Live at the Orange Peel
Upstream Records (www.toubabkrewe.com)
Detractors no doubt dismiss North Carolina-based Toubab Krewe as a bunch of white guys trying to Africanize jam-band music. Then again, that's probably exactly why their fans (of which I am one) love them. Whatever led them to visit Africa multiple times to discover and embrace the sounds of Mali, Guinea and Ivory Coast, the results of their having done so can be heard in the authenticity of their own music, which combines the guitar/bass/drums toughness of rock with kora, ngoni and percussion straight out of West African griot tradition. And as to what side of it gets the upper hand, well, I hear more Africa than America on both their very good self-titled debut CD and this blazing follow-up, recorded before an appreciative audience in their hometown of Asheville, NC.
It's an hour's worth of taut, expertly played tunes, predominantly instrumental but with a couple of spoken word overlays (more on those in a moment) that give the mind a little extra to mull over amidst a party atmosphere. Specifically African textures often take the lead melodically as occasional harder bursts of electric instruments help with tightly accomplished changes in tempo and feel as well as detours into surf rock, reggae, highlife and psychedelia that display the same spirit of give and take between hemispheres as Africa's emerging "desert blues" bands of today.
If I could change anything here, it would be to reign in the contributions of spoken word artist Umar Bin Hassan, best known for his work with the Last Poets. His guest spots occur on the disc's two longest pieces ("Roy Forester" and "Moose" respectively), and while the first is an eloquently engaging perfect fit, the second- despite justly celebrating some blues greats and Jimi Hendrix in verse -gets too shrill and goes on for too long. The intention is good, but by that point (the next-to-last track) I was totally absorbed in the band's amazing playing and wanted to hear more of it without distraction. Of course, someone else could hear the track and disagree with me entirely. And I still would recommend this disc most highly. It's a praiseworthy work by an emerging band that knows the power of West African music and how to harness it. - Tom Orr
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