Why the world music community is crazy for Asheville

Toubab Krewe
From left, guitarist Justin Perkins, bassist David Pransky, percussionist Luke Quaranta, kit drummer Teal Brown and guitarist Drew Heller form the unique sound that is Toubab Krewe.

Regular readers of the Xpress, who this year voted Toubab Krewe the best rock band in Asheville, are already onto the charms of this West African-influenced band. And, thanks to a slew of publicity surrounding the release of its eponymous debut album, readers of the New York Times, Relix Magazine, fRoots Magazine, Global Rhythm, Glide, Jambands, Jambase, World Music Central, Rhapsody and the ultra-conservative Washington Times have also heard about the sound explosion brewing in Buncombe County.

But perhaps there are still music fans in Toubab Krewe’s hometown yet to see the band perform live. If you’re among them, consider making catching one of their shows a New Year’s resolution you can cross off your list before 2007 even gets going.

“We are really looking forward to being back and playing our last show of the year there,” percussionist Luke Quaranta says of Toubab’s upcoming Orange Peel show. “It’s always great to play in Asheville, and great to see everyone again. It’s a homecoming for us.”

Toubab Krewe has been touring almost non-stop this year, appearing at NYC’s Blue Note Jazz Club and festivals including Bonnaroo, Floyd, Vegoose, Joshua Tree, Strawberry, LEAF, Sierra Nevada, High Sierra, Chicago World Music, CMJ, Hatch and Magnolia. The band — often heard on Sirius and XM satellite radios — has captivated a worldwide audience with its West African sound that blends cultures seamlessly into a single rhythmic cocktail, a concoction that’s at once as vibrant as the stars in the Mali desert sky and as sweet as the Senegal River. But its influences range far beyond Africa: listeners can easily discern the uncompromising, intense beats of hip hop; the polyrhythmic patterns and complex tonalities of Gypsy jazz; the agile, melodic playfulness of bluegrass; and the fast, adrenaline-filled runs of surf-rock.

“We’ve spent a good deal of time in West Africa, and we’ve soaked up so much of the style there,” says Quaranta. “So what comes naturally is a blending of what we’ve grown up with (in the States) and what we’ve soaked up from being in West Africa.”

The result is a genuine, uncontrived exploration and fusion of world music forms. “We just play what we feel, allowing all of our influences to be present,” says Quaranta. “It reflects our art and the music we’re creating.”

With the arrival of the New Year, Toubab Krewe is headed for Mali. This will be their first full band trip to West Africa, and they will perform their first show of 2007 at the Festival of the Desert. Known as the most remote festival in the world, it’s held annually in Essakan, north of Timbouctou.

Toubab Krewe will resume touring in the U.S. in March. As for further plans, guitarist Drew Heller says, “like most people and places, we are in a constant state of change. Better to stay loose and afloat than to travel a rigorous and speedy course to some specific end of sorts.”

For Heller, “Music is the only constant.”

[Kimberly Rogers is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]


Toubab Krewe perform at The Orange Peel on Saturday, Dec. 23, at 9 p.m. DJ Equal and Mariachi Mexico open. $12. 225-5851.

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