An active cross-pollinator of African and North American music is Asheville-based Toubab Krewe.
Since the late '90s, members of the group have spent time visiting and living in Africa, taking in the music and learning native instruments. The interests shared amongst the high school and college friends led to the formation of Toubab Krewe in 2005.
"Toubab" is African for "foreigner" and "Krewe" refers the New Orleans spelling of "crew." The music would be an amalgam of what they had learned in Africa and what they grew up with at home. They released their debut, self-titled album in 2005. In September 2010, Toubab Krewe released their sophomore studio album, "TK2," on National Geographic Records.
The blending of their ever-growing expertise in African percussion and instruments, such as the kora, a 21-string harp-lute and solu, a Malian horsehair fiddle, with more contemporary instruments, results in an incredibly stimulating piece of work.
Toubab Krewe makes it clear from the first songs of "TK2" that they have penchant for exploration. From "Mariama," which sounds like it would emanate from some dark piano parlor during a voodoo parade, Toubab segues into "Nirvana the Buffalo," a fast moving surf-guitar laden number. Though they may not seem logical, such transitions are a characteristic of Toubab Krewe that attracts and retains listeners. You can't help but wonder what happens next.
There is an African background to several "TK2" songs, or at least, their titles. For instance, "Gine Fare" means "women's dance." "Mansani Cisse" is a West African military song, and "Konkoba" is a rhythm to which farmers work and dance. Toubab Krewe's delivery of these traditional-influenced songs is no doubt unlike any ever heard in Africa.
After years of shows, the Krewe has mastered the art of improvisation. They started the recording process of the album with an improv piece, "One Night Watkins," which magnificently sprawls the last 10-and-a-half minutes of the album. Toubab Krewe's jam tendencies appear throughout "TK2," but they never overindulge. Movement always gives way to corresponding movement, culminating in a cohesive piece.
With unwavering tenacity, Toubab Krewe have not only become fluent African and North American styles, but have mixed the two into an exclusive musical language.
"TK2" sets the stage for Toubab Krewe to resume their expedition of spreading the language. This language is forever fluid, with Toubab Krewe constantly adding to it and perfecting it along the way. They may very well have an entirely different dialect by the next time they enter the studio.
Toubab Krewe returns to Boone Thursday, April 7, for a show at Legends. Tickets cost $10 for students in advance and $12 for students at the door and guests. Doors open at 9 p.m. For ticket information, visit legends.appstate.edu.
For more information on Toubab Krewe, visit http://www.toubabkrewe.com.