West African-inspired band, Toubab Krewe, to play Ullrs, with a charitable twist
The Krewe is back together.
After a two-year hiatus from touring and studio work the Asheville, N.C.-based instrumental quintet Toubab Krewe is reuniting for a tour in anticipation of the release of their third studio album, Stylo.
The West African inspired band will play Ullrs Tavern in Winter Park on Feb. 17, one of the band’s four stops in Colorado.
Luke Quaranta, the band’s percussionist, is as excited as anyone.
“We’ve all been having a lot of fun together,” said Quaranta. “It’s great to be playing our tunes again, and just to be together on the road, having fun, talking about the music, playing music and continuing to talk about new ideas…I definitely missed being out with the Krewe, so I’m psyched about the return, and looking forward to the album release.”
Quaranta grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y., and was surrounded by music from a young age. His mother was a drummer like himself, and he was constantly hearing her play with his godfather and aunt. But his musical education didn’t really start in earnest until he went to college.
Quaranta went to a small liberal arts school just outside of Asheville called Warren Wilson College, and began playing in a drum and dance group on campus. At school he met Justin Perkins, Drew Heller and Teal Brown, all original members of the Toubab Krewe. They began casually playing together, fueled by their common interest in West African traditional music, but didn’t consider becoming a band until they had experienced the culture first hand.
“Drew and Justin took a trip to Mali in 2004, and they were there for about four months,” said Quaranta. “When they got back is when we decided to start the band. I think it was really because in Mali they were able to see the music in its traditional setting, but they also got to see it played in more of a bar setting. They saw bands playing every night in different clubs and bars.
“At that moment it was this glimpse into a realization that we could play this music that we had been studying for so long in more of a band setting. It was more of a contemporary rock set up with drums, electric base, guitar and percussion.”
The band, either together or individually, took several trips to West Africa from the late 90s through 2010s, living with and studying under musical teachers in Mali, Guinea and Ivory Coast.
They officially started the band at the beginning of 2005, and were an instant success. The band played West African traditional music injected with rock and roll styles they grew up with, and an Appalachian twist. They began touring that year, played Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, and released their first studio album: self titled Toubab Krewe.
“That first album came together quickly,” said Quaranta. “I think nine out of the 10 songs were reworked traditional West African songs. So we were working with a kind of pallet of traditional songs, and it was really our arrangements and the way we were playing them that kept the album together.”
They dropped their second album in 2008, Toubab Krewe Live at the Orange Peel, recorded live on New Years Eve in Asheville. In 2011 they put out their second studio album, TK2.
After the release of TK2 the bands original drummer, Teal Brown, left the band to start a family. Brown was replaced by Vic Stafford, who left a year later to open a studio in Atlanta. The band’s current drummer, Terrence Houston, joined following Stafford’s departure.
The band went to Atlanta in 2014 to begin working with Stafford, now their sound engineer, on their third studio album, Stylo. After recording a number of tracks, the band decided to take a hiatus, and take some time for themselves.
“At that point we had been grinding for about 10 years, close to 2,000 shows,” said Quaranta. “So from 2014 through 2016 we laid pretty low. Mostly folks were doing stuff on their own. I moved to New Orleans. Drew and Jeff went to Nashville. Just last year we came back to all those recording and started digging in.”
The band spent 2017 going back through their recording from the 2014 recording sessions in Atlanta, and began putting together an album.
“It’s kind of a cool mix of time periods because it was a time when the band was just coming off the road regularly, and getting into the studio,” said Quaranta. “And then sitting on it and coming back to it in 2017 with fresh ears was pretty cool.”
Quaranta said the time he spent away from the band expanding his musical library allowed him to look at the evolution of Toubab Krewe over the last decade.
“In the beginning we were operating from very close to a traditional repertoire, where all of our arrangements were from traditional West African songs,” he recalls. “Now I think we’re heavier on originality. This album is different from anything we’ve ever done. There’s more synth and keys stuff, and it’s a more psychedelic direction. I feel like the band is rooted in the styles we developed all those years ago. But I think we’ve evolved, and it’s almost like this is the start of a new chapter.”
The band has teamed up with Seed Programs International, an Asheville-based charity that sends vegetable seeds to impoverished communities worldwide. The band will be selling seed packets with their album, and donating a portion or the profits to the organization.
Toubab Krewe will be playing Ullrs Tavern at 9 p.m. Feb. 17. Stylo is being released on March 2.
“The tour has been good,” said Quaranta. “We’re just trying to put attention to the sound and every aspect of it. It’s been great. I think everyone’s excited to be back.”
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