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Get to Know West African Inspired Toubab Krewe: Interview

Photo: Kenny Appelbaum

West African-influenced Toubab Krewe is making a stop at The Pour House on Wednesday, April 11th. Toubab Krewe is bringing their intercontinental integration on tour to celebrate the release of their most recent album Stylo. The 8-track album is their first new record since 2010, and they’re incredibly excited about it. Their stylistic blend of West African and American sounds mesh together folk and psychedelia to create a worldly collection of songs. Get tickets here.

I got up with Luke Quaranta (percussion) about Stylo, instrumentation, and how they give back to the communities that they became immersed in while traveling to Guinea, Ivory Coast and Mali to study and live. Read our Q&A below.

Where did song name “That Damn Squash” come from?

So our buddy initially wrote that. It was actually inspired by an argument he had with his girlfriend. They had been dating for a while and were at a farmer’s market in Miami. He was living down there for a while and they got up to the front of the line and they forgot to get the squash, so he went to grab the squash and she kinda freaked out for whatever reason and she thought you know he shouldn’t be going back to get something while they are still in line, so he went home and wrote the tune, and that is why he called it “That Damn Squash”.

Where did the new album name ‘Stylo; come from?

Drew the guitar player wrote the song “Stylo” and it ended up becoming the title track. As we were fleshing out and recording the track, I guess at some point we decided that would be a cool name for the album. It means pen in French, so I don’t know how literal that was.

Are you guys still building a music school in Mali?

Yeah it’s funny, I was just in Mali with the teacher, so it’s still in the process. We have raised money over the years for Instruments for Africa and he has really built some of the structures and man Instruments for Africa is doing amazing work, too, and all the work they are doing is in the conflict zone. Ya know they are basically throwing festivals in the North in all these places that are really bad right now. Our friend Paul has been living in Mali for about 16 years, and since 2015 the focus has been throwing these festivals in that part of the country.

Ya know, it runs deep, generally with all these outside forces it’s easy for all them to blame each other. So even with these festivals to get people together to preserve traditional culture so people can get together and dance and basically talk about what’s going on in Mali and come to some type of understanding instead of fighting against each other. So it’s great work and I got to spend some time with them and see the compound he has built while I was there, and kind of see the start of the music school.

That’s incredible. You guys are giving proceeds from ‘Stylo’ to Seed Program International too, right?

Yeah that is the latest. I produced a benefit concert in New York right after the conflict started and I raised a bunch of money for Instruments for Africa. For this record, Drew had this idea to create a seed box, people could get the music but also like a garden and they could get seeds to plant their own garden. We blended with this program in Asheville, Seeds Program International, who provide seeds to people all over the world, and all our artists created these 4×4 width custom boxes with art, and the album cover is on the top, and then the different seed packs, it’s really cool.

All of the art [on the seed pack] is a play on the art from the album cover. We will have them on our merch table you can get them online. You basically get 8 seed varieties, 1 per song, and there will be a sticker in there that has the download code on it and a sticker of the album art. I’ve never seen anything like it. Proceeds go to Seeds Program International; we are giving them a 5% pledge of everything from the album. We have traveled so much to West Africa and feel like we had a platform to make some change.

What do all your friends in West Africa think of ‘Stylo’?

The response has been really amazing. The feedback from all the teachers and friends. I got feedback from some of the baddest dudes in Mali. Great Djembe players really loved it. I was riding around with some of them and they had the record on repeat in the car. It was really cool to get that feedback. It is really rooted in some of the traditional music from there and kind of American styles ya know, rock and Appalachian music, so it is really incredible.

I didn’t know this about the new album: You guys stopped working on it for a while?

We started the band in 2005, and there was a good 7-8 years where we didn’t stop. Last couple years we were still doing over 100 shows a year. We cut the record right at the end of 2014 and then we decided we wanted to take a hiatus. We cut the record in Atlanta and it was right when we decided to take a hiatus, and in 2016 we did not really do much with it all. We kind of had all these raw materials and we were on the road for so long, so we got a little burnt out and we took some time off.

I talked to Drew and our bass player Justin and we got together in March 2017 in Asheville and we started to dig in on it, and over a number of sessions and between March and April 2017 in Brooklyn and Asheville pretty much kind of produced it and overdubbing and editing. We recorded it at the legendary Southern Tracks in Atlanta it’s a legendary studio ya know, Springstein and Petty have cut records there, but it closed. Our really good friend Vic Stafford, who played with Donna The Buffalo, engineered it there for 10 days then Justin and Drew did a bunch of post-production there in 2017.

Listen to Stylo by Toubab Krewe below, and head out to the Pour House on Wednesday night to see them play these songs live!