Toubab Krewe: Crossing Divides

Music, to me, is like going to church. It's a spiritual thing and feeling like you're bound to one thing or another really has nothing to do with it at all. I guess it comes back to just being an artist. You create what you create; you can't judge what you're doing when it comes out.

-Justin Perkins

Photo by: David Suskind

"Our initial intention was to do a studio record but we've been so busy on the road. We went into the studio a couple times but both times were only five days at a time. And conceptually we were all setting up in the same room and playing live, so the idea was to capture what we do in the same room or same stage together," says Heller. "In the last three years since we released our first record we've been on the road for roughly nine months out of each year. [Live At The Orange Peel] is pretty much who we are and where we're at today. I like that it has some rough edges and we were pushing it. We hadn't played in Asheville in a while and we were really inspired after having a good bit of that month off. And we had a pretty good studio session in Asheville about two weeks before these shows were recorded. Now, we're just building up material and getting in the right studio state of mind."

Rayna Gellert with Toubab Krewe
By Reggie Tidwell
The other guest on Orange Peel is occasional tour mate Uncle Earl violinist Rayna Gellert, who takes to Toubab Krewe like a proverbial duck to water.

"Having grown up in Western and North Carolina, I love traditional music. I used to play the banjo myself a little bit. With the kora, they have their own fiddles in West Africa, so it's just so nice having Rayna with us. She fits just perfect," adds Perkins. "She mixes so well with what we're doing in such a flawless, almost effortless way."

"She's absolutely one of my favorite musicians and people on the planet. She's such a natural. Her voice is so real, and her bowing hand and playing style is just so good! Her family has a really amazing creative spirit, too. One of her brothers works in film in Asheville and another is an artist. I think she grew up in a very creative environment," says Heller, who values Gellert's additional string voice in Toubab Krewe, which provides a foil for he and Perkins. "She's able to draw lines between Justin and I. She adds another physical dimension that I didn't even realize was there."

Live, Toubab Krewe exhibits a kind of telepathy that's a ball to watch. You can see the music play across one face then pass quickly through their hands and eyes to the man next them or even over their shoulder without a glance to the furious percussionists bruising their palms behind the frontline. In a basic way, all group music functions this way but there's visible kinetics to Toubab's interactions that layers further dimensions onto their already well-stacked sound.

"One thing that's really beautiful – and I feel we're very blessed in this – is we've known each other so long and we're such good friends that we're able to communicate very quickly with how we're feeling. We've been playing music together since we were kids, both formally and informally, and it's a very open, honest environment," says Heller. "It's a place where you can step out and experiment very comfortably."

One hears this easygoing yet totally active dynamic in the way percussion is handled in this band. It would be easy to relegate the drums to a support role and keep the focus on the string guys up front, but as they go along Toubab Krewe continues to hone their skill at easing back and allowing every distinct element in their sound to shine. However, the rise and fall within the music avoids the standard bebop soloist schtick. Rarely does anyone totally drop out but each man is developing their support skills and discovering new ways all the time to uplift his fellow musicians.

Toubab Krewe by Lukas Blalock
"The interplay between the percussion and the melodic end is so key, and it's changing over time," says Heller. "We're getting more comfortable as five but also as just say two onstage. Sometimes there's something going on back and forth between Dave and Justin or Justin and myself or whatever, and we're getting better at supporting different geometry to let things change shape and honor what the speaking voice is."

One of the big appeals of this band is the sense that no hard and fast rules apply. It's in such lawless environments that truly new music emerges, and that's certainly been the case with these North Carolina boys. They honor various traditions but don't try to emulate any one. As scary as it can be, Toubab Krewe moves in uncharted waters, which makes for an exhilarating, unexpected trip for musicians and listeners alike.

"Music, to me, is like going to church. It's a spiritual thing and feeling like you're bound to one thing or another really has nothing to do with it at all. I guess it comes back to just being an artist. You create what you create; you can't judge what you're doing when it comes out," says Perkins. "Lately, there's been a lot of random influences coming in. Having Rayna with us makes it so much more country [laughs]. I can be playing ngoni but it has a heavy zydeco feel, and then surf licks from Drew and really hardcore Ivory Coast percussion from Luke and Teal. The world is becoming smaller and through technology people are just more aware of everybody else. It's kind of breaking down stereotypes. You can do whatever you want to."

Here's the video for "Buncombe to Badala" from the live album:

Toubab Krewe "Buncombe to Badala (B2B)" from Toubab Krewe on Vimeo.

Live At The Orange Peel is now available from iTunes and Amazon. Fans who buy the album on iTunes will be treated to a free bonus track called "Sekou," recorded live at the band's most recent show at Asheville's Orange Peel. CDs hit stores on March 10.

Toubab Krewe is on tour now, dates available here.

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[Published on: 1/15/09]

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Greatwaves Thu 1/15/2009 06:04PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


This band is the bombdiggity omb, they are so uniquely fun and awesome, their jams and tunes are truelly heacen sent, and a bunch of super duper cool cats, id love to see em hit up some dance festivals this year and really get those gears grinding on the main line, so get with it folks and check this truelly amazing band out

moemoe6434 starstarstarstarstar Thu 1/15/2009 06:44PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I love these guys and never miss them when they are around! One of the best things gonig now!

Here is the last show I wen to:

phunkle starstarstarstarstar Thu 1/15/2009 08:27PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


These guys are amazing! Both discs are really good and part of my regular rotation. But the author is right, you just gotta go see 'em. Their shows are so high energy and take you on such a musical journey. Most memorable time seeing Toubab was late nite at AmJam a few years ago with a light mist coming down. They blow me away each time I see a show and can't wait for my next!

MyDogIsBlaze starstarstarstarstar Thu 1/15/2009 08:36PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Wow, that's all I kept saying the first time I saw them. Such a fun jam to dance to, so pure, and primitive. Can't wait to see you guys, EAST COAST Please!

rainydaywomen420 starstarstarstarstar Thu 1/15/2009 08:55PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


love toubab, love love love the toubab

playdoh starstarstarstarstar Thu 1/15/2009 08:57PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I think I may have written the first feature on this band for this website. They are a solid group from top to bottom and merely a sampling of talent from the great Asheville Music Scene.

chetzel69 starstarstarstarstar Thu 1/15/2009 09:02PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Been listening to these guys for some years now and every time I can, I go but the best of there shows that I've seen was recent in Jamaica at the Holidaze. God Damn Its always good to run into Toubab.

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} Fri 1/16/2009 06:24AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

great band, fantastic playing.

Hang Tan is a stellar tune :)

okalrightic Fri 1/16/2009 08:38AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

yeah, toubab is the shit

mojowrkn starstarstarstar Fri 1/16/2009 09:17AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!



ericzilla starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/16/2009 09:50AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


going to see them tomorrow!

gmoo Fri 1/16/2009 01:17PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


This band is just plain ol' fun to see and they are chill bros. See them if you can. All we need is a 51 ft ladder!

manjotar starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/16/2009 01:43PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


i agree, this is one of my favorite bands to see live! they get me dancing from the first song to the very last note!

and phunkle: that was an amazing memory, amjam was actually the first time i saw them, we were back at the tent and we heard this AMAZING music that just drew us down to it... i've been a freak for 'em ever since!

harrisonp starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/16/2009 02:18PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!



mattguff9 Fri 1/16/2009 06:52PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I caught these guys at merlefest 2 years ago and I found myself dancing before I even thought about dancing. I was headed to a show at a different stage and I just couldn't leave toubab. Musically intriguing and danceable, the perfect combo. Please keep coming back to MPLS guys, I'm spreadin' the word (although I wish I lived in Asheville).

Ned8 starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/16/2009 10:07PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Great. Great Great. Love this group. A must see

schofizzl Sat 1/17/2009 01:50AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


sounds pretty good to me

WaveSnacker starstarstarstarstar Sat 1/17/2009 09:20AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

This band is AWESOME!!! My favorite band running the circuit, and a MUST SEE to all. Jammed out surf rock (and beyond) Rules.

standingtaller starstarstarstarstar Sat 1/17/2009 04:18PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I love these guys. A new batch of songs would be great, tho.

manjotar starstarstarstarstar Sat 1/17/2009 07:49PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


actually a good part of the new live album is new songs...

HoodooVoodoo Sun 1/18/2009 08:51PM
Show -3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
groovatronics starstarstarstarstar Sun 1/18/2009 11:03PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

aw yeeeah.

ain't no one's got a problem with these guys!

and yeah great write-up too, good job. who's excited for the fox??

JaphyTaphy starstarstarstarstar Mon 1/19/2009 09:09PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


These guys are straight up the real deal. There's no gimmicky attempts at forcing a world vibe or a stretches to make themselves a "genre-fusing band" involved. Their music simply exists in an extremely pure form with clear signs of extranational influences. Seriously blown away with their sound upon the first listen and subsequently intrigued even moreso. Would gladly welcome a stronger presence in festies and such from the Krewe. And, as always, solid job by Dennis delivering the whole thing for our eyes.

wsp10 Tue 1/20/2009 05:54AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


these guys are amazing. from the first time i heard them at there thurs night bonnaroo show i was hooked. best show of the weekend and i just happened to stumble upon it by accident(this tent).

everytime i have seen them since they just keep getting better and better.

DirtyRice starstarstarstarstar Wed 1/21/2009 09:56PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


these guys are genius! Last year they blew away the McDowell Mountain Music Festival. Cant wait to see em live again. This album will tide me over til they come back to AZ

nerpees starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/23/2009 06:49AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

WOWZA! Fell in love the first time I heard them.Can't get enough.I'm about to see them in Greensboro too. YIPPEEEE!

jar442 starstarstarstarstar Wed 2/18/2009 07:28AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

They come to Pittsburgh, and I get to stand inches from them at Club Cafe!! One of my favorite live performances. They make you dance the entire time!