Their life is a carnival

“We’ve done a lot sitting on each others’ steps”: Toubab Krewe has played festivals everywhere from Vermont (their own) to the Desert Music Festival in Mali. And they’ve jammed with the likes of Donna the Buffalo and Ivan Neville, both of whom play Carnavalito.
“We’ve done a lot sitting on each others’ steps”: Toubab Krewe has played festivals everywhere from Vermont (their own) to the Desert Music Festival in Mali. And they’ve jammed with the likes of Donna the Buffalo and Ivan Neville, both of whom play Carnavalito.

Asheville-founded Afro-Americana fusion outfit Toubab Krewe knows a thing or two about festivals. They’ve done a few Jam Cruises. This summer alone they’re playing Afro Roots Music Festival, gathering of the Vibes, Nottoway Nights, Floyd Fest and newly created Gnarnia Music Festival (see sidebar). The band is also celebrating the 10th anniversary, this year, of Manifestivus, a Vermont-based “local festival with a global vibe” that Toubab Krewe curates.

“It was founded by our bass player, Dave [Pransky], on his family’s land,” says percussionist Luke Quaranta. “It’s world-class bands in the backwoods of Vermont.” Quaranta says that this year’s focus is on up-and-coming talent, and the annual July date has been moved to August.

Why? Because this month, Toubab Krewe is putting its festival-making magic to work closer to home. “We’ve been talking about doing something in Asheville for a long time,” says Quaranta. They’ve performed at Goombay (that was in ’05; they were a mere 10 months into being a band and headlined LAAFF a month later), at Bele Chere in ’10; and they’ve been on an every-other-year New Year’s Eve streak at the Orange Peel.

“We always had the idea of doing something outdoors, at a really neat location somewhere outside of Asheville,” says Quaranta. “That’s still a goal. That’s why we decided to do two nights at Pisgah [Brewing Company]; a mini-fest. We could bring a couple bands that people would really enjoy.”

That list includes Roosevelt Collier (who will join Toubab Krewe on pedal steel); Dumpstaphunk, whose frontman (multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Ivan Neville) has sat in with Toubab Krewe; Donna the Buffalo (“We’ve played a lot of their festivals — Grass Roots and Shakori Hills,” says Quaranta. “We know they have a loyal following around North Carolina, and we’ve done a lot of sitting on each others’ steps.”); as well as local kid-hop artist Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, fiddler and Toubab Krewe collaborator Rayna Gellert, DJ Chalice and DJ Equal (the brother of Toubab Krewe guitarist and soku player Drew Heller).

And the festival has not only a name, Carnavalito (“It’s the vibe of the carnival spirit,” says Quaranta), but theme songs. “Carnavalito” is a Peruvian-inspired track from TK2;  “La Vida Es Un Carnaval,” a Celia Cruz cover, is a track from Toubab Krewe’s next album (still to be recorded).

The latter track, says Quaranta, evolved over time on the road and was recently recorded in a studio with guest artists, including a horn section. The band wanted to get some music out to the fans because the next album, which they plan to record in Bamako, Mali, is on hold due to political instability in that country.

But they will go forward with the plan because, not only will the trip involve studio time, but groundbreaking on Krewe House, a music school to be headed by Toubab Krewe’s friend and teacher, Lamine Soumano. It's a project the guys in the band feel passionate about. Toubab Brewe (a Bavarian lager produced in partnership with Craggie Brewing) has raised funds for that cause, along with a portion of ticket sales from all of Toubab Krewe's concerts for the last year and a half. A dollar from each Carnavalito ticket goes to the music school.

Also filed under making the world a better place: Asheville on Bikes hosts Tour de Toubab for those interested in reaching the festival by pedal power. The 25-mile ride leaves from the Stephens Lee Recreational Center at 3 p.m. on Friday and noon on Saturday. Cyclists will be accompanied by a sag wagon to carry camping gear to the East Asheville KOA.

One reason Toubab Krewe chose Pisgah is because of the brewery’s proximity to the campground. A shuttle will transport Canavalito ticket holders the mile distance between Pisgah and the KOA; a shuttle will also be available between the KOA, Pisgah and downtown Asheville (details through Pisgah’s website).

Then there’s the matter of Pisgah’s outdoor stage, which has already hosted festival-circuit mainstays like Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Karl Denson's Tiny Universe. It’s a great jumping-off point for what Quaranta hopes will grow into an annual event, perhaps at “a really unique location out in Madison County.”

As much as Toubab Krewe seems excited to settle down for a weekend, the band’s members are very much on the move. “It’s been cool spreading out a bit and seeing how people have grown on their own, musically,” says Quaranta, who is now based New York. Pransky is in Miami; Heller and drummer Vic Stafford are in Atlanta. Only guitarist, kora and kamelengoni player Justin Perkins remains in WNC.

But despite the members’ scattered locales, Quaranta insists that “Asheville’s the home of the band, and always will be.”

— Alli Marshall can be reached at amarshall@mountainx.com.

what: Carnavalito
what: Two-day music festival with Toubab Krewe, Roosevelt Collier, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Donna the Buffalo and more
where: Pisgah Brewing Company
when: Friday and Saturday, July 13 & 14 (6 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $26 for one day, $41 for both days, $51/$76 for VIP. http://pisgahbrewing.com)

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts writer and editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs.

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