Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Toubab Krewe brings rock riffs and traditional West African music to Noho


When Toubab Krewe took the stage Friday night, it seemed for a moment they might not be all that into it. Between the droopy-eyed djembe percussionist in the back right and the rather stiff bassist in the front left, uncertainty loomed over what this Malian-trained crew was prepared to bring to the crowded Iron Horse Music Hall.

However, once the band began to play and the crowd began to loosen up, Toubab Krewe loosened up, too, unleashing southern rock-infused jams, bright harp solos from the 12- and 21-string West African harps, and even a lengthy djembe jam which immediately garnered the full support of the crowd clapping and dancing along.

It’s not often that music of this genre makes its way to Northampton. The Krewe blends traditional West African music that the band learned on countless trips to Guinea, Mali and the Ivory Coast, with southern rock riffs absorbed from the majority of its members’ North Carolina upbringing.

In fact, it’s not all the time that this style of music makes its way anywhere. To put it simply, the music of Toubab Krewe is very unique and original. Their name is derived from the West African word “toubab,” which is used in reference to white people of European decent and the New Orleans spelling of “crew.” The band manages to bridge the gap between familiar rock and jam performances while at the same time fitting the expectations elicited from the label of “traditional West African music.”

Toubab came on stage just before 11 p.m. and played for almost two hours, building an emotion and energy the entire time. Despite the fact that the dance floor was ripe with the smell of sweat, the band radiated positive vibrations unto the crowd and seemed to inspire a communal atmosphere that strengthened their performance.

In West African culture, “jeli” or “griot” are a prestigious caste of professional musicians and orators. These storytelling musicians are entrusted with the important task of recounting genealogical information and family events, as well as celebrating the morally praiseworthy actions and behavior of their ancestors and patrons and mediating disputes.

In Malian culture, few non-jeli take music as a profession. To the jeli, music is less an expression of oneself and more the communication of an important, timeless message or lesson. Each member of Toubab Krewe, and the music of the six-year-old, five-piece band, embodied these virtues and qualities on Friday night.

After a few particularly memorable jams that got the whole crowd jumping, unfamiliar concertgoers gave each other fist-bumps, exchanged stories of past concerts and festivals, and future ones they intend to explore. People introduced themselves to each other and made witty small talk in front of the stage as the music got quiet, then jumped right back into it as the band picked up, everyone basking in the heightened atmosphere that had overtook the bar.

The five members of Toubab Krewe, Teal Brown (drums), Drew Heller (electric guitar), Justin Perkins (kora, kamelengoni, electric guitar), David Pransky (bass guitar) and Luke Quaranta (percussion), met after Brown met Quaranta at college. Then Pransky, whose sister danced for the Toubab predecessor “Common Ground,” joined the band.

Following the encore Toubab Krewe promoted their festival to the Iron Horse crowd. “The Manifestivus” takes place July 22 and 23 in Cabot, Vt.

Brian Canova can be reached at [email protected].


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