Don’t despair if your frequent oral treatises to progressive ideals end up falling on deaf ears. Instead, let your feet walk and your trumpet talk. Armed with even an undernourished musical skill and the will to disregard noise ordinances in your neighborhood, you can find a street band, whether bawdy or principled, to soundtrack your most ardently held beliefs. Oh, you’ll be heard all right.
Bateria Lucha (www.baterialucha.org) could be loosely translated as "drums for the struggle," but essentially the passion of the Brazilian percussion tradition to which the name refers has no cognate in staid English. Catalyzed by the initial uproar over the current Iraq war, Lucha founder Derek Wright envisioned a musical force that would unify and groove-ify the chants of protesters, not drown out their message. Today, aspiring bateristas can join Wright for multilevel Brazilian percussion workshops each Thursday in Oakland in preparation for Bateria Lucha’s musical surge tactics, employed everywhere from picket lines to San Francisco Carnaval.
If you’ve ever joined a human blockade on Market or picketed the Woodfin Hotel, you’ve certainly had your marching morale boosted by the Brass Liberation Orchestra (< a href="http://www.brassliberation.org" target="blank_">www.brassliberation.org). Hailing from Oakland and San Francisco, this dedicated group takes peace and social justice activism seriously, even when enticing a city block of protesters to shake it to the Black Eyed Peas. Dispatching a spirited crew of brass, woodwind, and percussion players to rallies and events around the region, the BLO welcomes new members who can keep pace with the music and the cause.
If it’s spectacle you seek, look no further than Extra Action Marching Band (www.extra-action.com), the drum majors of San Francisco values since 1999. Credited with being among the early subverters of the once mannerly marching band aesthetic, Extra Action still manages to shock audiences with antics and braggadocio, often posing profound questions such as: why perform on a stage when you can dance naked on top of the bar?
Offering youth classes in San Francisco since 1994, the leadership of Loco Bloco (www.locobloco.org) has already raised a generation of students into its own ranks. Each year, the nonprofit’s mentors in Brazilian drumming and dance prepare a performance group for participation in San Francisco’s Carnaval. Drawing a strong contingency of players already affiliated with Loco Bloco, rehearsals preceding the May parade are open to all ages and abilities. The $5 class fee for adult Carnaval participants goes toward scholarships for youth.
Oakland’s Loyd Family Players (www.theloydfamilyplayers.com) are no purists. Beats and hooks from the band members’ own diverse musical backgrounds have found their way into this bateria’s boisterous repertoire. Nevertheless, the lineup of Brazilian surdos, snare drums, shakers, and bells still carries the distinctive thump of authentic samba at its craziest. Props go to the fiercest female percussion section around.
A spirit of cheerful anarchy sustains the Los Trancos Woods Community Marching Band (www.ltwcmb.com), which began its long life on New Years Day, 1960, in a hilltop village tucked away behind Palo Alto. The application for new members requires only "the desire to have a good time," and rehearsals are limited to once a year. You can tag along with their procession through North Beach on Columbus Day as long as your "uniform" is suitably absurd, but you’ll know you’re really in the club when you find yourself halfway to Monterey honking New Orleansstyle kazoo in the Castroville Artichoke Festival Parade.
The Musicians Action Group (Magband@aol.com), a self-described circle of "old left wingers," roots its music in the history of American activism, performing songs of the labor, antiwar, and civil rights movements. Born out of a need to make noise about social justice, MAG has played at major demonstrations and protests since 1981. The group welcomes newcomers who share their mission of supporting progressive causes with music that is historically and politically significant.