Last week we spoke with Luke Quaranta of Toubab Krewe about the band, their musical inspirations, and their upcoming show at the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon this Saturday night, March 30th! Toubab Krewe has been touring throughout the world since 2005, playing music in a blend of global styles they describe as a “sonic Pangaea.”
T.com: We’re really excited to have you guys play at the saloon can’t wait to have you in Telluride! I just wanted to ask you a couple questions before we see you play. Tell me about your band name id love to hear the story about how that came to be.
LQ: You know what, Toubab Krewe… we’ve spent a lot of time in West Africa over the years, started traveling there as college students in 1999. I went for the first time to Guinea. And then a few of us, a couple years after graduation went to the Ivory Coast right after graduation, studying music.
Throughout West Africa, Toubab or Toubabou is a way to describe foreigners, people not born of continental African descent. We got used to hearing it…even well before we started the band, we would refer to ourselves as the Toubab crew, this group of friends that would go back and forth to West Africa and had this real passion for the music.
It was funny, when we started the band we were trying to come up with a band name and it was almost, well, we were the Toubab Krewe. We chose the New Orleans spelling of “krewe” as a nod to New Orleans as a place where different musical types and genres from around the world and people from around the world came together and from that, indigenous American musical styles were born.
I think it really speaks to our music; it’s really this coming together of different musical styles from a lot of different places. When we started the band it was really specific West African music coming together with rock and some North Carolina styles… and it was kind of appropriate to what we were doing musically. The Toubabou part was us really claiming and owning who we are as Americans but at the same time defining ourselves by what we are not… what we were doing was somewhere between worlds.
T.com: I know you guys are from Asheville. From my own experience with your shows, I can hear the Americana influence and obviously the heavy West African sounds. Just curious, what are your greatest musical influences - personally, and as the band as a whole?
LQ: Really everyone in the group grew up in families that loved music. I grew up listening to a lot of classic rock, and soul music, so you know, everything from Led Zeppelin to all the Motown stuff, to Robert Johnson and Aretha, Marvin Gaye, Allman Brothers... as a young teenager I got really heavy into hip hop. Kind of in the middle of the golden era of New York hip hop, so Biggie, Naz, Jay, all kinds of artists from around that time. And I think as a group, especially for a few of our members, growing up in western North Carolina they grew up around a lot of Appalachian tradition and traditional music, string and old time music, and that’s really become part of our sound over the past few years. It really continues. It’s been a real process of discovery as we’ve been a band, starting in the West African tradition, and it’s been a process of continuing to discover music from New Orleans, East Africa, Ethiopian music, Indian music, South American music and styles from Peru and the Andes region and Mexican music. Its kind of an ongoing, never-ending process of discovering and being inspired by music which kind of finds its way into what we do.
T.com: What do you think inspires you guys, having grown up in the US, to explore so deeply into other cultures? I think it’s a really unique feature of your music is the exploratory sound. Not a lot of bands are doing what you do, especially ones on the festival circuits and the bands we see a lot out here in Colorado.
LQ: It’s definitely like a case of kindred spirits… in terms of the guys [in the band], we came together over a love of music and an openness and curiosity in general. Also I think, musicians have somewhat been ahead of the curve or ahead of mainstream culture in terms of making connections across borders and finding ways that we’re more similar than we are different. Music is such an ethereal thing; music is different in terms of the other arts. It exists in this ethereal space. It can’t be seen, it can be heard and digested in a way, but it’s much more fluid than that. I think because of that, music has always brought people together across cultural lines. There’s a lot of common ground in music… in the ways musicians express themselves in ways that are very similar. We’re all kind of attracted to that. We’ve always been interested in discovery and music and West Africa just grabbed a hold of us…. Now we’ve just been doing it for so long it feels natural.
T.com: How is playing a small, intimate venue like the moon, how does that differ from your festival shows? Or the festivals you’ve played in West Africa?
LQ: It’s interesting. From when we first got together, we’ve always said 10 or 10,000… we’re bringing the same vibe. It’s almost kind of a goal to play the same way, to feel the same way, the same connections with each other as musicians and with the crowd in front of 10 or 15,000. To not to over reach or over play… in front of 10, to try to project the same kind of energy you would in front of 15,000: trying to bring the same energy to the experience… I think you still have to bridge that gap. You still have to bring the audience in and create this communal experience.
Maybe it’s from all our time spent in West Africa and our affinity for traditional music, but our experience playing music is as much a shared experience with the audience as it is a performance… we’re more about the shared experience where the energy from the audience informs what’s happening.