Jon Cristian Duque
Guitar and Vocals
Born in Chuquicamata, Chile, in 1970 and raised on the Jersey Shore in Pine Beach, N.J., band leader and guitarist Jon Cristian Duque’s first musical memory was singing Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” for his musical family. Their Chilean folk tunes, then soon the 1970s AM radio in his mother’s orange Volkswagen Beetle, would imprint the young Duque. Soon he was enamored with the Beatles’ catalogue, Soul Train on TV, disco, his brother’s classic rock albums, Michael Jackson and the beginnings of heavy metal. By age 12, Duque had his first guitar.
Fast forward to 2018: Duque’s musical accolades include being personally invited to be the on-stage “understudy” to New Orleans blues-funk icon Walter “Wolfman” Washington as one of the Roadmasters for several years shortly after moving to New Orleans. This launched his desire for a New Orleans funk band, though he began it as a solo project.
He’s since shared the stage with Galactic (Stanton Moore), Henry Butler, Idris Muhammed, John Gros, Pap Mali, Nick Etwell, Mumford and Sons, Jack Daley (Lenny Kravitz), James Andrews, Glenn David Andrews, Amos Lee and many others. Some of the greats with whom Duque says he wishes he could play: Walter “Wolfman” Washington again, The Meters, The Nevilles, Sting, Soulive, James Brown, Ray Charles, Dr. John and The Temptations.
Saxophone and Percussion
With a classical-violinist mother while growing up in Greenwich Village and graduating from The New School University in jazz performance, sax-and-percussion man David Ludman has a musical pedigree that’s impressive off the bat. He remembers seeing a man playing French horn on a street corner in the Village when he was four years old, telling his mother that he “wanted to do that”—a clarity that has served his journey well at every turn.
Absorbing everything he heard was extremely important to him as a kid—oldies doo-wop, Ritchie Valens, the Four Seasons, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sonic Youth, the Pixies. In high school he discovered Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and soon African, Indian and gypsy world music. He was concurrently starting out on piano at age seven, then playing trumpet for a few years. Finally Ludman met his “love” the saxophone at age 18.
Years later, after living in West Africa for three years, he chose to move to New Orleans for what he considered to be a better quality of life over New York City. While he already loved Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and Dr. John, he soon discovered The Meters, James Booker, Allen Toussaint.
These days he’s thrilled to be constantly playing locally and touring in The Soul Project NOLA: “Playing original funk for enthusiastic crowds is still a dream come true.”
Piano, Organ and Vocals
Swiss-born keyboardist Jeremy Habegger grew up with Mennonite parents who naturally instilled music into their six children by singing instead of just saying their prayers. They moved to the United States (Connecticut, California and Georgia) in the early 1980s, where the eight-year-old Habegger began studying classical piano, while being deeply influenced by John Lennon through his parents.
By age 11, Habegger was settled in Nantes, France, for the next 18 years, absorbing everything from Led Zeppelin to John Coltrane as he chose to become a professional musician at his mother’s wise direction in his second year of college. At the Conservatory of Nantes, he studied jazz and classical music. Habegger’s early bands were the perfect musical preparation for The Soul Project NOLA: funk, blues and jazz fusion. He even opened for Sharon Jones in France in 2005.
Habegger says he gravitated to New Orleans in 2010 in search of American musical roots. “New Orleans has so many influences,” he says. “I was playing funk in France, so I’ve always liked jazz, but even more when it’s for dancing! Down here you have brass-band music playing the second line that originated with the jazz funeral; ragtime that came down from St. Louis, Missouri; the rhythms of Congo Square; the Spanish tinge; blues and gospel and even Western European influence through opera.” Habegger is also a licensed New Orleans tour guide.
He cites James Booker, John Cleary, Dr. John and James Black as his favorite New Orleans musicians. Sometimes folks even say Habegger’s piano work reminds them of James Booker’s, which he considers a huge compliment.
New Orleans native Bassist Wanda Joseph puts the true local roots in The Soul Project NOLA. Unlike most other children’s memories of their musical indoctrination, Joseph saw the real-deal New Orleans soul being created first hand as the daughter of drummer Vernell “Joe Gunn” Joseph.
She grew up watching her father play with and as royalty of New Orleans’ soul heyday—Irma Thomas, Ernie K-Doe and Tommy Ridgly, among others.
Her own inspirations came from “everything from the ‘70s,” she says, with ‘70s and ’80s funk becoming her top favorites: Earth, Wind and Fire, Rufus and Chaka Khan.
Joseph set out playing bass at age 18 and was in her first band by age 22. Becoming a professional musician wasn’t even a decision, she says. “It’s just something I did.”
Amazingly, she juggled a full-time job at the ship yards for 15 years and staffed the door at a high-volume music venue while holding down her music career with bands like Cosmos in 1982; Shepherd Band from 1989-1997; Higher Heights from 2007 to 2015; and now The Soul Project NOLA since 2016. But it was worth it. Joseph has opened with Shepherd Band and Higher Heights for The Drifters, Steel Pulse, The Wailers and Burning Spear.
Still on her bucket list: Chaka Kahn.
Toronto native Aaron Walker was first made to play oboe before he found his voice on drums at age 14. By then he’d already lived in Toronto, Connecticut and England, with France and Nova Scotia on the list over the next four years. Discovering his love of music through school mates and the ubiquitous “radio-in-the-car,” Walker first fell in love with funky bass lines in each tune.
Skate culture opened up Ska and punk for him: Goldfinger, The Dead Kennedys, The Clash, The Ramones, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Later it was Tool, The Deftones, System of a Down, The Mars Volta and 90s grunge like Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains.
Then Walker discovered funk and soul through a club scene in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where two bands in particular were covering the canons of the American ‘60s and ‘70s: The Meters, James Brown, Tower of Power, Parliament, The Ohio Players and Earth, Wind and Fire. Walker fell in love. “I even went back to school in 2010 for the express purpose of becoming a professional ‘jazz’ musician,” he says.
Since moving to New Orleans in 2011, Walker has played in Gravy, Mike Dillon’s Punk Rock Percussion Consortium, Jon Roniger and the Good for Nothing Band and Batebunda. He’s also led Resident Aliens and now Oraganami and was a side man in Fraulein Frances and Her Sleazeball Orchestra. Walker still subs with various jazz combos and teaches drum set lessons for private students of all ages.
He has recorded with Ben Ellman and Rob Mercurio (Gravy and Galactic) and shared the stage with George Porter, Jr., of The Meters, Johnny Vidacovich, Mike Dillon, Stanton Moore (Galactic), Jason Marsalis, Matt Chamberlain and others. He’s also opened for Galactic, The Motet, Roosevelt Collier and Earphunk. Still on his bucket list: Stevie Wonder.