It has all the makings of one of the year's most memorable shows when voodoo funk musician Papa Mali teams with legendary Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann and acclaimed spin wizard DJ Logic on Saturday at Charley's.
Born in Shreveport, La., and now based in Austin, Texas, Malcolm "Papa Mali" Welbourne is a remarkable slide guitarist/singer whose debut recording, "Thunder Chicken," was hailed by Allmusic as "one of the few truly wild and unruly records to come from the rock 'n' roll tradition in the 21st century."
Imagine Dr. John's electrifying, late-'60s, New Orleans swamp Gris Gris re-envisioned through a murky Delta blues prism. "Most people describe my music as swamp funk or voodoo blues," says Papa Mali. "You'll hear a lot of slide guitar and I love the dub aspect of reggae. Even if I'm playing a blues tune, it will have some reverberation and echo. It's all about conjuring spirits and creating vibrations. I've always liked the idea of spirituality in music, something that touches people and makes them feel like they've visited another realm."
Papa Mali, Bill Kreutzmann and DJ Logic play Saturday at 9 p.m. at Charley’s.
Tickets are $25 in advance.
"Some players wake the dead, Papa Mali invites their spirits to jam," praised Guitar Player. "The dreadlocked guitarist transforms his gigs into voodoo rituals where he channels the energies of bygone musicians. The man is way more than funky, he's a musical shaman."
Raised along Bayou Pierre in Shreveport, Papa Mali spent his summers with grandparents in New Orleans absorbing the city's rich gumbo, hearing bands like the Wild Tchoupitoulas and the Meters.
"We'd go down every year for Mardi Gras and stay for about six weeks, so some of my first musical experiences were hearing the Mardi Gras Indians and Dr. John," he recalls. "And my grandmother had an old book about voodoo and I was very interested in that."
A friend introduced him to Delta blues and he was soon soaking up Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Skip James.
"I absorbed that at a very young age and then created my own style of slide guitar playing," he continues. "There's something very deep and spiritual and spooky about the music of Howlin' Wolf and Skip James. I was also into Sun Ra and early psychedelic music."
Before delving deep into the bayou, Papa Mali played with the Killer Bees, one of the first American bands to play the legendary Reggae Sunsplash festival in Jamaica. Touring with reggae legend Burning Spear, among others, they became one of America's most popular reggae bands.
"I got into reggae music for a long while, but at some point I realized that no matter how far I went in the reggae world, I was a visitor," he notes. "It made sense to go back to my own Louisiana and Mississippi roots and use the experience to help create my own sound."
Papa Mali conjures a mesmerizing fusion of swampy blues and funk on his latest album, "Do Your Thing."
"There's the unmistakable feeling you've wandered into someone else's dreamtime - a place of sharp shifts in mood, where sex and nightmares entwine with the slapping feet of Mustang Sally and Hand Jive Willy," praised JamBase. "The vocals are delivered with a soulful swagger, almost as if Jimi Hendrix had been raised in the swamps on a steady diet of James Brown, the Meters and scratchy Delta blues," raved the New Orleans Gambit.
For his Maui gig, Papa Mali will front a band featuring bassist Ron Johnson, keyboardist Matt Hubbard and drummer Bill Kreutzmann.
"It was fate," he says about teaming with the Dead's drummer. "Our mothers are both from New Orleans and we share the same birthday. I grew up when psychedelic experimentation was par for the course and I listened to Grateful Dead music. They pioneered the blueprint for a lot of bands today. We became friends and over the course of a weekend we ended up playing together several times and decided we wanted to do it again."
So will we hear some Dead tunes?
"Of course, the fans who come to see Bill want to hear some Dead, but it will be my take, it might be some very swampy, voodoo sounding Grateful Dead," he reports. "I've been trying to choose a few songs that have that vibe already like 'Wharf Rat.' "
The Charley's show will open with a set by sonic pioneer DJ Logic. This electronic-music ambassador is known to add tabla beats to electrified blues riffs and salsa grooves, and to attack hard rock and punk with a jazz sensibility.
"There's all kinds of talk about DJ Logic - how he's using turntables to reinvent electronic jazz; how he's not just scratching, but leading a band; how he's turning hip-hop notions around by shooting them through Miles Davis," praised the Philadelphia Weekly.
We can expect another exceptional musical experience on Sunday at The Studio Maui when Dave Stringer leads a kirtan evening.
Blending the transcendent mysticism of traditional Indian instruments with exuberant, groove-oriented American gospel, Stringer is regarded as one of the most gifted singers in the genre.
So how does his approach differ from others?
"My band and I rock a lot harder," he enthuses. "What I share with other kirtan singers is an interest in facilitating collective ecstasy. We differ in how we get there. I am not interested in creating a new religion, or a simulacrum of an old one. I'm not using gurus and a nostalgia for a vanished India as a marketing device. I am a musician seeking a direct spiritual experience unencumbered by belief or dogma, and I find both art and science to be useful methods of inquiry.
"Kirtan essentially offers people an opportunity to sing together in a very large choir, and experience themselves as musicans. Before the introduction of recorded music, it was much more common for people to make music together, and kirtan is a way of reclaiming this central human connection. So I view kirtan as an art form that blurs the distinction between the observer and the medium. If everyone is singing, who is the audience, and who is the performer?
"I am also quite interested in the neurology of ecstasy, particularly in how this manifests in groups of people, and I am currently engaged with a number of scientists in an ongoing research project. In the future, we will be using the changes in people's brainwaves and neuropeptides as they chant to drive visual media, essentially turning the kirtan into a very large biofeedback mechanism."
Profiled in Time and Billboard magazines as one of the principal innovators of the new American kirtan chanting movement, Stringer integrates tablas, finger cymbals, harmonium and tamboura of the traditional Hindustani style with exquisite vocal harmonies and untraditional accents of lap steel guitar, banjo, horns and violin.
Stringer's early training as a visual artist and jazz musician has ably served him.
"The ability to improvise is essential," he continues. My band and I seldom rehearse, we surrender ourselves to the intelligence of the music, and changes in tempo, chord structure and instrumental arrangement occur without premeditation. It's a new painting every night. The form also allows us to quote from a lot of different musical styles. A chant can morph from something deeply Eastern to something intensely bluegrass or profoundly funky in the space of 20 minutes."
He began chanting in the early 1990s when a film-editing project brought him to the ashram of Swami Muktananda in India. When the project ended, he remained in India to teach at a local school.
"India blasted me into billions of spinning particles and then slowly reshaped me, a process that was somehow simultaneously both excruciating and ecstatic," he reports. "I had been volunteering my time at a local grade school, and there was a harmonium there and we would chant every day. Although I did receive formal instruction in the traditions of Indian music from teachers at the ashram, I really learned more about the heart and soul of chanting by singing with the kids. Basically, a bunch of schoolchildren taught me to chant."
Based in Los Angeles, Stringer has produced varied recordings with such world musicians as Azam Ali, Vas, Axiom of Choice, Rasa, Shaman's Dream and the Open Door Orchestra. His voice has been heard on a number of soundtracks, including the "Matrix Revolutions" and the video game Myst. His own CDs include "Japa," "Mala" and the exquisitely beautiful "Divas & Devas," where he duets with a series of women singers including Donna Delory who tours with Madonna.
Making his Maui debut on Sunday, Stringer will be joined by singer C.C. White and tabla player Patrick Richey (who are both featured on "Divas & Devas") and special guest, multipercussionist Craig Kohland of Shaman's Dream.
"The intention of kirtan is consciousness-transformation, directing the singers to vanish into the song as drops merge into the ocean," he concludes. "The form is simple, easily learned, and instantly memorable. The mantras quiet the mind, and the music frees the heart."
The new band Testafiyah performs a free show at KPOA's Kama'aina Nights at 6:30 Friday at the Queen Ka'ahumanu Center.
Featuring Bruce "Poncho" Ho'opai, Shane "HHB" Kahalehau and Vernon "Kuma" Kapua'ala from the reggae band Sly Dog, former Pound 4 Pound singer Allin Dudoit, and bassist Makapu Ho'opi'i of Ekolu, Testafiyah has just released an impressive debut album of gospel-inspired reggae that focuses on the group's religious faith. Tracks include "Why (You Ain't Got Time For Me)," which reflects the influence of England's UB40, and a version of Stacey Orrico's hit "I Promise."
Also at The Studio Maui, a "Day of The Dead" event will be held on Saturday from 7:30 to 11 p.m. This ritual and pageant will honor ancestors and community members who have passed away this past year. It includes a dance party with music by Zuni Migoze and The Rhythms of Africa, plus DJ Ged and special guest Ram Dass.
The evening is a fundraiser for Doorway Into Light, a nonprofit group planning to build a "green" cemetery on Maui.
* Tickets are $20 in advance, and $25 at the door.