SA-RA CREATIVE PARTNERS on Harbourfront Centre's Concert Stage (235 Queens Quay West), Saturday (July 14), 9:30 pm; after-party with DJ DAVE CAMPBELL in the Brigantine Room, 11 pm. Free. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
Taz, one of the three multitasking artists of Sa-Ra Creative Partners, explains being an hour late for our interview like this: "I was in a very important meeting with the richest man in the world's personal assistant."
But after this grand statement and despite a barrage of follow-up questions, he stays tight-lipped. So all we can really conclude is that Bill Gates is shopping around for the flyest beats while he throws down his new mixtape, CEO Money, Vol. 1.
Were that true, he could do worse than Sa-Ra.
The group - pardon me, "creative partnership" - of Taz Arnold, Shafiq Husayn and Om'Mas Keith is signed to Kanye West's G.O.O.D. (Getting Out Our Dreams) Music record label, and they've been inducted into his production staff.
"Now he's a big famous dope rapper," says Taz of his connection with West over the cellphone from New York. "Back when he was a budding producer, we met when he was working on Jay-Z's Blueprint. We were in a studio in Hollywood doing some stuff for the Black Eyed Peas, and Kanye was in the next room producing Beanie Sigel.
"Around that time no one had heard him rap, but he started doing some of his songs for us a cappella. He did Jesus Walks; I was, like, 'Oh, shit - that Jesus shit's gonna be big. '"
That was the day before the car accident that almost killed Kanye, which he rapped about in Through The Wire. Before that, individually, the members of Sa-Ra spent enough years in the music-industry trenches to surface with a lengthy list of production credits (Common, 50 Cent, Lauryn Hill, Pharoahe Monch) and the kind of buzz the Neptunes had before they broke.
After their demo was "leaked" to the Internet, the Sa-Ra hype only got heightened by The Hollywood Sessions (Babygrande/Koch), a collection of stray singles that came out earlier this year. They've added flourishes to the upcoming Common album, Finding Forever, which comes out soon, and just wrapped the video for Everybody, a track they produced for the delightfully flamboyant Fonzworth Bentley featuring Kanye and Andre 3000.
But all that's just appetizer material before Sa-Ra's debut album proper, Black Fuzz, drops on G.O.O.D. in November.
"It's going to be very, very fucking dope, if I may say," says Taz, "and I don't usually say shit like that about my own material."
Taz describes their collaborative sound, which straddles the line between icy minimalism and full-bodied soul, as "free, unifying many creative nuances to make something really fuzzy and cool. It's expression by three musicians who are masters, living this thing called life. We all sing, we all rap, we all lay tracks, we all play instruments."
You can see how comfortably that translates live when they play their first Canadian show as part of Harbourfront's free World Rhythms weekend.
"We like to move around a lot, so usually we bring a band for a live set and then one of us will hop on the keys for a song and one of us will hop on the drums and fuck around. But when we started, it was just us with a laptop and costumes. Then, as we...."
Hold up. Costumes?
"Yeah, I'm a superhuman," Taz declares. "I don't wear clothes, you know? I wear costumes. I don't dress like a child, you know - I'm not a superhero, I'm a superhuman. I dress accordingly."