This month we spotlight Asheville, North Carolinas newest musical sensation, Toubab Krewe. Blending a melodious, multidimensional vision of traditional West African, Caribbean and American styles-Malian, reggae, Southern rock n roll and soul to name a few, this worldly quintet fuses extensive personal trips to Africa with a mature and vibrant knack for surprisingly polyphonic precision. Rhythmic, eclectic and creative, Toubab Krewe offers a refreshing taste of pulsating percussion meets crisp guitars and funky beats. Referred to as both groundbreaking and innovative, their deep, rootsy flavor reaches across oceans and genres venturing into a direction and sound uniquely their own.
Jambands caught up with guitarist Drew Heller and percussionist Luke Quaranta while on the road gearing-up for their upcoming debut appearance at 2006s already sold-out Bonnaroo. *CC: For starters, whats in the name Toubab Krewe? Whats the significance? *
TQ: The word toubab is used throughout West Africa. Its a Bambara (Malian dialect) word. Toubab means foreigner. Its something that kids would say to us on the streets. Its not derogatory, but it names you as a foreigner. It speaks to us knowing who we are and being as real as who we are. We chose the spelling of krewe as a nod towards New Orleans-New Orleans being a place where a lot of different fusions came to be. *CC: So tell me how you guys got started. How was the seed planted and what were the key components to the origination of Toubab Krewe? *
DH: Countless childhood days playing music in each other’s basements and garages. Years of listening to music together and performing together. Our mutual introductions to West African traditions illuminated the path that would eventually bring us together, linking us in stride toward some unknown territory.
CC: Describe to our readers the essential facets to the Toubab Krewe sound
DH: Somewhere between American and West African traditions is the musical conversation that Toubab Krewe is taking part in. The dialogue is unconventional, abstract, and sometimes argumentative; whispering back and forth, and often unexpectedly involves other realms such as Ethiopian and Gypsy musical languages.
*CC: Where are your focal points as a band? What is TK all about? *
DH: First and foremost, the music. Second, having fun together.
TQ: To be honest, right at the top of the list is music. Its us being really true to the music. The music is bigger than we are. Its bigger than anything we see ourselves as musicians to be and were just trying to be real to the music. Were engaged in a culture that has so much history. Some of the songs we play are over 100 years old. *CC: But where does your sound fall in the greater scheme of things in the music world? Is there an easily definable categorization? Are you more surf rock, desert blues, melodic Malian or dirty South soul? *
TQ: To be honest, I dont know if anyone has done this. Its obviously heavily African. Its got that tone to it. We bring a lot of different stuff. When people hear it, theyre going to say, thats Toubab Krewe. *CC: Lets talk about the fusion-filled sound that characterizes Toubab Krewe. How do you go about molding and creating such differing styles of various West African textures-Malian for instance, with American styles such as rock, funk and even hip hop? *
LQ: Its been a pretty natural process. Its not any kind of formula, but its about five guys whove fallen in-love with West African music and culture for the last eight to ten years. Basically, just taking the time out of our lives to take time with the artists and learn the music on a day-to-day level. The love for the music just led us over there.
We just play from our hearts and dont try to do anything thats a fusion, but just play what we feel. It reflects our art-the music that were creating. *CC: I thought this statement from a recent review was pretty interesting. What do you think of being coined as an, experiment in Afro-California fusion? Do you find this acknowledgment applicable or suitable? *
LQ: When I first heard it I got a kick out of it. Its not anything thats conscious. Our first time in California as a band was in the past two weeks. It speaks to the way weve bridged two musical worlds. *CC: How have you evolved in these couple short years? Is the direction of the band now any of a departure from when the Krewe began? *
DH: Like most people and places, we are in a constant state of change. I don’t think we have ever been sure of a direction or destination. We have been trying to let things unfold naturally. Better to stay loose and afloat than to travel a rigorous and speedy course to some specific end of sorts. *CC: Was there any difficulty in translating the bands sound into a studio setting? *
LQ: For us, all the musical settings are really similar. The first show we ever played with all five of us was in January of 2005. We started recording the album in April of 05. We have this shared language; this shared musical language. The album is completely reflective of that point in time.
The live setting is really the pure expression of Toubab Krewe. The studio album is a pretty clear reflection of our sound in general. Our compositions are an effort that is really in the moment. The creative process for us is really organic, really in the moment. *CC: Where is Toubab Krewe heading? What’s on your plate now and what is the eventual goal? *
DH: I have no idea. Music is the only constant. My eventual goal is to die a happy old man with thousands of beautiful melodies running around my mind. *CC: What does this music and performing it for a living mean to you? Do you want to be known as a dynamic and multi-faceted live band or as a complete studio band or both? And how do they differ? *
DH: Music means everything to me. Live versus studio-they are different animals. We give it our all in either setting. Being in the studio environment feels more like painting. The stage feels more like a dream state…a place capable of unexpected turns and inexplicable meanings and symbols- as in, "I dreamt of my childhood backyard, except it wasn’t there at all, but it was. And although I was resting peacefully with in the sandbox, I was terrified beyond reason. I think music in general is beyond reason. Especially live music. Both studio and stage seem like abstract altars to the dream world. *CC: Explain the state of both jam and popular music today in your eyes. Who are some bands/acts that you find interesting and/or impressive? Would you like to make that crossover to the mainstream someday? Is that in the cards? *
DH: The state of jam and popular music in my eyes is the Internet. Clear Channel, MTV, Adderol, MTV2, MTV, Jamz, VH1, Ritalin, VH1 Soul, Sirius, XM, iPods, iRivers, Casey Kasem, American Idol aka Survivor, retro this, retro that. Diamond in this rough, diamond in that rough. Menu’s full of intriguing appetizers and tasteless entrees. Prozac. Patriotism. MP3. CD-R.
Any band or act that is playing from their hearts I usually find interesting.
The mainstream has too many piranhas swimming around. Unless we realize that we are actually more of a crocodile type of creature I don’t think there is too much interest in a death by thousands of tiny fangs. That said, I must say that I do admire the aesthetically secure crocodiles that aren’t afraid to inhabit densely populated waters.