Toubab Krewe – Live at the Orange Peel

January 01, 1970



“Jimi JuJu! JuJu,
Jimi, JuJu!”


Midway into “Moose,” on the second album from Asheville, NC,
Mali-delic jammers Toubab Krewe, spoken word guest Umar Bin Hassan, from the
legendary Last Poets, launches into an astonishing screed in tribute of Jimi
Hendrix. Traipsing the Hendrixian light fantastically while tracing the guitar
god’s trajectory from the civil rights era onward, Hassan, with a winking wit,
gradually builds up a head of steam – Patti Smith ain’t got nothin’ on this cat – as if he were the
late axeman himself in an extended solo, until, sated and spent, he intones
these fateful lines:


“Purple haze, in my

Losing self, to lose
this pain

Embracing the truth

And wanting to fly

‘scuse me, beauty,
while I kiss your sky.”


As the crowd erupts in delight, the band also erupts in a
huge, gawping chordal burst that is also pure Hendrix, subsequently launching
into a lithe, loping, cosmic jam that could’ve come off some heretofore unknown
Side 5 of Electric Ladyland. All
along they’ve been painting subtly surrealist hues as a canvas for Hassan’s
spiky strokes of griot-funk, but here, against a churning backdrop of dub bass
and rollicky percussion, guitarists Drew Heller and Justin Perkins peal off
lick after echoplexed lick in their own joint tribute to J.H., and one can only
listen and imagine that somewhere the gods in the stars (playing with Laughing
Sam’s dice, natch) are smiling.


If you were there, December 30 and 31, 2007, at Asheville’s Orange Peel
venue, you were no doubt smiling too – and dancing until your ankles were sore.
Toubab Krewe is about the dance, the synching of mind and body until the
ecstasy reflex takes over, and this live record finds the quintet at an early
career peak. Forming in 2005 and using as a musical jumping-off point the
members’ woodshedding visits to West Africa (they’ve studied with Malian locals
and even performed at the Festival of the Desert in Mali) alongside an obvious
appreciation of reggae, Zydeco and Celtic musics, Toubab Krewe wields the
standard rock band’s primary colors of guitar-guitar-bass-drums then
supplements things with kora and kamale ngoni, courtesy Perkins, plus a player adept in indigenous African percussion such as djembe and
scraper. (For the Orange Peel shows, Uncle Earl fiddler Rayna Gellert also
guested.) Their first album, 2005’s Toubab
, put them on the national radar, and in addition to going over like
gangbusters at Bonnaroo and on the jamband circuit, they breathed some rarified
NPR air last December when “All Things Considered” singled out Toubab Krewe, Markus
James and Afrissippi as at the forefront of an exciting new generational fusion
of “homegrown rock music with a West African twist.”


A twist indeed. Who needs Paul Simon’s whitebread
appropriations when artists like Toubab Krewe can kick out the multi-kulcha jams?
Live at the Orange Peel starts off
with a traditional number adapted by the band, the highlife-flavored “Autorail.”
Its lighthearted vibe, combined with the insistent tsssst-tsssst percussive tug, is inviting, celebratory – an
invocation or overture of spiraling fretwork and flamenco-like kora flourishes.
Soon enough, Toubab Krewe is tracing the Mali-to-Mississippi trade routes:
“Lamine’s Tune”‘s bluesy, upbeat groove, rife with cresting/falling dynamics
and Zydeco-like rhythms, would feel equally at home at a tribal gathering or a
juke-joint throwdown. Another traditional, the kora-powered “Maliba,” infuses
the highlife with a Caribbean feel spiced with
touches of King Sunny Adé.


But it’s the Krewe signature tune “Buncombe To Badala” –
“Buncombe” refers to their home county – that, along with the Hassan-Hendrix
extrapolation, brings down the house. Taking an obvious cue from “Pipeline,”
the number summons images of surfers hanging ten in Mali (unlikely in the
physical world, but perfect for the metaphysical world of music) as the guitarists unleash Dick Dale-worthy twang-tremolo riffs
while the rhythm section makes like a mashup of Sly & Robbie, the J.B.’s
and Afrika ’70. (There’s a striking video for the song featuring clips from
both the Orange Peel and the band’s Festival of the Desert sojourn currently
posted at YouTube.)


This, my friends, is where fusion becomes fervor: Toubab
Krewe has such a visceral, ear-yanking quality that in the band’s capable hands
you just might find your definitions of what is/is not rock ‘n’ roll and
worldbeat being completely rewritten. This is the sound of liberation.


Oh, and lest you think these young players are of the
intense, humorless, scholarly bent – Westerners in their zeal to not come off as musical colonialists sometimes
wind up walking on eggshells – know this: in West Africa, the word “toubab”
means “white person.” Might as well tell it like it is, eh?


Standout Tracks: “Buncombe
To Badala,” “Maliba” FRED MILLS





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