In the two years since Katrina, hip-hop/world music quartet E.O.E. has endured much, including a reorganization, a rechristening and a long exile from New Orleans. Now the band formerly known as Atman Roots is coming home, and celebrating its return with a suite of shows in the city.
“The hurricane hit right as we were going on our first Colorado tour,” says guitarist and front man Billy Franklin. “Coming back is like reverting to our original plan, which was to build up the band and its message in New Orleans.”
The band describes itself as “progressive,” both in terms of its music and its work with charitable organizations including Habitat for Humanity. In addition to fundraising for Habitat, the band has formed its own music-related services company, Atman Roots Productions. Aside from artist promotion and consulting, the company aims to provide free workshops for underprivileged youths.
“The goal is to offer services that make sense,” Franklin says. “Being in Colorado for two years made me realize that the way New Orleans music is promoted is sub-par for the most part. Bands out here are less talented but prepare better on the promotional end. But the larger point of the company is to provide pro bono services, depending on the money coming in from other end of the operation.”
Despite its long absence, the band never questioned its identity as a New Orleans group. E.O.E. has performed only once in the city since the storm hit, for a CD-release party at the Republic last fall.
“Most of our lyrics are about New Orleans, and we feel like we’re a New Orleans band and have been the whole time,” says Franklin.
Given that, their music has an unusual flavor, freely incorporating reggae and Latin elements, not to mention jazz. Two of the band members hold jazz studies degrees from UNO. Hip-hop presides, though, and 9th Ward-raised Koan delivers cutting lyrics. The band engages serious issues onstage as well as off, with political and social aspects apparent in many of their compositions.
Says Franklin, “We like that Bob Marley philosophy that looks beyond just the sheer technical sphere, but to the songs and how they can affect people’s lives.”