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Friday, October 21, 2005

Toubab Krewe & Sound Tribe Sector Nine

One of the highlights of my college career was working with the Common Ground African Drum & Dance group. Sure they were a collection of suburban white kids from a liberal arts college (emphasis on the liberal) playing the music that they had been exposed to during "school" trips to the motherland, but they pulled it off. Between the late 90s and early 00s they were a fixture on the world music scene within and beyond the South East.

I'm not a drummer or a dancer, but what I brought to the group was lighting. I guess it was only two shows, but for those two I was honored to design, build, and control the lighting while the Common Ground frenzied hundreds of hairy armpited girls and smelly bearded boys. I was only a small part of the experience, but for me it was really special.

Common Ground has provided the roots of Toubab Krewe (which has a pretty rad website). What started as a percussion and dance ensemble (including obvious trips to Guinea, Mali, & Senegal), became realized with the addition of guitar, bass, and exposure to Wassoulou music. Their sound represents a "fusion" between traditional Malian songs, West African drumming arrangements, and contemporary jam elements. I see it as the most accessible version of the sounds that come from the are in and beyond the Ivory Coast.

Since their official first show as a five piece in Cabot, VT last summer, the Krewe have had a nearly non-stop touring schedule. Their summer has included three nights of the Bonnaroo Festival, the North East Kingdom Music Festival, a 500 person cd release party at Asheville's The Orange Peel, and now an opening slot for Sound Tribe Sector Nine (STS9).

I had the pleasure of taking in the Krewe last night at The Higher Ground. It's always a kick to hear the people around me attempt to understand what is the 21-stringed instrument with the gourd base (kora) or the 6-stringed harp (kamelengoni). But this show was so much more then crazy instruments. The Krewe brought a strong focused performance that fed off the energy of the crowd. I attend very few shows that create a positive energy that is so utterly infectious. Last night the Krewe mastered it and left many hoodied kids with large sincere grins.

Then came the main act. STS9 have been bringing their live hopdub-influenced, breakbeat-infused psychedelic music with a heavy emphasis on group improvisation to the masses since the late 90s. They have been a fixture on the touring scene and continue to sell-out venues all around the globe (as was the case during the past two evenings in S. Burlington). Now I don't usually listen to the work of jam band groups such as STS9 and their peers the Disco Biscuits, Lake Trout, and the New Deal, but my wife went to high school with a couple of the members and was good friends with their amazing drummer, Zack Velmer. Zack used to play parties in her basement (I thought those type of parties only happened in movies; guess things are different in suburban Georgia), so the least I could do is see them when they've come to my neck of the woods.

If Toubab created the mood, then Sound Tribe lifted it and brought it into unknown regions. I'm rarely one to speak in terms of "vibe" and "energy" (Sound Tribe's all sorts of into crystals, etc), but that was what was happening. The music ebbed and flowed. The bands control of releasing tension was evident with the cheers and jubilation of the crowd (which was aided by a fantastic light show including blinding white lights on the masses during peak moments). While I noticed similarities with a Mogwai show I had caughtin New York 5 years ago, the smiles, head bobs and blissed faces at this show proved the happiness contagious (while the Mogwai show left me asleep in the fetal position in the basement of Irving Plaza).

By default I can't help but see what STS9 is doing is tending to the jam band flame. When I think about the obvious jam lineage, it becomes evident that each group reflected the ideals and resultant limits of its fan base. The Grateful Dead sheparded the first wave with its roots music base and a sense of naivete. Phish melded sounds of a more conscious, but still wandering, populace and was influenced not only by its jam/rock/Americana forefathers, but also pop music and the spirit awakened by the likes of The Talking Heads. Sound Tribe Sector 9 appears to take what's deep and primal, but fuses it with today's technologically aware audience, while all-the-while staying focused on the positive. This has resulted in a connection with the Volvo driving suburban children who have lived through scandal and heartship, but are longing for something more.

Sound Tribe Sector 9 - Live at the Tabernacle, Atlanta, GA - 12.31.04


  • At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Zach is a great drummer he always looks like he is going nuts over there to the right of the stage. The others guys are pretty chill periodically mashing keys on thier laptops. It is interesting to see a "jamband" that is so heavy into technology with hard hitting baselines have the white/rasta/suburban hippies following them. It is also intersting to see the reaction of traditional jamband heads following a band with such a laid back stage show.

  • At 8:33 PM, Blogger Bo said…

    Nice write up. I'm with you. I kept thinking of the atmosphere created by both bands last night. Funk, smiles, grooves and lots of dancing. I was whipped after dancing to Toubab Krewe, yet STS9 made me move for hours. Nice getting to talk to you and know you Joshua. Last night filled my sails!!!


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