By Vanessa Wolf
Toubab Krewe is an instrumental group known for creating music that blends together American rock, African traditions, jam sensibilities, and international folk sounds.
The group’s instruments include a kora (21-string harp-lute), kamelengoni (12-string harp-lute), soku (Malian horsehair fiddle), African percussion instruments, two electric guitars, electric bass guitar, and a drum set.
We spoke with percussionist Luke Quaranta about the band’s unusual name, funky instruments, and upcoming show on Maui.
Maui Now: So, Toubab Krewe: I read your band name and pictured some Senegalese men living in New Orleans. However, I’ve done the research and seen the pictures and it turns out you’re a bunch of white guys from North Carolina. Can you explain the name?
Luke Quaranta: We’re all American. We were all white guys, but actually our drummer now is African American, and he’s from Louisiana: Baton Rouge, and you’re right: we’ve been moving in a New Orleans direction since we started the band in 2005. Basically we were a bunch of guys who met in college and started jamming together.
MN: How do you pronounce the band name? Do you pronounce every consonant and vowel or…???
LQ: No. It’ s “two bob crew.”
MN: So that’s almost like the old Miami hip hop band 2 Live Crew. Is that on purpose?
LQ: No. Basically Toubab means “not African” or “foreigner” or “white dude” or whatever. It essentially means that you are not continental African. We had been calling ourselves that in a tongue and cheek way for years, and eventually we decided to take it on as our name officially.
MN: So in your repertoire of percussion instruments you play the…”djembe.” How do you say that? Which one is silent: The “d” or the “j”?
LQ: The “d.”
MN: Explain the djembe. Granted, I could Google it, but it will probably be more exciting if you lay it out.
LQ: Wikipedia says it’s a goblet-shaped drum going back to the 12th or 13th century in West Africa. It’s a wood drum carved out of a single log with goat skin on top of it.
MN: That’s not the only animal-based instrument in the band. Someone also plays the soku, a Malian horsehair fiddle. How does that even happen in North Carolina?
LQ: It came from our travels. Drew (Heller) didn’t get it in North Carolina. We got that in Mali. Basically it’s a one string fiddle; like a fretless neck. You get most of the action with the bow. Drew had a great teacher named Zumana Tereta who is incredibly well-known and respected.
MN: You’ve traveled all over Africa, but have you guys been to Maui or the islands before?
LQ: I’ve never been to Hawaii, although we pretty much try to play everywhere we can. With this gig we will have hit 47 states.
MN: What are the three you have left to play?
LQ: We haven’t played Delaware, South Dakota, and Mississippi. We really do need to get to Mississippi.
MN: What was the first album you ever bought?
LQ: Sh*t. It might have been that 2 Live Crew cassette, now that you mention it! In the mid-80s…yeah. I think that was it.
MN: It was destiny, clearly.
What would you say was your best Halloween costume ever?
LQ: We had an amazing band Halloween one year. We were in San Francisco during Halloween ’08, five days before the election. We all dressed up on orange Guantanamo bay-style jumpsuits with black pillowcases over our heads. Our tour manager led us out onto the stage with our hands behind our backs. You saw that image a lot, and we were protesting it. We played the first two songs with pillowcases over our heads.
MN: Wow! That’s commitment to a costume!
LQ: I almost suffocated, actually, because I was playing the djembe solo.
Our roadie at the time was dressed as Uncle Sam. He came out onto the stage and began to sing that Barry Levinson song “Murder” while pulling the pillowcases off each of our heads, and we were wearing masks of Donald Rumsfeld, Condaleeza Rice, Dick Cheney, John McCain, and Bush.
MN: You did almost suffocate. That’s hardcore. So you were making a political statement, obviously?
LQ: Yes. Basically we were exposing them as war criminals. We played about six songs like this, and then we pulled off the jumpsuits and we were wearing black t-shirts with silver duct tape and the t-shirts spelled “Obama”: each of us wearing one of the letters of his name. We were both endorsing him and indicting the previous administration.
MN: On a lighter note, this last question is from Nashville-based singer/songwriter Mat Kearney. He would like to know where the best barbeque in all of North Carolina is?
LQ: Damn. The best barbecue I’ve ever had in North Carolina? I could probably make a phone call…
Twelve Bones in Ashville is definitely one of the best. The best I ever had was at college. They would just slaughter one of the pigs there on campus and cook it up.
Slaughtering a pig and cooking it there on the spot? It sounds like Tuobab Krewe will be quite happy with some of our local cuisine.
The musical influences and travel experiences of Justin Perkins (Kora, Kamelngoni, guitar, percussion), Terrence Houston (drums, congas), Drew Heller (guitar, piano, fiddle), David Pransky (bass, guitar), and Luke Quaranta (Djembe, percussion) combine to create a sound unlike any other.
Check out their unique world music-meets-Southern American rock stylings on Thursday, Jan. 31 at 7:30 p.m. in the Yokouchi Pavilion at the MACC. Tickets are $28 in advance or $38 on the day of the show.
Have an idea for a fun or thought-provoking story? Get in touch: we want to hear from you. -Vanessa (@mauinow.com)