"In New Orleans, jazz is a tradition, a way of life. Louis Armstrong here is like the grass that grows from the ground," explained the easygoing Lumar LeBlanc about his hometown. LeBlanc handles the snare for the eight-piece brass band the Soul Rebels, which will headline the CrawDebauchery Food and Music Festival 2015 in Pompano Beach on Saturday, March 21.
For 25 years, the large group has combined the jazz and line drumming associated with New Orleans with modern hip-hop. When they picked the band's name, they didn't know how apt it was. "We got so much criticism from the purists, we didn't know if we should keep doing the band because the patriarchs who hire you for the festivals were not into us."
The band's delight in funk and hip-hop is evidenced on its most recent album, Power=Power, where it covers modern tunes by Jay Z and Daft Punk, which rubbed some of the New Orleans musical establishment the wrong way. "Kids loved it, but some of the older people didn't, so we had to sneak it in. It took about ten years. By 2000, we had approval all the way around."
Fortunately, LeBlanc's ambition to have his life revolve around music was equipped with a strong support system from an early age. This kept him going despite all or any adversity. "In nursery school, I was given bongo drums for a stage play. The school was heavy into merging arts with education. So we did a rendition of African tribal songs wearing dashikis."
LeBlanc's parents noticed his love for drums. He'd bang rhythmically on anything from pillows to pots and pans. His father was a great athlete, and since LeBlanc was always large for his age, coaches tried to recruit him for athletics. But he kept finding himself gravitating toward drums. At school, he started playing with the symphony, but he always loved the sounds of the street, and when a band teacher introduced him to jazz and funk, LeBlanc knew what beats he was headed for.
It was after college in 1990 that LeBlanc helped found the Soul Rebels. "We named it after the Bob Marley song. We wanted to be a voice for people who weren't being heard, and what we'd be rebelling against is negativity."
That credo and its eclectic sound got the band gigs supporting musical heavyweights from Metallica to Maceo Parker. Early in his career, LeBlanc found himself starstruck playing with jazz greats like Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter or hip-hop legends like Chuck D and Q Tip, but as it's continued, he saw a common bond with his collaborators regardless of their level of fame. "After a while, you see we're all the same. We're all musicians, just with different-sized pocketbooks."
Though the Soul Rebels keep an intense touring schedule, playing about 250 dates a year, when they're not on the road or with their loved ones, they try to hit the studio. Currently, they're working on a new album that LeBlanc describes as "funk folk with a vocal vibe. We're incorporating outside vocalists for the first time. Usually, we're the only ones rapping."
"Our look and sound is organic and vintage," LeBlanc says. And the most common response to first seeing the Soul Rebels perform is: "People always tell us, I never thought people who look so traditional can sound so modern."
CrawDebauchery Food and Music Festival 2015, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday, March 21, Pompano Beach Amphitheater Field, 1806 NE Sixth St., Pompano Beach. Tickets cost $25 in advance and $35 day of; VIP costs $65 in advance and $75 day of. Visit crawdebauchery.com.