In between spotty cell reception outside of Glenwood Springs, I managed to catch up with the esteemed percussionist and djembe player Luke Quaranta of the roots-funk fusion band Toubab Krewe for a Q&A exchange. Being a member of a band that uses music as a vehicle to travel the globe, and that travels in a vehicle with a history of affecting music and the world around them, Quaranta and Krewe are unique sonic explorers that have put hard miles into their audible endeavors for nearly a decade. Whether it’s finding themselves performing at an uber-remote festival in Mali, or stretching the confines of sound in highly elevated mountain town clubs, Toubab’s peerless narrative of the power behind music’s uniting ability is personified by its members. This is what Quaranta had to say about that.
As a band Toubab Krewe has a lasting connection with the continent of Africa, both in your sonic roots and further studies into musicology. I read awhile back that you might even travel there to record a new album that would feature artists and teachers you met there. What is the status on that – is that dream still alive?
Absolutely, that dream is definitely still alive, going to Mali for about a month to six weeks and include people we have built relationships with there, but we had to shift gears after what began to transpire there in terms of the extremist from the North taking that part of the country. Finally the French and some West African states have stepped in to push back the foreigner Islamics.
It’s an ongoing crisis and we have actually supplied a bunch of resources to refugees and did a benefit concert in New York City on September 22nd for Mali’s Independence Day. Luckily all of our friends there are OK, but the plan is to take a long chunk of time in December and dive into the studio.
Tell me about the Instruments For Africa “Krewe House School” charity, and the successes you have met by combining your music with a powerful cause.
We have been raising money for the Project for Refugees for about two-and-a-half years now
going towards the school by contributing money from every show we play. Also for a few years we had a beer called Toubab Brewe crafted by Craggie Brewing Co. in Asheville and proceeds from that were going towards the school as well. The brewery actually shut down, so hopefully we can find another one that wants to bring back the beer. But yeah, it’s exciting to be able to contribute to the dream of our teacher Lamine Suomano building a music school for kids by us playing shows here.
Going back to noteworthy collaborations, recently guitarist Eric Krasno (Soulive/Lettuce) sat in with you guys at Cervantes in Denver. How did that connection happen, and how did the chemistry play out on stage?
Oh man, it was amazing to get to play almost a full set with Eric. I actually don’t remember it totally because I was checked out and in the groove that seemed to hit some highs and great pockets. We had hooked up with him a number of different times, but actually it’s funny, one time really way back we parked the bus by a venue in old Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Kent Ave right by the water, and as Eric tells it he stumbled out of his place that was right there and thinks to himself, ‘I think I know that bus.’ He starts to check it out and realizes it was the first bus that Soulive had ever been on when touring. It’s a 95 Eagle that used to be owned by Graham Nash that we bought from a private owner in Tennessee. So he is looking at it and putting it all together and our bass player David comes out and connected with him.
Will we ever see a full tour or manifestation of the Toubab Krewe Orchestra for an extended period of time? Who would you want on board for that?
Oh man, again, that is a dream that is tied with doing that full record in Bamako, Mali with all of our friends and teachers there, but also folks that we have connected with an been inspired by here in the States. As for who we’d have, Lemine would be involved for sure, and also Roosevelt Collier [The Lee Boys], Rayne Gellert [Uncle Earl], Weedie Braimah, and Sam Dickey just to name a few. Along those lines though, we actually did cut three songs with Weedie and Same last Spring that we are going to release soon that also feature some great horn players from Brooklyn. Look for those starting to come out weekly next month.
You recently added the extremely talented drummer Terrence Houston [George Porter and the Runnin’ Pardners] to that band. What made you pick him, and how has that addition influenced or changed the dynamic?
We actually met in international waters, so it was meant to be that we would link up. During JamCruise we ended up in the jam room together, and we happened to be looking for a drummer since last summer. Terrence was excited about vibing with us, so we were stoked when he came to Atlanta to rehearse and then we did some gigs together in Charleston at the Pour House. It has been super fun playing with him.
As a band, you are making efforts to green your touring. Telluride is an environmentally conscious location, as you might imagine. Tell us about the Brita Water Filter contest you entered, and what your plans are if you win. Is there anything you already do beyond that?
So we bought this classic bus in 07, which is named Greenie, and being on the road as much as we are, it is definitely communal living. We are stacked on top of each other in bunks, and it’s a lot of shared resources among us. Of course there are some evils you can’t escape by being on the road, but this Britta contest came up and we saw it as an opportunity to change Greenie to be an example of environmentally conscious touring by using biodiesel, solar panels and deep cycle batteries. If we win Brita will give us 2,000 of their water bottles to use on tour to cut out waste at venues, local catering, carbon offsets, consultation with a green touring specialist, and $4,500 in cash to go towards the engine conversion.
In my past experiences with seeing you guys play live, every show seems to take on a audible mood of sorts. Sometimes it’s more world beat, other’s it is funky, or experimental and psychedelic. Do you consciously define these pre-show with a setlist or does it just sort of happen that way organically?
I think a majority of it is really the latter. We do write setlists, and sometimes those can take on different moods, but also it’s how the music comes together with a combination of us and the audience. There are a lot of factors and variables that play into that, but the overall process is much more organic than any planning could allow. The best moments are those that happen when you achieve an intimate moment through the music with a larger audience.
Keeping with your affinity for playing remote locations like Mali, and onboard the JamCruise ship in the middle of the ocean, Telluride is yet another location far off the beaten path that you can check off the list. What is it about yourselves as individuals and musicians that pushes you to travel to this isolated places to spread your music?
These remote locations can be somewhat hairy to get to, like today, for instance, we’re driving over this pass near Glenwood, and last night our show actually got snowed out. When we played the festival in Mali, the two-wheel-drive vehicle, that was supposed to be four-wheel-drive, got stuck in the sand five different times. But that is what fuels the music. Travel and experience, and inspiration from things beyond music like seeing these places and people equally dedicated to their craft, is just a natural part of it. Naturally we are gypsies that live somewhere in this ethereal realm that can’t be framed into a box.
Toubab Krewe plays Saturday, March 30, at the Fly Me To The Moon Saloon in Telluride, 10 p.m., flymetothemoon.com