By Christopher Gaspar
It has been a while since I have gone out to a music venue in Asheville and seen a local band pack the place. I had a fortunate experience several weeks back when I dropped by the Orange Peel and got an up close view of the rising world troubadours Toubab Krewe. This band did not merely parade all their friends into the Peel to fabricate the illusion of a strong fan base, rather they displayed a wealth of musical knowledge and talent, which more than validated the overflowing crowd pulsating throughout the venue. Not only did they turn in a solid two-set performance smothered with international beats, but their use of traditional instruments such as the kora and kamel ngoni was delivered with a staggering knowledge of native styles and subtleties. Enthusiasts of world music will laud their dexterity, while people entrenched in the world of jam will marvel at their high-energy drum cycles and cooling string backdrops.
Toubab Krewe is an instrumental quintet comprised of five close friends who perform original compositions with a focus on Malian influences. They were spawned in the fall of 2004 after the successful fusion of the Afro-gypsy-surf trio Count Clovis and the West African-inspired drum and dance ensemble Common Ground. Many of the members are multi-instrumentalists and have taken numerous extended trips to West Africa, absorbing the local culture and arts, while having the opportunity to study and perform with masters such as Lamine Soumano, Vieux Kante, Madou Dembele, and Koungbanan Conde. Toubab Krewe collectively is Teal Brown (trap kit), David Pransky (electric bass), Justin Perkins (electric guitar, kamel ngoni, kora), Luke Quaranta (calabash, djembe, scraper) and Drew Heller (electric guitar). Stylistically, the seasoned musicians are equally adept with jazz elements as they are with West African percussion and have slowly been pioneering a new sound incorporating Malian, Jamaican, and American styles.
Toubab Krewe studying in Africa
The band has recently been making the rounds to such venues as SOB's and The Orange Peel as well as taking part in such renowned festivals as Merlefest and Bonnaroo. The buzz generated from their new self-titled release has enabled the band to beef up their performance schedule and finds them tearing up and down the East Coast, opening for such groups as Midnite, Brazilian Girls, Rusted Root as well as a two-night stand with Sound Tribe Sector 9 at Higher Ground in October. In between their hectic touring schedule, the band was able to record their debut album with three-time Grammy winning producer and composer Steven Heller. His music and recordings have received numerous national awards, and he has had the opportunity to produce work by David Holt, Doc and Merle Watson, Jerry Douglas, Chet Atkins, and Sam Bush. "Bamana Niya," "Hang Tan," "Rooster," and "Asheville to Abidjan" are all excellent songs off their debut album that display the band's far-reaching knowledge of diverse musical styles. I had the opportunity to talk with the Toubab Krewe in between tours to gain some insight into their immediate future as well as to explore their rich musical background.