Luke Quaranta (left), Teal Brown, Dave Pransky, Justin Perkins and Drew Heller have benefited greatly from their West African cultural exchange program.
TOUBAB KREWE performing with HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER and DJ MEDICINEMAN as part of the SMALL ORLD FESTIVAL wat Revival (783 College), Sunday (September 28), 9 pm. $15, adv $12. 416-535-7888. toubabkrewe.com
The five clean-cut members of Toubab Krewe look like any other indie rock group from North Carolina, but once Justin Perkins swaps his electric guitar for a kora and percussionist Luke Quaranta starts pounding out traditional West African rhythms, it's apparent these hombres aren't your average Asheville jam band rippers.
What sets Toubab Krewe apart from all the other aspiring cultural collisionists who've heard a Fela Kuti CD and thought it might be cool to try some exotic grooves is that they've done their homework.
Originally members of the drum 'n' dance troupe Common Ground, Toubab Krewe have made numerous trips to West Africa - both individually and as a goup - to immerse themselves in the music and culture of Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast and especially Mali while learning the subtleties of the tradition from true masters like kora great Lamine Soumano, the late ngoni virtuoso Vieux Kante and others.
"We've always been warmly received by the people there, particularly the musicians, who seem to really like what we're doing," says Quaranta before a show in Greenville, South Carolina. "They're intrigued at first, and they want to sit in and play along.
"The only time we get asked questions like ‘Why are a bunch of white dudes from North Carolina playing West African music?' is when we're being interview by journalists back home."
It makes sense that Toubab Krewe's hybrid sound would go down well in Bamako, Dakar and Conakry, where many of the popular groups have historically incorporated elements from the contemporary music of the United States and Cuba. In fact, some of Toubab Krewe's moves on their self-titled debut don't sound all that dissimilar from those of Mali's legendary Super Rail Band after innovative guitar griot Djelimady Tounkara took over leadership. Yet even Tounkara never ventured into surf and Cajun styles.
"I think the trip to Mali in 2004 was a real breakthrough. It was a real awakening as far as how this music we're making based on traditional African rhythms can fit in a Western rock context while still allowing all of our other influences from the American South - like blues, Cajun and zydeco as well as surf and even Gypsy music - to be incorporated.
"In the last couple of years, the sound has continued to progress and evolve as new influences from East Africa, South Africa and Ethiopia have come into play. That Ethiopiques stuff is amazing, especially what they do with the James Brown influences they've absorbed.
"I guess we like to think of what we do in Toubab Krewe as being more in line with the tradition of artists involved with the whole back-and-forth sort of culture-sharing, like the West African artists who were integrating Cuban rhythms in their music knowing that the roots of those Cuban rhythmic forms originally came from West Africa."
Percussionist Luke Quaranta recalls Toubab Krewe's origins and how their West African cultural exchange program began.
Although Toubab Krewe has spent long hours in the studio since the 2005 release of their self-titled debut disc, their forthcoming album will be a live recording reveals Quaranta.
The forthcoming album will feature guest vocalist Umar Bin Hassan of the ilegendary Last Poets. Quaranta explains how they connected.