Live at the Orange Peel (Upstream)
Listening to Toubab Krewe, you'd never guess that all its members hail not from the Western African nation of Mali, but from Asheville, N.C., where the band recorded its latest disc at the Orange Peel - the same venue where Smashing Pumpkins kicked off their reunion tour last year. Toubab Krewe's trademark sound is a blend of various influences - though Africa is the most obvious reference, there's rock, reggae and New Orleans-style grooves (the name "Krewe" comes from the Crescent City regional spelling of "crew").
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An example is Live's uptempo "Kaira," which begins with a kora (African lute) solo from Justin Perkins. The other members, who join in about a minute into the track, take the melody more into West Indian territory. Another is "Roy Forester," a slower number with more of a Latin rock feel, with lots of clever guitar riffs and Ohio-born spoken-word artist Umar Bin Hassam, who emotionally reads from his politically tinged "Personal Things," a piece originally featured on Hassam's Be Bop or Be Dead.
Also very interesting is "Buncome to Badala," one of the band's few compositions to have more of a rock and roll edge - both Drew Heller and Justin Perkins handle the electric-guitar duties here - Heller does an twisting slide guitar bit halfway through, to copious audience applause. On the below video clip, the band's performance is interspersed with images from Mali, somewhere Toubab Krewe has visited numerous times to do research and gig with local musicians.
Listening to Toubab Krewe's music might spark listeners' curiosity to learn more about African music of Africa. Consider this a gateway to cats such as the late Ali Farka Touré, Salif Keita, Amadou & Mariam, Oliver Mtkudzi and many others who regularly tour the US - often stopping over in Houston, no less. - Ernest Barteldes