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With origins in West African music, Toubab Krewe uses a combination of techniques and instruments to create a sound that is a blend of Creole music and Appalachian rock. Journalist Robert Daniel had a Q&A with the band and learned of their African roots, influences, and inspirations.
Text by: Robert Daniel
Photos: Courtesy of C. Taylor Crothers
Country: United States

When, and under what circumstances did Toubab Krewe form?
The group formed in late 2004-early 2005 after many years of friendship, musical relationships, and trips to West Africa.

What were the initial expectations of the band upon formation?
We had very few expectations upon forming Toubab Krewe. I think there was mainly just a sense of excitement about having the opportunity to share what we were learning with people. There was never a time that we asked each other how we thought this thing we were doing was going to be received. We were just following our passion and allowing it to steer. However, as time went on, the prospect of becoming a full-time band became a reality. I would say this is when the expectations started coming … and we set them as high as we could see.

How would you describe the sound/genre of your music?
The sound of the band is unique, and I think it could best be described as Creole music. It integrates traditional instrumentation and styles from West Africa, music from Appalachia and New Orleans, rock, and more.

How has the sound evolved over time?
Initially we were working predominantly with re-worked West African traditional music, but the sound has evolved and become an integrated fusion of a number of styles.

How did the idea to fuse the unlikely combo of American rock and West African music originate?
It was a natural fusion of our influences and musical studies. We were raised in the great melting-pot of music that is America, and traveled and studied West African music.
The combo is not as unlikely as some may think. There are decades of cross-pollination between African and American music. We see ourselves as part of a larger tradition of melding styles from different areas of the world.

Tell us a little bit about your experiences in West Africa and what led you to go over there. How has it shaped you musically?
We visited Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Mali on numerous trips between 1999 and 2007, and we are planning to go back very soon. We were led there by a deep appreciation and interest in the musical culture of the region. We have always had the unique experience of staying with our teachers and their families, really being immersed in the artist community. We were able to study, meet and hang out with artists, attend performances, and develop lasting relationships with world-class musicians.

What else did you learn/experience?
It is hard to put into words the impact our time in West Africa has had on all of our lives. It has given us a much deeper appreciation for the role of music and musicians in society, a respect for tradition and elders, insight into the roots of much of American music, and a much keener sense of the materialism and waste that pervades American society.

What artist(s) has/have influenced you all the most? How do these influences reveal themselves in your music?
Allowing a patchwork of influences to come into our music is what defines Toubab Krewe. While it would be impossible to include them all, here are a few bands/artists that we can thank for inspiring us: Orchestra Baobab, Manu Chao, Dr. Dre, Keith Frank, Tinariwen, Dave Chappelle, Taraf De Haidouks, My Morning Jacket, Midnite, Super Rail Band, Band of Gypsies, Outkast, Sam Cooke, Archie Bell and the Drells, and Kat Williams.
From these artists we draw a sense of rawness that I think comes across in our shows. Authenticity is at the core of what inspires us.

What can one expect from a Toubab Krewe show that they can’t get from simply listening to a studio album?
I think the live experience is much more visceral. One can see the traditional instrumentation being played, see the sweat of the band and the people around them, dance, and experience full-length percussion arrangements that are rare on a studio album.

As a group, what has been your most memorable live performance? Why does it stand out?
There are many memorable performances over the last five years. One thing we always say as a band is that you are only as good as your last show. You can’t dwell on memories and successes, you have to continue to grow and evolve musically, and be completely present in the moment of each new performance. Each show is an opportunity to create something entirely fresh and new, and being in the moment is essential to facilitate it.
Our most recent memorable show was our set at Bele Chere in our hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. Bele Chere is the largest street festival in the southeast and we have never played it as a band. There were people as far as the eye could see, and I felt that we performed with tremendous energy. The crowd was amazing and we all had a great time. Having a set like that in front of such a big crowd was definitely even sweeter being at home.

What is the best part about making music for a living?
Making music for a living…

What’s next for Toubab Krewe in the coming weeks/months?
We are very excited to have released our sophomore studio album, TK2, Sept. 7, 2010 on National Geographic Music. The record was recorded over a six week period at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, North Carolina. We wrote the majority of the record in the studio and integrated a lot of new instrumentation including piano, organ, fiddle, congas, acoustic bass and guitar, and Moog synthesizers. Our self-titled debut was cut in 2005 when we were only together for four months as a band. We are thrilled to have spent six weeks in the studio and made a record in a very open and creative environment.
We will be touring nationwide to support the release, and are very busy through to the end of the year. We will also be shooting a music video for a traditional Appalachian tune called “Cluck Old Hen

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