From African to Western influences, Toubab Krewe creates a sound all its own
Acclaimed by Newsweek magazine as one of the leading bands fusing African music and Western pop, Toubab Krewe will make its Maui debut at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Pavilion/Courtyard on Jan. 31.
Based in Asheville, N.C., this innovative, instrumental band developed its unique sound after members spent time in Mali, where they lived with local tribesmen and studied native instrumentation which they adapted with American rock and folk music styles.
“We had an openness to musical styles from different places and West Africa became the focus,” explains Toubab percussionist Luke Quaranta. “We fell in love with the music from there.”
Immersion in traditional music led the musicians to study instruments like the magical-sounding 21-stringed kora, the kamel ngoni, the one-stringed soku, and djembe drums.
“I went for the first time in 1999 and two of our members began to study guitar styles and string music from there, incorporating the kora and the kamel ngoni, which is like a harp blues instrument from Mali,” Quaranta continues. “We studied with Arab musicians who were part of national ensembles. We wanted to learn it the right way from the right people.”
Their cultural immersion led to an invitation to perform at the most remote music festival in the world. The Festival au Desert, at Timbuktu in Mali, is a unique annual celebration of Tuareg culture, featuring traditional Tuareg and world music, which has attracted artists like Robert Plant and Bono.
So were they surprised to see Americans playing their music?
“There was definitely a kind of shock factor,” he reports. “The foreign groups that have played there are predominantly European, in collaboration with West African artists, so we were definitely coming from a different perspective. But we were really well received. The feedback we got from the artists was encouraging and they were really impressed that we had taken creative license with the music. We honored it and represented it as close to the tradition as possible, but have also taken a lot of creative license in the way we present it, integrating rock ‘n’ roll and jazz and traditional mountain music from North Carolina.
These days Mali is embroiled in a horrendous civil war fueled by Islamic fundamentalists, who have banned music in two thirds of the nation.
“It’s been weighing heavy on our hearts,” he says. “We’ve been in contact with folks there. For a couple of years at every show we play, we’ve been raising money and we started a beer in our hometown called Toubab Brew to raise money for a music school for children in Mali. We’re just trying to do everything we can to bring awareness to it.”
Often receiving rapturous reviews, Afropop Worldwide proclaimed that Toubab set “a new standard for fusions,” while the Village Voice praised its album “TK2” as “a futuristic, psychedelic, neo-grit frenzy.”
And wherever they play, their shows are transformed into jubilant parties.
“It’s always a dance concert,” Quaranta enthuses. “Even if we’re in a listening situation, people are dancing in the aisles. Once we get going it’s pretty contagious, you have to move to it. We have really loyal fans, from grandmothers to toddlers. It’s cool we’re doing something that can appeal to a lot of different age groups and all different racial backgrounds.”
* Toubab Krewe perform at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 31 at the MACC’s Pavilion/Courtyard. Tickets are $28 in advance, $38 on show day (plus applicable fees). To purchase tickets for any MACC event, visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.
Two cool shows are coming to the MACC. First up, Mick Fleetwood will say aloha to Maui with a concert on Feb. 13, before joining Fleetwood Mac on the Mainland. And Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw will team with Night Ranger’s Jack Blades on Feb. 23. Plus, big shows are coming in March and April.
Ebb & Flow Arts opens the new year with a special concert on Sunday at the MACC’s Castle Theater, with a performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s groundbreaking “String Quartet #2” in F-sharp minor for soprano and string quartet.
The Ebb & Flow Ensemble comprises Honolulu-based soprano Rachel Schutz, violinists Ignace Jang and Helen Liu, violist Steven Flanter, cellist Joanna Morrison-Pernela, and composer/pianist Robert Pollock.
“We are proud that the Maui Arts & Cultural Center will present Ebb & Flow Ensemble for the seventh time since 2001,” says E&F founder Robert Pollock. “We expect a more positive reception of Schoenberg’s Quartet than at its premiere in 1908, when it caused a riot.”
And he’s not joking.
Some years later Schoenberg reported: “My second string quartet caused, at its first performance in Vienna, riots which surpassed every previous and subsequent happening of this kind. I have to admit, that these riots were justified because they were a natural reaction of a conservatively educated audience to a new kind of music.”
Schoenberg was one of the founders of musical Modernism, an incredibly influential figure from the early 20th century, with Stravinsky, one of the two most significant composers of his time.
Other featured works at the concert include Pollock’s “Contrast” for soprano and string quartet (2012), based on a poem by Robinson Jeffers. Artist Tomas Belsky has created a painting inspired by the music and poetry, and a video by Peter Swanzy, featuring images from this painting will be shown. A silent auction for Belsky’s painting and a DVD of the performance will be held the day of the concert.
There will also be Dina Koston’s humorous soprano solo, songs by American composers Henry Cowell, Edward T. Cone and Roger Sessions, and a piano quintet by Jean Francaix.
* The Ebb & Flow Ensemble performs at 5 p.m. Sunday in the MACC’s Castle Theater. A pre-concert discussion will be held at 4 p.m. Robert Pollock will host a free “informance” at 6 p.m. today in the MACC’s Haynes Meeting Room. Tickets for the concert are $28 (plus applicable fees).
Oahu’s hottest rock band, Kings of Spade, return to Stella Blues Cafe on Friday and Saturday. They’re acclaimed for a raw blend of urban funk, blues, deep soul and rock. Imagine Stevie Ray Vaughan’s blues guitar stylings crossed with Janis Joplin on vocals with occasional hip-hop, turntables, djembe and didgeridoo.
Lead singer Kasi Nunes is an amazing, passionate performer who just played with her band at a tribute to Janis Joplin in Honolulu. The group also features guitarist Jesse Savio, bassist Timothy Corker, drummer Matt Kato and dancer Natalie Phoenix.
Their energetic live shows have landed them gigs at LA’s House of Blues, The Avalon, and The Viper Room. In 2010, they beat out 50 bands in a contest to open for Bon Jovi at the Blaisdell Arena. Their song, “Boys In The Band,” is featured on the soundtrack of the movie “Utopian Society.”
Check out the YouTube clip of Kings of Spade covering Joplin’s “Piece Of My Heart,” opening for Bon Jovi.
Admission is free on Friday (for Fourth Friday in Kihei) and $7 on Saturday. For more information, call 874-3779.
A founding member of the legendary Wolfe Tones band, Derek Warfield, is often described as “Ireland’s greatest ballad singer.” Now fronting the Young Wolfe Tones, Warfield will play Mulligans on the Blue on Friday and Sunday.
Nominated as Ireland’s Best Traditional Folk Group, they feature some of the finest young Irish musicians and singers – including three-time All-Ireland champion banjo player, Damaris Wood – led by a charismatic performer and historian of music and song tradition.
Formed in 1963, the Wolfe Tones adopted their name from the Irish patriot of the 1798 rebellion, Theobald Wolfe Tone. The band remained together for 37 years until Warfield’s departure in 2001.
Warfield notes, “You won’t find the views of the great majority of the Irish people reflected in much of the writing we have from the past. That’s very much colored by the need to be acceptable to the rulers of the time. To listen to what’s being said by ordinary people you have to turn to the songs. We’re presenting an old tradition in a new package – and I’ve the same passion for it now as I had when it all started 44 years ago.”
* Derek Warfield and The Young Wolfe Tones will play an all-ages dinner show Friday at Mulligans on the Blue. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door for music only. Irish dinner and show is $45. They will also play during a tribute for Robert Burns from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday; no cover. Call 874-1131.