Royal Elephant Brass Band in Honolulu, March 7 2011


The Morning After

Enjoying coffee and NPR while the dawn chorus of my new neighbourhood in McCully chimes in. We have Brazilian Cardinals but alas no Shama Thrush nearby.

The Royal Elephant Brass Band and anti-Poaching Society did the first of our two Mardi Gras events, the “concert on the lawn”. Happy with ourselves. I have always loved to stroll…. 

With Kona weather, a south wind brought pouring rain all day, but the venue did not cancel. Despite the rain it was still eighty degrees and sticky but was merely a drizzle by 6 PM. The base trombone guy was unable to make it due to work (leaving just one trb instead of two) but Scott Villiger did get there. He’s the Julliard graduate who’s played backup sax for such persons as Frank Sinatra. Modest and unassuming guy with a sly smile. For this he played clarinet. With all brass, we sounded too clean and precise so he added a musical colour we sorely needed. The two USMC guys picked his brain about the business side of music.

The Hawaii State Art Museum is located five blocks from the Arts District with the bars/restaurants/art galleries; so we conferred with the promoter and twenty minutes  before our scheduled time we  made a short parade up thataway and back, for the purpose of making a small spectacle of ourselves that might lure people our way. Our clarinet player didn’t want to get rain water on the pads on his expensive Selmer  instrument, so he stayed behind.

There is a one-block section of Hotel Street which has five bars (or clubs or dance venues w DJs etc) on each side (ten or so in total) and people came out, drinks in hand, to hoot and dance as we passed. It had that tawdry Bourbon Street sort of feel to it….  We turned at the end of Hotel Street  to head back, looking over our shoulder to see a  bonafide second line, people tagging along. Unassembled pieces for the sound system for the stage on the Lawn lay under the tent in a forlorn pile, delayed because of electrical hazards posed by the rain, but only the food vendors were outside anyway. People straggled in, and some of my students said hello. We decided to stand under the portico and play our first set from there, not using a sound system. We did eight tunes, including some vocals by me; and I was proud to recall all the lyrics without a hitch. Six verses of Saint James Infirmary were punctuated by blazing clarinet – Scott lived up to his billing. We played at dirge tempo in the background while he tore into one jazzy cadenza after another. My vocal intonation held up when I sang the three key changes in “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans”. We held a crowd of about a hundred people. The Tuba player took the melody for a chorus of  Hello Dolly  while people sang along.

Skill at reading the Alphabet

Then a break while a capoeira group did their thing. The venue provided a musician’s prep room with food and refreshments, and we bantered  with the members of a women’s burlesque-style dance troupe as they adjusted their costumes (adjust-shimmy; adjust-shimmy. Getting the tassels and fringe going…..adjust then bump-and-grind…. )   Oddly, one woman’s costume revealed  two tattoos in Hindi script, on her body; I offered to read them if she would hold still for a second. She obliged and was surprised at my skill. (Question to myself: was this my destiny?  did I study the Devanagari syllabary for seven months in 2007  so that I could cast my eyes on the peri-umbilical region of some buxom 36D sequined woman backstage and confirm that her bikini-line tattoos read “Karuna” and “Premi”? …. Was that God’s purpose for me?) She herself did not speak Hindi. Knowing the permanence, how did she chose those? I elected not to  show her mine.

Shades of The Old Howard…….. 

After such an edifying break we set off on our second parade, at seven thirty PM. This was the scheduled one. The rain has eased off so our clarinet guy came along….it’s fun to hear the  echo caused by playing in a canyon lined with  urban buildings.

Now, by this time, the art galleries were crowded and there were long waiting lines outside those same bars, and more of a crowd on the street…. So we played under an awning, as LOUD as we could – sure enough it was like calling the cows home as people streamed toward us. (Haven’t been measured in decibels, but we were loud enough so that people had to shout if they were nearby). A couple of hundred people crowded around with two dozen or so street dancers, right in front of us.  When the crowd disrupted traffic we had to move along, but in the meantime I sang verses to one of our bluesy second line tunes and I hit a bunch of high Ds and some “shakes” in that register, something of which I was physically incapable six weeks ago before resuming a daily practice regimen in the park.

We paraded back but took a slightly different route past Indigo, the best restaurant in the arts district. Fifty people waited outside, but three beefy sixfootsix Samoan bouncers shouted they would cut us through the line if we wanted to go in. But of course! So we played as we paraded through, which got a lot of cheers from the patrons of the bar. Bare brick walls gave nice acoustics.

 Back at the venue, we did our short set, wrapping things up with “When The Saints”. As the promoter paid us he said we were the only band in town that could do what we did and pull it off.

Judging by the  reaction of this small crowd on Hotel Street, we are going to have fun next week on the actual Mardi Gras; Scott and I wondered whether we would need security since we plan to be playing on street level. (They do close the area to vehicular traffic that day). Our portable playing provides a sort of in-your-face concert. – up close and personal.  A bit un-nerving when the crush  of onlookers behind are close enough to pick your pocket and you have both hands occupied. The crowds then will be partaking of  Hurricanes and Caipirinhas sold on the street. This event attracted ten thousand people last year, you can find last year’s photos on the internet…… Hawaii Public Radio already announced that the police have added extra patrols and are planning road blocks.  Mardi Gras here goes until 0300. (We expect to be long gone by that hour.) There is a sizable Brasilian community on Oahu, and most of the program has an exuberantly  Brasilian Carnival theme. After our set and then some second lining, we bring up the tail end of the parade through Honolulu’s ad hoc Sambadrome.

I learned that there is also a kick-ass African drumming group in town formed by  a bunch of Ghanaians. (I love Ghanaian brass band music with percussion, wonder if they would ever join forces). The Royal Elephants are the only N’Owlins style brass band in this town.  Tuesday our program includes the Limbo as well as “All the Single Ladies” and “YMCA”.

We start the day Tuesday with a TV appearance at 0500 and again at 0600. I think I will sing Saint James Infirmary again, and use the plunger mute,  but leave out the suggestive verses. I then teach Tuesday morning, but fortunately I have Wednesday off.  

Joe

PS the two USMC guys in the band tell me they are taking a WestPac tour for nine weeks, starting in May…… The USMC musical unit here is the only one in the Pacific.  Stops include China, Samoa, New Zealand and many points between.

About Joe Niemczura, RN, MS

Experienced nursing educator and problem-solver. I have fifteen years of USA nursing faculty background. Add it with fifteen more devoted to adult critical care. In Nepal, I started teaching critical care skills in 2011. I figure out what they need to know in a Nepali practice setting. Then I teach it in a culturally appropriate way so that the boots-on-the-ground people will use it. I travel outside of Kathmandu Valley as well. When the recent violence happened, I knew the cities - I had trained people in those locations. One theme of my work has been collective culture and how it manifests itself in anger. Because this was a problem I incorporated elements of "situational awareness" training from the beginning, in 2011. Global Health Nursing is not all sweetness and light; not solely milk & honey and happy moms and babies.
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