the triad music scene
Fresh from festival season, Toubab Krewe breaks from recording for a weekend in Greensboro
It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since Asheville’s border-bending fusion band Toubab Krewe showed up on the national radar with their eponymous debut and with it, shook the foundation of North Carolina roots music. It was only natural that the album received substantial play within the jam community; despite being an entirely instrumental composition, its very nature was a little too foreign for widespread consumption. Fitting, considering anyone traveling almost anywhere in West Africa, particularly those with fairer skin, would no doubt hear the word “toubab” come up at some point. The word itself, of course, means “foreigner,” while “krewe” pays homage to the Asheville- New Orleans musical pipeline and its resulting cultural stew.
All things considered, the ambitious quintet couldn’t have possibly taken on a more fitting handle, even if they’ve done their best to remain foreign to no one. Currently in the studio carving out their second full-length effort, the band was ubiquitous on the summertime festival circuit. They went big with Bonnaroo and Rothbury; toured the nuts and bolts of FloydFest, Summer Camp and Three Rivers; and even threw their own near the home of bassist David Pransky, the Manifestivus in Cabot, Vt. With the festival season winding down, they’re bringing that spirit to Greensboro for two nights at the Blind Tiger on August 21-22, but it’s certainly not their first time around this year. There’s a particular affection among the band for Greensboro and a nighttime show on the lawn at Guilford College in March was described by Pransky and percussionist Luke Quaranta as one of the best shows among hundreds that they’ve ever played. “When we saw seven people crowd surfing by the first song, we knew it was going to be a great show,” said Quaranta, as Pransky added, “I crawled up on the speaker, I was so fired up. That was one of the crunkest shows of all time.” That came during June’s Bonnaroo Music Festival, moments after their noontime set kicked off the first full day of music and the festival’s first ever African-themed tent. Pransky said it wasn’t the ideal time slot and waking up, downing a shot of tequila and rolling to the soundcheck only served as a reminder that night shows are preferred. Since the Guilford show, there have undoubtedly been more moments that would compete and among them, performing a drum set with the Dead at Rothbury and the power outage-improv at FloydFest with Earl “Chinna” Smith would be up there. Then there was Manifestivus, the festival that National Geographic called “pound for pound, the best festival of the year.” “To see it come together was just magical,” said Pransky. “To have Oumou [SangarÃ©], Barrington [Levy], Midnite and Black Sheep hanging at the house with my mom, loving the vibe and wanting to return the following year is what it’s all about for me.”
They’ve been touring almost nonstop since the release of their debut album, averaging around 200 shows per year and leaving them little time to create. Their only other output was the 2008 release of Live at the Orange Peel, a breathtaking compilation recorded over two shows during New Year’s Eve 2007 that Pransky says just came out naturally. The six weeks they’ve booked at Echo Mountain Recording mark the first time they’ve truly had the opportunity to come together as a band and write music over an extended period and the results so far are as good as the band could have hope for. They’ve opted for a different approach to recording the next album, using a Studer 2-inch tape recorder to capture a more granular sound. Each member is a multi-instrumentalist at heart and they’re also finding the opportunity to experiment with different arrangements than what fans are used to.
“We are allowed to fully experiment, go out of our comfort zones and take chances,” said Pransky. “We’re feeling really good about it, and the unknown about what’s around the corner is the most exciting part about it.” With two consecutive nights looming in one venue, how will they keep it fresh for the second show? “More drugs,” whooped Pransky and Quaranta. “We’re going to get f**ked up, man.”
No doubt the festive nature of the interview locale took over, but Quaranta added on a straight-faced note that they expect the band to run through their entire catalog and then some, even featuring rarities such as “Devil Woman,” the piece that broke them out on satellite radio several years ago and has since lapsed from regular live performance. With so much new ground being broken in-studio, new material being written and new arrangements taking place in the studio, the two Blind Tiger shows have all the earmarks of classics in the making.
Toubab Krewe comes to Greensboro for two shows at the Blind Tiger on Friday, August 21 and Saturday August, 22.