by Carole Verona
“We hope everybody will get up and dance and will come away feeling emotionally, physically and mentally moved,” said Toubab Krewe’s Luke Quaranta as the band gets ready to launch the 2018 free Pastorius Park concert series. For those who have never heard Toubab Krewe, Quaranta said their music connects the dots between the traditional music of West Africa and the Caribbean with the folk music traditions of North America.
The concert takes place at Pastorius Park at the corner of Millman Street and Hartwell Lane on Wednesday, June 13, at 7:30 p.m. If it rains, the show will move to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 8000 Cherokee St. The concerts are supported by the Chestnut Hill Community Association and Chestnut Hill Hospital.
“A lot of the roots of the band are in West Africa, in the music styles from – Guinea, the Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal,” Quaranta said.
The roots took hold during numerous trips back and forth over the years. Mix that with old-time American folk music and you have a blending of both worlds.
“At times, we jokingly refer to ourselves as international country music,” he added.
Most of the instruments played by the band are African in origin. Quaranta explained that the kora played by Justin Perkins dates back 1,000 years. Quaranta, who plays djembe, congas, dundun, sangban and kinkini, will be joined on stage by Justin Perkins (kora, kamelngoni, guitar, percussion), Terrence Houston (drumset), Drew Heller (guitar, organ), and Justin Kimmel (bass, keys).
The Asheville, North Carolina-based instrumental group was formed in 2005. A few of the band members had been childhood friends. Quaranta met up with them during their college years. They discovered a mutual interest and love of West African music and started drumming together, using West African drums. Then a few of the band members traveled to West Africa in 1999 and again in 2001.
“These long-time friendships and the passion for the music were the precursors to Toubab Krewe,” Quaranta said. “When we started the band, we did arrangements of traditional music. As our band has grown, it has developed into mixing more original tunes with a number of traditional ones.
“We’ve gotten amazing feedback from teachers and peers over there, some really great artists that we’ve followed, studied with, hung out with and played with. It’s been really cool from being students of the music, recording in their style and then performing and playing with our teachers.”
The name of the band comes from several West African languages. ‘Toubab’ means ‘not African or foreigner.’
“When we were in Guinea, kids would call us ‘toubab,’” Quaranta said. “We heard it a lot when we were in the Ivory Coast. So, we would joke and call ourselves Toubab Krewe. ”
Krewe” is a reference to the New Orleans spelling of the word ‘crew’ and is associated with Mardi Gras.
“When we were in West Africa, we would refer to ourselves as outsiders, foreigners,” he said. “By the time we started the band, we didn’t know what to call ourselves. We were, ‘Like, we’re the Toubab Krewe.’ So, although it’s funny, it’s accurate.
“We’ve had a number of West African friends and when they’ve heard the name, they laughed.
That’s a good thing. We’re Americans coming to this style of music that we respect, love and have studied for a long time. At the end of the day, we hope we can bring a creative voice to the style by allowing ourselves to be who we are and by bringing our own influences to it.”
Toubab Krewe has recorded four albums: a self-titled debut album in 2005,” Live at the Orange Peel” in 2009, “TK2” in 2011 and “STYLO,” which was released in March 2018.
“’Stylo’ means pen in French,” Quaranta said. “Our guitarist Drew Heller wrote the title track and, in the process of mixing and listening to the record, we recognized that the song has its own thing going on and it has a really cool vibe. We thought it would be a great album title. It has this magical feel.”
“Miriama,” one of the songs on the album, was made famous by Senegalese artist Baaba Maal. African artists who perform alongside Toubab Krewe on the album are Lamine Soumano, Sekou Bah, Wassa Coulibaly and Petit Adama Diarra.
Since the band’s inception, Toubab Krewe has given back to the community by donating a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales to Instruments for Africa and other nonprofit organizations in West Africa. They’ve been involved in other fund-raising events as well.
More recently, the band developed a custom seed box for the “STYLO” release. The collector’s box features original artwork of different seed varieties and vegetable icons. It also contains eight seed varieties, one per song. A portion of the proceeds goes to Seed Programs International, an Asheville-based nonprofit organization that sends non-GMO vegetable seeds and gardening expertise to communities around the world. The CDs will be for sale at the Pastorius Park concert.
Julie Byrne, chair of the Pastorius Park Concerts for the Chestnut Hill Community Association, worked with Tia Burke, Bob Rossman, Doug Knauer and Andy Kite to bring the series to the community.
“Since this year’s series is our 70th anniversary season we planned a “Best of Pastorius,” at least from recent years,” Byrne said. “Toubab Krewe performed in our 2006 season and was a popular choice for a return visit.
“The Jasper String Quartet is our one repeat from last season since they were rained inside. If a performer is rained inside, we usually invite them back the following season so they get to enjoy the atmosphere and wonderful crowd in our beautiful Pastorius Park.
“Zydeco a-go-go performed for us in 2008. We thought they’d be a great addition to our 70th anniversary season as we know our audience likes to dance! RUNA first performed for us in 2012, and we enjoyed them so much they came back in 2016.
“We have so many favorite jazz performers we couldn’t choose between them, so we invited The Luke Carlos O’Reilly Quintet featuring vocalist Shenel Johns – some completely new performers for our Pastorius Park concerts. Ben Arnold performed for us in 2016, and this time around he will be bringing his horn section with him, so we’ll be ending our 70th season in fine style.”
Byrne is always looking for volunteers to help at the concert series. For more information, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information about Toubab Krewe can be found at toubabkrewe.com. Stay tuned to the Chestnut Hill Local for previews of each upcoming band or go to chestnuthill.org for more information about the Pastorius Park Summer Concert Series.