Only a year after Bluesfest set up their first stages in Byron Bay in 1990, The Soul Rebels began blowing their horns over in New Orleans. More than three decades on, the intergenerational icons join together in Melbourne for the first time.
Though we love an east coast road trip, BluesFest is saving us some petrol money with a local iteration of the leading music festival in 2023. Presented at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, the two-day April festival have just announced their 2023 lineup, including The Soul Rebels with special guests GZA from Wu-Tang Clan and Talib Kweli, as well as Big Freedia.
The Soul Rebels lean into their foundational brass makeup while infusing hip-hop and other sounds from across the musical universe. With an expansive and ambitious ethos, they conjugate an audible energy that thrills audiences whether listening live or streaming at home.
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Trumpeter Julian Gosin, one of the newer and younger members of the band, grew up in the 7th Ward neighbourhood in New Orleans. He had previously formed part of several other brass bands while also doing the occasional show with The Soul Rebels. Once the opportunity presented itself, Julian Gosin felt like it was only a natural transition to become an official member as, “The Soul Rebels spoke to me: personally, to my spirit and my soul.”
Their influence on his life tracked prior to his career – trying to think of his first encounter with The Soul Rebels, he remembers always being aware of their 1994 release of Let Your Mind Be Free and its popularity in their shared home of New Orleans.
He officially joined them in 2010, recalling being most excited by the band’s knack to cross over genres. The Soul Rebels are widely-recognised for their ability to fuse hip-hop into a brass band through multi-genre collaborations with names such as Nas, G-Eazy, Katy Perry, and Metallica. Across their long and diverse collaboration credits, they exhibit both versatility and purity to their instrumental composition (of currently, a saxophone and sousaphone, two trumpets, two trombones and two drummers) and consideration of musical form.
Their treatment of cover songs speaks to this ability to swing, break down and blend music and genre. “It’s difficult to quantify what The Soul Rebels do, on paper,” Amanda Meester wrote for DJ Booth, “The band isn’t merely covering songs we all know intimately; it’s also rearranging elements and reverse engineering building blocks.” Gosin asserts the individualism of their approach, “We do our own renditions. It’s not verbatim. The audience can appreciate the artistry in that whether or not it’s recognisable.”
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He expands on this process, emphasising its organic, even sporadic, nature. One night, one of their most successful covers, Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), “just happened” during a performance to be met with enthusiasm from the crowd before The Soul Rebels fine-tuned and rehearsed it for future shows.
The Soul Rebels are eminent for bringing such raw, live bursts of musical innovation onto the stage. But with touring over 200 shows a year, how do they balance such high creativity and momentum?
“It all starts with art,” Gosin assuredly answers, “you have to have a profound love for what you do. Having that love allows us to be creative and stay innovative in our form. Holding on to your skill and taking it seriously allows you to genre-cross with different artists. That’s all that matters, everything else falls in place naturally. But the main focus is always the music and making it sound right.”
Their latest cementation of this artistic integrity – as in, pulling the vibes from the stage and into their discography – comes as their eighth album Poetry in Motion. Released in late 2019, it features tracks with Big Freedia, Trombone Shorty, PJ Morton, Branford Marsalis, Matisyahu and Robert Glasper.
Gosin notes his excitement to share this album along with other pre-and-post pandemic work in Australia, which they last visited for Bluesfest Byron Bay in 2017. He frames the tour, which includes performances in Melbourne, Byron Bay, Brisbane and New Zealand, as a cultural exchange with a “beautiful” part of the world.
“I have a different perspective on life now because I have the chance to experience cultures and give the gift of music and storytelling to people around the world,” Gosin says as he summarises his decade-long stint with the band. “It has definitely helped me evolve as a person and as a musician.”
“I have been enjoying the ride.”
Bluesfest Melbourne is on Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 April 2023. Tickets on sale now through ticketmaster.com.au