The Black Brass Initiative is, in effect, a cultural exchange program between the Deep South and the Metro Denver area of Colorado. With its roots in the Brothers of Brass band, this effort is responsible for the food, housing and transportation of black musicians from Louisiana, Georgia and Alabama. Not only do these areas experience abject and institutionalized racism but they are also increasingly threatened by climate change and natural disasters. The hope is that bringing the gems of this culture to The Colorado Front Range will create a pipeline for cultural and educational enrichment for both the people of Colorado and the lineage of these musicians.
The Black Brass Initiative is a de facto cultural exchange program with aspirations to become a non-profit organization. It was started by members of The Brothers of Brass out of both necessity and a desire to use musical employment opportunities to rectify some of the inequities that exist in this country along racial lines. For over three years The Black Brass Initiative has been using the wealth generated by performing the music of New Orleans and of southern brass at large in Colorado to reinvest in the black communities in the south where those traditions originated. This is achieved by hiring the musicians of those communities while at the same time providing for their transportation to Colorado and lodging during their stay. This not only benefits those musicians and their communities by connecting opportunity with raw talent, but also the people of Colorado who would not normally have this kind of access to these rich and vibrant musical traditions.
The Black Brass Initiative traces its origins back to 2014 when Khalil Brass began to travel the U.S. busking on the street and outside of events with his friends to make a living. Khalil was born in New Orleans and after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina spent the remainder of his youth living in various places throughout the southeast where he played in many middle school, high school, and collegiate marching bands; including the legendary Southern University Marching Band. When he first came to Colorado’s Front Range in 2014 he found favorable conditions for busking and many receptive audiences. He eventually decided to relocate to Colorado and from there began to grow his band, The Brothers of Brass. As the band grew a few things became apparent: First, that whereas there are an abundance of brass bands in the south there were only a few in Colorado, and The Brothers of Brass is perhaps the only one of those that fully embraces the New Orleans style. Second, there is nevertheless an extraordinary demand for, and appreciation of New Orleans brass in Colorado. This creates an abundance of opportunity. Finally there is a shortage of musicians in Colorado that have the necessary skills to play in a New Orleans style brass band. Therefore recruiting black musicians from the south to play in the band was not only mutually advantageous for the band and those musicians, but it also seemed to serve a greater purpose in terms of social justice.
More recently we have decided to make a more conscious effort to cultivate the social justice side of this arrangement. We hope to grow this effort into something larger than a just recruitment program for The Brothers of Brass. We want to create a program that will serve as a larger pipeline between the vibrant musical traditions that exist in black communities in the south and the demand for that music that exists in wealthy Colorado communities, while at the same time promoting understanding and the exchange of ideas across cultural divides.