"Who Dat Called Da Police" - New Birth Brass Band
In the midst of blaring sirens and chaos comes the booming sound of New Birth Brass Band tubist Kerwin James’ signature bass line. It is a call to action throughout the streets as trombones provide a steady pulse to the trumpets’ back-and-forth, call-and-response melody transmitting coded information to the public, insisting that “Nobody run when the police come.”
Despite its popularity with theatrical brass bands around the world, New Birth’s arrangement of “Who Dat Called Da Police” is not an anti-authoritarian party anthem but rather a tune that serves as a public roll call, a display of strength in numbers within the community. The titular shout is credited to New Orleans rapper Kilo G and producer Mannie Fresh, taken from the early years of hip-hop on the Cash Money record label, in which the original version furthers the tradition of representation in bounce music, calling out numerous communities to be loud and proud. By answering the calls of “Where y’at?” or “Who dat call da police?” it becomes clear as to who is ultimately the guilty party, those who have run astray or hide themselves behind a veil so as to threaten and disrupt the community.
In his book Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans, researcher Matt Sakakeeny documents the modern threat to the musical culture of the post-Katrina city through impractical noise ordinances. He describes the incident leading up to Kerwin James’ funeral procession in which drummer Derrick Tabb and trombonist Glen David Andrews were arrested for supposedly disturbing the peace with their music (along with other musicians playing for the fallen tubist). At the official second line parade, “Who Dat Called Da Police” echoed throughout the streets in protest of the restraints placed onto the grieving community who fearlessly turned out in representation of New Orleans music.
Recommended reading: Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans by Matt Sakakeeny. Published by Duke University Press.