if you hear the tales officials tell for the why of it. There were many witnesses. Shot inside his truck by the police while his hands were up and sticking out the window like they’d bullhorned him to do – the bright white light on him, the police all around him with their loud lights and trained guns and horseshit stories for why it was right for them to shoot him down dead like that. These are the kinds of things that can happen in New Orleans.

They waited round for three hours to call the paramedics, Joe still moving, blood leaking out, body having form the half open door of his truck. They stood round and watched him die. Some took their uniforms off sick and others deep down angry, sweating and scared in the hot August night heat pushed the growing crowd far from the scene so nobody else could see how it looked, so nobody could see what po-po had done. They knew though. Everybody knew. There were meeting and overtures and even the mayor kind of wanted to know about it but fury doesn’t always hold the same forgiveness people are forced to accept when trying to make a separate peace to move forward through this short and hard and sweet and beautiful life.

So when the first big gathering of the 12 Mardi Gras Indian tribes came around, St. Joseph’s night, and the police let loose again but this time on the Mardi Gras Indians, fly bots and big chiefs in full plume regalia, billy club beat down, folks weren’t so surprised but having near enough. People can only take so much. Lies are hard to hide from those that see and a lot people down here see and know. You can only push people so far. When the police do what they want without worry it creates friction and in this ancient town of music that means heavy sound which you can hear when you listen to this Super Sunday parade: a great gathering of the Mardi Gras and brass band tribes. Open air music outside in the city streets so the sound moves round New Orleans changing shape in your ear depending on what’s sliding across the city soundscape, motorcycles and buses roaring overhead, the mic flowing in the currents of the sea of the crow as the Hot 8 march and step down Orleans, turn the bend beneath the Claiborne underpass with fire, all the way down the long avenue which used to be lined with giant live oak trees, the most beautiful street in the city, the traditional black meeting place where families would put on their finest an stroll the neutral ground in the warm springs and work falls sit in the deep shade of the oak trees, tor up to build a highway over the Treme, the oldest free black neighborhood in the country. The Hot 8’s crowd feeling it, charged up with Mardi Gras Indian energy, and Joe and the police shootings and painful deaths from things which never make any sense. The Hot 8 crowd singing and chanting, keeping rhythm, pace and time as the crowds of others did the same with they tribe so the parade seemed to go on and on filled with moving folks dancing to warrior rhythms from a long, long time ago. All of us, everyone moving in this city of God yearning for that release, to be let go, let alone, let free and for a moment in the sweep of sound, a moving sea of black faces, everyone was there.