From Asheville to Africa, Why You Need to Hear Toubab Krewe
Even the most die hard jam band fan will at one point crave something new and unusual, a step away from the traditional structure of lead guitar solos dragging on for minutes. This doesn't mean that a fan of such musical structure needs to subject themselves to standardized pop music; it simply suggests that the listener might need to search for music made with more unconventional instruments. The answer you seek lies not in a far away land but with Asheville, North Carolina's own Toubab Krewe.
Toubab Krewe is a rare sort of band, one who melds more traditional rock instrumentation with that of native instruments from around the world, most prominently West Africa. Their liberal use of the kora (a gourd covered in hide with strings that resemble a harp), kamelengoni (a small 6 string harp), as well as a variety of traditional African percussion creates a sound which is unique and can be rivaled by few bands. The obvious skill and dexterity that the band uses to create its music is not due to the members being natives of Africa but instead due to their diligent study and pursuit of perfection with these instruments. It is because of their intense devotion to their music that they have been able to change traditional African rhythms and songs into a creation all their own.
Having never heard this band before; I showed up to their most recent Washington D.C. appearance with the usual mix of skepticism and timid optimism which I reserve for new music. Within the first few seconds, it became clear that they were serious about their craft and about their performance, and when a band makes it clear that they are committed, they hold the audience's attention. Needless to say I, like many others in the room who had never heard them before were quite impressed.
The show was a powerful flux of upbeat music with a healthy rotation of unique instruments I have rarely heard paired together. The band ran through many of its songs on its self titled album "Toubab Krewe," including the wonderful traditional "Djarabi" and the tune "Hang Ten." Other highlights included "Devil Woman" and "Bani." Occasionally the band put down its African instruments and proceeded to play with "normal" instruments, however even their music stood out as heavily influenced by world music. Being able to cross genres and prove your ability not only on the instruments which garner you notice but on more common ones proves mastery of their craft. Undoubtedly the highlight for the night was the encore when the band set down all their stringed instruments and each picked at least one percussion instruments. Then when they were all in a circle proceeded to play one of the most amazing percussion pieces I've heard. The song which is also on their album is titled "Asheville to Abidjan" and starts out reminiscent of many parking lot drum circles, however soon it rapidly picks up pace and becomes so complex it is nearly impossible to figure out who is playing what part.
Toubab Krewe is one of the best bands you might never have heard of; chances are that they're touring near you. Take the time out and go see them and I bet you'll be dancing before you know it.