If you chanced upon the intoxicating West African instrumental music of Toubab Krewe without knowing anything about them, there are two very potent facts about the quintet that wouldn’t be conveyed by their captivating sound. First, the band has only been together for six years, and has released three excellent albums in that time (their eponymous 2005 debut, 2008’s Live at the Orange Peel, and last year’s blazing TK2), all of them exhibiting an incredible musical chemistry that hardly seems possible from a group with such a brief history.
The second is that Toubab Krewe — their name derived from the translation of “foreigner” in various African languages and the intentional New Orleans misspelling of the word “crew,” translating as “gang” in the local patois — is actually and improbably a bunch of white guys from Asheville, N.C.
Although Toubab’s rhythmic pulse is clearly rooted in the music of Mali and performed on traditional regional instruments like the soku, kora and kamelengoni, the quintet deftly weaves aspects of Psychedelia, Surf and electric Southern Blues into the mixture, utilizing more typically Rock-oriented instruments and creating a sonic atmosphere that simultaneously honors and transcends tradition.
Toubab’s amazingly diverse recipe comes to full boil on the frenetic and fabulous TK2, with genres and riffs flying in a dozen different directions, like sound shrapnel from a musical grenade.
“Miriama” has the feel of Tom Waits playing a toy piano at a Middle Eastern bazaar, while “Nirvana the Buffalo” shrieks with the sound of an African garage band doing a Surf tribute to The Police in a runaway mine car and “Sirens” bristles with Delta Blues, street-corner, pignose-amp sincerity.
If Phish had been wordlessly inspired by Mama Africa, rural Mississippi, Haight Ashbury and Malibu pier parties and jammed with passion, precision, wild abandon and a sense of the music’s heritage, they might have come close to the ethereal delight of Toubab Krewe.
TOUBAB KREWE plays the Southgate House Thursday, Sept. 15 with guests THE GIVING TREE. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.