“Throughout the country and across the globe, a new type of street band movement is emerging — outrageous and inclusive, brass and brash, percussive and persuasive — reclaiming public space with a sound that is in your face and out of this world. Called everything from “avant-oompah!” to a “brassroots revolution,” these bands draw inspiration from sources as diverse as Klezmer, Balkan and Romani music, Brazilian Samba, Afrobeat and Highlife, Punk, Funk, and Hip Hop, as well as the New Orleans second line tradition, and deliver it with all the passion and spirit of Mardi Gras and Carnival.”
- HONK! website
“This was our first year, and we really made a splash,” said Daniel Goldschmidt, about playing with Brass Solidarity at the 18th annual HONK! Festival of Activist Street Bands in Boston Oct. 6-8, 2023.
“People liked our energy, they liked what we were doing, and they really liked how we are grounded in what we do. We’re not just playing concerts. We play gigs that are congruent with our values. We don’t need to be paid; we will play for free if it’s in our values.”
The band Brass Solidarity came together in the immediate aftermath of the murder of George Floyd.
It’s hard for anyone to describe the energy and feeling of that momentous period, but speaking for myself, having visited the site several times, what I have noticed is that there has been a consistent practiced consciousness-raising effort going on there since the very beginning.
My experience at George Floyd Square – as a mourner, a tourist, an occasional insider – is that there is profound cultural work going on there. There is, at George Floyd Square, a “happening” – and one that I predict will last forever. It is Ground Zero in my opinion, in the same way that in New York, there is the Ground Zero of 9-11.
I see George Floyd Square as hallowed ground. I’m proud as a realtor to have recently sold homes to two buyers within blocks of the square. I believe in GFS, and I hope it continues to be a place where we go to learn, and to feel community with each other.
The day I visited to research this column, I arrived as a group conversation was just ending.A guy named Daniel Goldschmidt was telling a heartfelt and personal story about Israel and Palestine. Later, I found out that Mr. Goldschmidt is in charge of the Shop Talk that grounds every Brass Solidarity practice.
“We take some time out of each rehearsal to talk about issues such as racism, White supremacy. We needed that to be part of this. We needed consciousness-raising to be part of rehearsal. We couldn’t have it be an accident.”
“We’ve always been grounded in being right here, and in the movement that is grounded here. Literally right here at 38th and Chicago. For the last two and a half years, meetings have taken place here twice a day. Brass Solidarity plays here every Monday.”
Goldschmidt continues: “One thing at Honk! that they were most interested in is how we are integrated into the community. We are a part of this space, and part of the occupation of this space. We are sonic space taker...
“When a siren goes by, that’s a sonic use of space that affects all of us in different ways. In Brass Solidarity, we use an organized version of sound to take space in a way that’s... in the movement.”
As the shop talk was ending, band leader Butchy Austin announced that he was going to take a one-month sabbatical from leading the rehearsals. As lead trumpet, Butchy plays a key role in the style and tenor of the band; he is also one of the executive and spiritual leaders of Brass Solidarity.
“I need a month to recharge, and pursue a couple interests,” Butchy says, “and so this is a great time for any of you to step up into a new role in the band... If you want to bring a song, great, if you wanna take on leadership role, or conduct a song... Whatever is good for you, whatever gifts you can bring... Now is a good time.”
And with that – the band started to play.
And I was treated to one of my favorite things – the chance to be right on stage with my iPhone camera. Check out some super cool videos on my YouTube channel that I made that day.
“One thing I love about George Floyd Square...” said RayCurt Johnson, “There’s a redemption vibe. And we cause people to stop, and listen, participate...
“Some people bring their kids, to learn about music... We have new brass players, 10 years old, community people... It’s always growing...
“It’s a diverse, welcoming crowd... and now people know we’re here... There are tourists, journalists, people from all over the world, writing dissertations, creating action groups... It’s a worldwide movement.”
I asked him to tell me of his experience with Brass Solidarity.
“Being part of the Brass band has been a wonderful surprise for me in my life’s journey as a musician, and as a musician activist... I’ve been busking on the streets, out there advocating for live music, and live music spaces for a long time – and now I’m part of this activist band.
“I’m a music teacher. Music is my spiritual practice, it’s my way of praising and worshiping, and, for me, it’s all in accordance with what’s going on... In fighting for justice, and the maturing of America. Our country is coming to terms with itself, and growing up.
“As I grow and live and create my life and mission, I’ve been blessed enough to live outside of the United States and to be able to see it from the outside, and noticing how I fit in, seeing all the challenges that we are all collectively going through... especially COVID, and then coming out of that, the George Floydact, the murder, and everything, we all collectively are seeing who we are.”