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Story and photos by Matt SchwenkeDelivering the sounds of Mali and other West African musical strongholds through their roots in Asheville, North Carolina, Toubab Krewe has been gaining international attention with their fusion of American rock and traditional African arrangements and have found success in both the U.S. jamband and indie festival circuits and the West African music world, most notably at the "most remote music festival in the world"-- the Festival of the Desert in Essakane Mali. While closer to African traditional than any sort of rock, the sound is distinctly their own, though only one track from their 2005 self-titled debut is an original composition-- the others are rehashing of traditional songs.
The group's sound is centered around the nuances of Justin Perkins on kora and ngoni, which are traditional African instruments played like a harp, and percussionist Luke Quaranta's host of traditional African percussion instruments. Guitarist Drew Heller is the glue that binds the more American backbone of Teal Brown on drums and David Prabsky on bass with their traditional counterparts. No vocals is both a risk and a safeguard, that is made up for with expressive melody lines and long-revolving rhythms. They are one part traditional to one part progressive. One part history lesson to one part visionary brain storm.
Besides their earlier work such as the popular "Devil Woman" and "Bani," the set at Shank Hall was filled with new material that may or not make it to their upcoming sophomore release-- scheduled to be produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Steven Heller and released early next year. "Hello Family" offered up a carefree bounce with Perkins donning guitar and "Buncombe to Badal" melded the surf sounds of Dick Dale into their rhythmic commentary. Dropping all melody makers in favor of pure percussion, an encore performance of "Asheville to Abidjan" put the band's musical studies on display and left many wondering what boundaries the next album would break.
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