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‘Come prepared to hula’ when TAJ MAHAL arrives

April 3, 2008
By JON WOODHOUSE, Contributing Writer
Drawing from a vibrant musical gumbo that embraces calypso, folk, rock, jazz, reggae, African and Hawaiian music, and of course, the many rhythms of blues, Taj Mahal has delighted audiences for more than four decades.

Since the mid-1960s, this consummate musician has drawn from a vast palette, forming authentic, rootsy compositions, that remain true to tradition, while managing to sound uniquely his own. Ever experimental, in the early 1970s he released a live album based around an entire tuba section. Most recently he traveled to the African island of Zanzibar to record with local musicians.

“When I was a kid older musicians taught me, don’t get stuck in one kind of music, learn to play as much music as you can learn,” Taj reports. “So I always had my ears open and I have a different approach to listening to music. I get to be totally creative. It’s like I don’t have to play rap because that’s all I know. If I wanted to play rap I could, and if I wanted to be just a rap musician or a jazz musician I could, but I choose to play because I can feel and all these things and I want to share.”

About to partake on a three-island tour, Taj is looking forward to fronting the Hula Blues Band, a hip seven-piece ensemble made up of musicians primarily from Kauai. Having resided on Kauai for 15 years, Taj explored his love for Hawaiian music on two albums. Following “Sacred Island,” released in 1996, he crafted “Hanapepe Dream” in 2003, cooking up a soulful Caribbean/bluesy/

Hawaiian stew accented with steel guitar, slack key guitar and ukulele. Highlights include “Blackjack Davey,” a song from his 1974 reggae-infused “Mo Roots” album, the classic “Stagger Lee,” Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and Mississippi John Hurt’s “My Creole Belle.”

”It’s a special thing,” he says about the Hula Blues Band. “Over the years we’ve toured across the Unites States and been to Europe and Australia and done blues cruises. And now we’re a couple of tunes towards the next album.”

Over the span of 40-plus albums, Taj has enthusiastically expanded his musical vocabulary. In the mid-’90s, he recorded the superb “Mumtaz Mahal” with classical Indian musician Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, and at the close of the last century, he teamed with a group of African musicians from Mali led by kora player Toumani Diabate for the primal blues of “Kulanjan.” In 2005, he released “Muktano” with the Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar.

Born in Harlem in 1942 to a gospel-singing schoolteacher mother and a Caribbean-born composer father who was a big jazz fan, Taj was immersed from his earliest days in the music that would become his career.

“I grew up in a household that respected the down-home and beautiful natural creativity,” he notes.

His passion for the blues began while he was attending the University of Massachusetts, and he spent time searching out the living masters of the tradition. This love led him to study an array of instruments including electric and acoustic guitars, bass, piano, banjo, dulcimer, mandolin, harmonica and flute.

Moving to Los Angeles, he co-founded a group with fellow blues aficionado Ry Cooder called the Rising Sons, and then recorded his first solo album in 1968. That year he joined the Rolling Stones, The Who, John Lennon and Eric Clapton to film “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.”

In subsequent years, this Grammy-winning artist has toured and/or recorded with Clapton, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Bob Marley. In the late ’90s, he joined the Stones on their live album “No Security,” singing the classic “Corrina.”

Assimilating a wide inventory of styles while honoring the roots of American blues, Taj in concert can be counted on to keep the good times rolling, sparking audiences, encouraging them to sing and holler along and move their bodies.

“Come prepared to hula,” he says in conclusion. “We’re not there just to play blues; we’re there to exalt some Hawaiian music and traditional music from around the world and its connection to the blues, and blues connection to Hawaiian music.”

The Maui Concert Chorus under the artistic direction of Celia Canty, presents “OperaRocks! II,” conducted by Stuart Chafetz, Sunday in Castle Theater. Accompanied by 30 musicians (most from the Honolulu Symphony), special guests include soprano Lea Woods Friedman and baritone Ryan Taylor.

Friedman’s recent performances include the role of Micaela in “Carmen” with Opera Hong Kong, Shanghai Symphony and the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, China. Other roles include Liu in Hawaii Opera Theater’s production of “Turandot” and Valencienne in “The Merry Widow.”

Taylor recently performed the role of Sharpless in “Madame Butterfly” as well as performing in Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solennelle” for Fort Worth Opera’s Inaugural Festival Season. Taylor has also appeared in concert in Shanghai, Beijing, Manila and Singapore.

The program features familiar choruses, arias and overtures of Verdi (“Macbeth” and “Aida”), Puccini (“La Boheme”), Rossini, Wagner (“Lohengrin”) and Bernstein (“Candide”). Hawaii Public Radio’s Judy Neale will narrate, and the audience is even invited to sing along for a tune or two.

• “OperaRocks! II” is presented at 2 p.m. Sunday in Castle Theater at the MACC. Tickets are $15, $25, and $35, half-price for kids, plus applicable fees available at the MACC box office, 242-7469 or'>

The first American reggae band to gain an international following, Big Mountain returns to Maui this weekend headlining a festival on Saturday at the Lahaina Civic Center. The group’s bright, sunny sound has propelled it into the global arena playing before crowds of 30,000 in Sao Paulo, Brazil and for 36,000 in Tokyo. They even won over crowds at Jamaica’s Sunsplash Festival.

Based in San Diego, Big Mountain earned success with an infectious conscious reggae sound heavily influenced by legendary performer Bob Marley. Some years back, their album “Wake Up” replaced Marley’s “Sounds of Freedom” on the top of the reggae charts. They scored their biggest hit in 1994 with their cover of Peter Frampton’s “Baby I Love Your Way.”

Taking their name from a mountain area in Arizona considered sacred by Native Americans, the group has championed a number of issues from Indian rights to the plight of Hispanic immigrants.

• Saturday’s lineup also features Maxx Effex & Anjj Lee, Soul Free, Kawao, Inna Vision, and Unified Soul. Tickets are $20 in advance, $28 at the door. Show runs 3 to 10 p.m.

A popular band from Oregon, State of Jefferson plays Casanova on Friday and Life’s a Beach on Saturday. With a solid reggae foundation the group’s genre-crossing sets range from funk and world beat to bluegrass. The band recently backed Hawaii’s Maacho, and they’ve opened shows for Prezident Brown, Yellowman, Midnight, the Abyssinians, Culture and Pato Banton.

“We do play reggae, we play a ton of it, but at the same time we’re like ‘hey let’s throw in this jazz tune or a blues song’,” says SOJ’s bassist Ryan Redding. “Then we can play this rawhide style of bluegrass.”

• Contact Jon Woodhouse at'>

Article Photos


Fact Box


• WHO:
Taj Mahal and the Hula Blues Band
The Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater.
April 10 at 7:30 p.m.
$50, $45, and $40, plus applicable fees, available at the MACC box office, 242-7469 or
A portion of proceeds will benefit the Junior Life Guard Program, through a live auctionfor signed guitars by Taj Mahal, celebrity signed surf / boogie boards and other items.



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