Grassroots activism can be a prime tool to help us rebuild our society the way it was meant to be: just, equitable, and inclusive. But if you’ve ever taken part in a rally — or any in-person action — you know the energy of the crowd can be sharp, and the mood can get pretty heavy. After all, the reason you’re there is often a reaction AGAINST some greater evil that can hang like a shadow over the whole affair. That is … until the music starts! The hyped up, syncopated beats of a modern activist brass band shifts the mood to one of empowerment, positive energy, joy and even jubilation!
When Lady J (aka, Jess Brown) travelled to the Women’s March in Washington, DC, in 2017, she noticed that heavy vibe. She was there with a few other members of the popular activist brass band Extraordinary Rendition Band (at the time, Lady J was a member ). And while she embraced the warm and open women-centered atmosphere, she knew there was something missing: music.
Music often played a prominent role in civil rights protests. But in the decades since, that music, to Lady J’s ear, had begun to feel recycled. She yearned to create something new, combining the musical aesthetic of the activist brass band scene with the welcoming, women-centered vibe she was feeling in DC. And thus the seeds for Clam Jam Brass Band were sown.
“I created Clam Jam after the Women’s March because I needed to carve out a space for myself that was intentionally womxn- and POC-centered. I needed to be in nurturing and inclusive spaces — for womxn and by womxn,” Lady J explains.
Fast forward to the 2018 Women’s March in DC. Lady J and a collective of about 10 womxn from around the country converged to play together and provide a soundtrack to the events of the day, and ever since the band has been growing both in concept and intentionality.
Clam Jam Brass Band (CJBB) plays a mix of hip-hop, soul, pop and R&B, influenced by artists from George Clinton to Beyonce. Their performances also incorporate spoken word, noise making, visual storytelling and movement. While activist street bands have been using their unique musical stylings to call attention to issues of social justice for years, the space tends to be dominated by the energy of white men. So for Lady J, “It is important to hold space that is womxn/femme centered. Clam Jam is a space that is nurturing, empowering, exploratory and without judgement. We want you to bring your whole, authentic self. It feels good.”
The original concept for Clam Jam envisioned a band made predominantly of womxn artists of color, but recruiting WOC to join the band, given the time commitment and their lack of access to instruments, has been a challenge. But Lady J seems content with where the band is on its path. “While it is my vision that this group be majority black women or WOC, I love the women that I am surrounded by now because they trust me, believe in me and support my vision and work.”
And what about that name? With its pun on anatomy Lady J wants to send the message that society can be both body positive and inclusive of the great diversity of womxnhood. But at its core, the name Clam Jam is a homage to the band’s home state. “Clams are delicious, and clam bakes are treasured social functions ’round these parts,” says Lady J.
At the start of the pandemic Clam Jam was preparing for a debut in Austin, Texas. Those plans have been put on hold, and the band has temporarily shifted focus from brass instruments to drums for safety reasons. But the future of the band looks bright, “I can’t wait until post-COVID so that we can be out in the streets in our full clam glory with instruments and costumes, making a joyful noise,” Lady J proclaims.
Clam Jam Brass Band is always in need of instrument donations. Follow the band on Facebook, Instagram @clamjambrassband or email email@example.com for the latest updates, to show support or to join the band!