What: Toubab Krewe
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Where: Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399
The Republic of Mali: A West African country in the southern Saraha where much of the population lives below the international poverty level.
Asheville, North Carolina: A slightly Boulderish, middle-class city taht “Good Morning America” this year named one of the “10 Most Beautiful Places in America.”
The two places have essentially nothing in common, except the music of Toubab Krewe. The instrumental quintet has been melding music from the two regions for over a decade now, bringing together African drums and a rock ‘n’ roll drum kit, the kora and the electric bass,the kamelengoni and the electric guitar.
“It actually started quite a long time ago, kinda around 1997 or so. A few of us really began to be interested in West African music, West African drumming,” percussionist Luke Quaranta said. “We started to play together and just got really inspired by the music. We heard a few artists… and it got to the point where we fell in love with it and the style.”
Over the years the band members — three of whom were born and raised in Asheville — took trips to Guinea and the Ivory Coast, and after a few of the returned from a trip to Mali in 2004, they were ready and motivated to start a band.
“Pretty much when they came back we started the band and played our first show,” Quaranta said. “[We wanted to] just see how it manifests itself through our lens or our inspiration, so we started just playing as a band and mix the style with all the styles we grew up with.”
Combining the two musical traditions turned out to be much more intuitive than anyone might expect. Not only did it sound good, but it came together naturally.
“We didn’t limit ourselves with staying 100 percent strictly with traditional styles from there or here, we just kind of felt our way through,” Quaranta said. “It’s weird, on a technical level we definitely spent quite a bit of time studying the traditional music from there and I almost feel like the blending with the styles that we grew up with was kind of non-technical in a way, it was more of a feeling.”
That level of comfort seems to come from the time Toubab Krewe has spent in Africa. They’re not looking at Mali music from across an ocean, through an American lens. They’ve spent time in the culture and absorbed the traditions and styles first-hand.
“Just being there, you know, leaves a big impression. There’s just a place that musicians kind of have in West African society and culture — music is a big part of tradition there. It definitely inspired us to treat music like a very special part of everyday life,” Quaranta said. “All the trips have been really informative and formative in terms of logistic expression, but also on our lives in general.”
The band has put out two studio albums and one live album, and plays a lot of live shows and festivals, but they really saw a reward for their dedication to Mali traditions in 2007 when they played the Festival au Dessert. It was their first trip to Africa as a full band, and their fusion of southern American and Mali music was well received. Quaranta called it a “full circle moment.”
In 2012, Toubab Krewe will start working on it’s third studio album, and travel back to Mali to do it. Quaranta said the band plans on collaborating with artists in Mali, as well as some musicians in the states.
Until then, Toubab Krewe has a busy tour schedule to keep up with in the U.S., including a special homecoming New Year’s Eve show in Asheville. The crew comes through the Fox Theatre on Thursday night before making their way back east, then over the Atlantic.