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A honk band is any street band that might also be called a radical or political or activist marching band, usually consisting of brass, woodwinds, and percussion as well as many other acoustic instruments, which perform at progressive political and community events (peace rallies, pride parades, neighborhood fundraisers). Visual spectacle is generally an important part of their performance, including colorful, sometimes absurdist d-i-y uniforms, as well as second line dancers or radical cheerleaders, flag wavers, stilters and others. Membership may be open or closed, but usually includes both amateur and professional musicians. Bands are usually large, organized non-hierarchically, and managed through consensus.
Although these bands draw repertoire and inspiration from a rich and diverse history of community brass bands throughout the post-colonial world, honk bands are of relatively recent origin. Many of them began as impromptu collaborations of musicians and friends to help energize large protests such as those at the 1999 WTO summit in Seattle and the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. But they have since developed into thriving affinity groups, playing for all kinds of progressive events and causes, including social forums, artists’ collectives, community gardens, children's workshops, block parties, relief benefits and homeless shelters. They are part of a larger, grassroots resistance movement to reclaim public spaces and support community development through innovative street performance and participatory spectacle.
Honk bands play any kind of music. Many of them draw their main inspiration from one or more street band tradition, including New Orleans brass bands, Klezmer Street bands, Balkan brass bands, Roma (Gypsy) bands, Indian wedding bands, African highlife bands, Brazilian frevo bands, Mexican bandas and many others. But in virtually every case, the point is not necessarily to authentically recreate the tradition; rather, it is to pay homage to the music and culture that produced it by making it their own. Common songs include Baraat, Bella Ciao, Bubamara, Li'l Liza Jane, and When the Saints Go Marching In. More repertoire can be found on many of the band websites listed below.
References & Resources
- Jean Leason (2007) Music on the March: How Protest Learned to Dance. Fifth Estate
- Robert M. Boonzajer Flaes (2000) Brass Unbound: Secret Children of the Colonial Brass Band
- HONK! Festival website and slideshows and video clips
- Hungry March Band songlist
- Brass Liberation Orchestra song book and sheet music
- Second Line Social Aid & Pleasure Society song book
- Cakalak Thunder samba rhythm samples
- Rhythms Of Resistance songs and breaks