Some music cannot be found on a map or within iTunes categories. Some music is so original it seems snatched from the great, invisible substrata that runs below all human activity, a sound aching to be born without a flag or fixed allegiance – free, questing, overflowing with immediate, tangible life. This is the music of Toubab Krewe, the vibrant Asheville, NC-based instrumental powerhouse that creates a sonic Pangaea that lustily swirls together rock, African traditions, jam sensibilities, international folk strains and more. While nearly impossible to put into any box, it takes only a few moments to realize in a very palpable way that one is face-to-face with a true original who recognizes no borders in a march towards a muscular, original, globally switched-on sound.
Formed in 2005, Toubab Krewe has tenaciously honed their craft through relentless touring and a fierce dedication to carving out something they can truly call their own. The fruits of this hard work can be heard on their scintillating new long-player, TK2, being released September 7, 2010 on Nat Geo Music. What Justin Perkins (Kora, Kamelngoni, guitar, percussion), Teal Brown (drums, congas), Drew Heller (guitar, piano, fiddle), David Pransky (bass, guitar), and Luke Quaranta (Djembe, percussion) have wrought on TK2 reflects the many miles and musical journeys that have transpired since their studio debut.
“It’s five years later since our last studio album, and we’ve been doing almost nothing but playing together,” says Drew Heller. “We’ve had a lot of time to further our musical relationships. I feel like this album was recorded at a really perfect time. The last track on the new album is an improvisation that was the very first sounds captured, and other things came out of that initial rush.”
This process of recording in the spirit and sifting for gold afterwards mirrors the Beastie Boys approach during the creative peak that produced Check Your Head and The In Sound From Way Out! Toubab Krewe exhibits a similar take-no-prisoners singularity in their work.
This is a band that actively draws inspiration from whatever source floats into their purview, something they’ve exhibited in their half decade of heavy gigging, including regular appearances at major U.S. festivals like Bonnaroo, High Sierra, Rothbury and Wakarusa, and abroad at such legendary gatherings as Festival In The Desert in Mali. Their globe-hopping propensity has made them an emerging headliner at their hometown’s famous Orange Peel and a familiar face as similar venues throughout the country. Whether on their own or collaborating with luminaries like the Last Poets’ Umar Bin Hassan or Uncle Earl’s Rayna Gellert, Toubab Krewe has already earned the attention and respect of a broad musical community.
Toubab carries echoes of African greats like Ali Farka Toure, Orchestra Baobab and Salif Keita, no doubt picked up during the group’s many visits to the Mother Continent to study and live in Guinea, Ivory Coast and Mali. What differentiates Toubab Krewe from other Statesiders inspired by African music is how they innovate on what they’ve learned, not simply recreating tradition but carving out a new trail that honors the African originators they admire by making something alive and contemporary that moves the line forward, something that’s easy to pick up on with TK2.
“We had a month and a half in the studio, and we were able to relax and play, almost a smudging process getting the energy in the right place,” says Heller. “The time we had to record this album was conducive to not worrying about anything and just having fun, playing and getting into the creative process.”
From the ragtime piano tinged opener “Mariama” to the percussion fueled, slide guitar glide of “Gine Fare” to the subtle, inviting African echoes of “Konkoba” to the hypnotic, psychedelic slow burn of “Holy Grail,” TK2 reveals Toubab Krewe to be rare innovators in a modern age often too ready to settle for more of what’s been. Toubab Krewe is happily an exception to this rule, and those willing to take the journey with them are in for one hell of a cool, exciting ride.