For the past 15 years, an October weekend has been the moment when thousands of participants from the Greater Boston area in the USA have enjoyed the HONK! Festival of Activist Street Bands – a raucous celebration of music and community that took Somerville, Massachusetts by storm in 2006.
Since that original HONK!, the idea has caught fire beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. HONK! is now a global phenomenon, with more than 20 HONK! Festivals worldwide and participating bands joining us from all seven continents – yes, even Antarctica.
Until this year, all these individual HONK!s have been held throughout the calendar year, forming an international network that has fostered profound artistic, political, and cultural exchanges among participating bands, local hosts and volunteers, community partners and people gathered in the streets.
Covid-19 changed all that.
Although the pandemic has made both intimate and spectacular gatherings impossible, we did not want to let a year go by without honoring and activating the HONK! spirit, especially in these times when it is urgent to fight for social justice and to renew our lives with the joy of music and art.
Even though we can’t all gather in one place this year, we can make a statement at the same time. The virtual space of the Internet allows us to reach across time and space to be more expansive than ever before. HONK!, after all, is not tied to any particular location. HONK! is where you make it. It is an idea. It is a practice. It is a commitment to using the power of brass and percussion to encourage inclusionary practices, engage in participatory music-making, reclaim public spaces, build community, fight for social justice and, ultimately, help make the world a better place.
So, this year, we invited every HONK! affiliate out there – organizers, musicians, artists, and activist partners – to contribute content to HONK!United. We have also solicited a series of online workshops related to our cultural and political practices. Imagine being able to celebrate the power of brass and percussion from Boston to Benin, Rio to Rome and Paris, London to Wollongong, not to mention Austin, New York, Seattle, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Montreal, Vancouver, and elsewhere … all at the same time. This is what we are offering.
Of course, we are presenting the music, both pre-recorded and live. But we also hope to tell the stories of the HONK! movement from the founding of bands and festivals to the present day. We hope to capture HONK’s diverse aspects and messy glory, ranging from peak moments to “behind the scenes” and “out-takes” to capture its textures and energy.
We also asked contributors to shine a light on conditions on the ground in their communities regarding: COVID; the Black Lives Matter movement; immigration, housing and economic justice; and the climate crisis. Whatever is relevant to their bands, their festivals, their organizations, their communities.
Then we invited the world to attend.
Thank you for joining us to witness a moving spectacle of colorful marching bands, gigantic puppets, creative bikers, jugglers, hoopers, flag twirlers, and stilt walkers, joined by union activists, political organizations, and community groups, gathering virtually from all over the world to be with each other and you. The music is in your face and out of this world, drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as Klezmer, Balkan and Romani, Brazilian Samba, Afrobeat and Highlife, Punk, Funk, and Hip Hop, as well as the New Orleans second line tradition, and delivered with all the passion and spirit of Mardi Gras and Carnival.
Because HONK! bands are loud, acoustic, and mobile, and can play anywhere they want at a moment’s notice, they have no need for stages or amplifiers. They require no set-ups or sound checks to delay the action. They just grab their instruments and play. Continuous music. Unmediated. Experienced directly. In the end there is no audience, just participants. These bands do not just play for the people; they play among the people and actively invite them to join the fun.
Sadly, due to any number of constraints – the pandemic, economic downturns, overwhelming work schedules, political upheavals, and natural disasters – not all the bands and festivals have been able to be with us today. We send them our love and appreciation and look forward to reuniting with them in the future. At the same time we have been blessed with an outpouring of enthusiasm and creativity among the participating festivals.
Each festival, of course, has its own unique character based on its historical context, cultural traditions, and musical styles, but they are united with others through a shared commitment to practices that transcend local boundaries. It’s not just the participatory music-making in the street; it’s also the unorthodox performance styles, the outrageous costumes, the progressive political spirit, the genuine camaraderie, and the sheer spectacle of it all.
Together we are HONK!United