Hazmat Modine brings worldly influences to American roots music

Article Contributed by Anat | Published on Thursday, October 6, 2022

The New York City-based band Hazmat Modine has become a global sensation, touring 40 countries in just 15 years, and will soon perform at Flushing Town Hall on Saturday, October 22—the perfect setting for a band whose musical influences are as diverse as the venue’s Queens neighborhood. Hazmat Modine will be joined by special guest, 2019 NEA National Heritage Fellow Balla Kouyaté, and the evening will feature dance lessons from Mali.

While dedicated to the performance of blues music, Hazmat Modine infuses its sound with a wide range of instruments—including harmonicas, tuba, drums, guitar, banjo, a full horn section, and throaty vocals— and incorporates new influences from its travels around the globe. With each new venue and adventure, the band’s performance evolves.

The group’s name “Hazmat” is a portmanteau of “hazardous material,” and “Modine,” the name of a company that manufactures commercial heaters.

Although Hazmat Modine may not yet be a household name, audiences may be surprised to discover they are already familiar with the group’s music. In 2012, its hit song “Bahamut” was featured on So You Think You Can Dance.

Hazmat Modine heads to Flushing Town Hall with a new album, Box of Breath, that features a collection of original material and the band in full command of their self-created idiom — swimming in international waters but never far from the American coast. Malian riffs mix with Mississippi mud and Tin Pan Alley, stretching the band’s aesthetic roots to include notes of hibiscus and the buzz of mosquitos. There are songs about death, striving, hoarding, time, and the march of dementia. Soaring horns and wailing harmonica are joined by the clang of modern India and the murmur of China, a distillation of Hazmat Modine’s travels through time, place and sound.

Reviewing the new album, music critic Dominique Boulay wrote in Move & Blues Magazine: "This is a New York band that has achieved the tour de force, by itself, of representing the entire history of American music. A vast musical melting pot in which all genres merge to form one!”

Flushing Town Hall audiences can also look forward to the band’s special guest, Balla Kouyaté, a 2019 National Heritage Fellow, balafon player and djeli who has been featured on more than 25 albums, including Yo-Yo Ma’s Songs of Joy and Peace and Sing Me Home. He also regularly plays with world-renowned West African musicians touring the States.

The word “djeli” derives from the Mandinka language, meaning the oral historians, musicians, and performers who keep alive and celebrate the history of the Mandé people of Mali, Guinea, and other West African countries. Kouyaté explains, “It means blood and speaks to the central role we play in our society.” Kouyate’s dedication to carrying on his family’s hereditary role as a djeli, his musical virtuosity on the balafon (the West African antecedent of the xylophone), and his humble nature and humility set him apart from others.

"We are so excited to bring Hazmat Modine back to Flushing Town Hall for audiences to enjoy their beautiful blues stylings and global music influences. You can go around the world in music with one night of these amazing musicians. The concert will begin with dance lessons from Mali." said Ellen Kodadek, Flushing Town Hall’s Executive & Artistic Director. “We are grateful to Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation’s Jazz Touring Network for their support of tonight’s concert, which was postponed due to the covid pandemic”.

Following a 7pm set of dance lessons from Mali, Hazmat Modine and Balla Kouyaté will perform at 8 PM on Saturday, October 22. In-Person Tickets can be purchased here: $18 General Admission/ $12 Members, Seniors, & Students w/ID, and include dance lessons.

Flushing Town Hall is accessible by car, bus, train and foot—located a short distance from the 7 train—at 137-35 Northern Blvd., in Flushing, Queens. Access for wheelchair users and individuals with limited mobility is available.

Tickets can also be purchased at www.flushingtownhall.org