Toubab Krewe on the Mountaintop
They might be new to Music on the Mountaintop, but Toubab Krewe's no stranger to festivals - even those on the far side of the world.
Instrumental virtuosos of an unmistakable sound - a unique combination of southern-fried rock, electronica and the sounds of West African - Toubab gives global music a new name, bringing their high-energy shows to here, there and everywhere in between.
In 2007, they performed at the Festival in the Desert in Mali, where the closest city is literally Timbuktu.
In 2010, they're hitting Boone's own Music on the Mountaintop, held Aug. 27-28 at the High Country Fairgrounds.
Despite the difference in geography, Drew Heller (guitar, piano and fiddle) said there's a common thread in all festivals.
"There's a shared experience of getting together, congregating, playing music and celebrating together, dancing together," he said. "That really is a similar type of ritual. It feels good, even when you're far away from where you're born and bred."
In Boone, they're not so far from home. The quintet - Justin Perkins (Kora, Kamelngoni, guitar and percussion), Teal Brown (drums and congas), David Pransky (bass and guitar), Luke Quaranta (Djembe and percussion) and Heller - hails from Asheville.
They played music together in college - Heller and Perkins even longer, since fourth grade - and haven't stopped since.
"The cycle of playing music hasn't ever stopped," Heller said. "We've played so many different styles together and so many different songs - such a shared musical experience - that putting different styles together just sort of feels natural."
Rather than cutting out musical influences to benefit a certain style, they're incorporated into the band's ever-expanding repertoire. "There was no decision with this band to make it in just one particular way, just really Creole spirit," Heller said.
Their introduction to African influence came with drumming - studying in high school, drum circles abroad and a friend who studied West African percussion.
"Early on, in my formative years, my brother turned me on to an album called New Ancient Strings, which contained some West African music," Heller said in a previous interview. "It changed my perspective on music. I became fairly obsessed with that sound. It was in Mali where Justin and I really got heavily into hearing live music in 2004. That formed the basis for the Toubab Krewe sound."
Though its members performed in other popular regional bands - Common Ground and Count Clovis - Toubab Krewe was established in 2005, and the music's never stopped.
The band released its debut, self-titled album in 2006, and their latest, TK2, is set for a Sept. 7 release on (not so coincidentally) Nat Geo Records.
"We've been on the road for five years since we recorded our first (album), doing nothing but playing music together," Heller said. "Eventually, we had the time to go spend a month and a half straight in the studio, 12 hours a day, really putting in time to open it up ... and not be concerned about getting this done quick."
And it shows. By allowing the sound to grow organically, the album has an open and natural feel, precisely what Heller said the group was seeking.
"We just sort of allowed ... our collective energy to take form," he said. "Having that amount of time and space ... really helped us forget about our self-conscious side of things and craft art, getting into the more expressive side of things."
That spontaneous energy can be found on stage, and even beforehand.
"We don't write a setlist till right before the show," Heller said. "The stage is pretty sacred ... that one thing. We spend so much time on the road, traveling, and, all of a sudden ... there it is. That's what we're here to do."
Toubab Krewe's no strangers to Boone, with Heller even calling it one of the band's favorites.
"Boone is no question one of the rowdiest, most fun places to play in the country," he said. "We're probably biased because we're from Western North Carolina, but not really. There are plenty of regions in the world that share similarities to Boone that I never would've guessed, but there's something about it. I'm not really sure what it is, but we love playing there."
Audiences can share the love Saturday, Aug. 28, when Toubab Krewe takes Music on the Mountaintop's Footsloggers Stage from 5:45 to 7 p.m.
For more information on Toubab Krewe and their new album, visit http://www.toubabkrewe.com. For more on Music on the Mountaintop, visit http://www.musiconthemountaintop.com.