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WKMS Meets Toubab Krewe, Featured Lowertown Arts & Music Festival West African Fusion Band

Toubab Krewe performs at the Lowertown Arts & Music Festival on Friday, May 12, at 9 pm.
Toubab Krewe
Yeiser Art Center
Toubab Krewe performs at the Lowertown Arts & Music Festival on Friday, May 12, at 9 pm.

Closing out the Friday night line-up of the Lowertown Arts & Music Festival is Asheville-based West African fusion group Toubab Krewe. Austin Carter speaks to the band's percussionist, Luke Quaranta, about how the band came to be, their love of West African music, and what audiences can expect at their upcoming performance.

"I grew up with a lot of classic rock," Quaranta begins. "The Beatles, Allman Brothers, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Motown. My mom and dad were both big blues fans; both played drums. My mom played the drumset since she was a teenager, and I watched them as I came up in family band situations where my godfather was a guitarist, singer-songwriter, and my mom's best friend. Our aunts and uncles played. I watched them, but it was mostly a similar American music context, Black American music, some jazz, but a lot of classic rock. [It was] post-high school and college when I discovered West African music specifically."

Quaranta says he and his bandmates were primarily interested in djembe ensemble music. "With that music, there's a lot of complex polyrhythms. A lot of music in 12/8 or 6/8 timing, some 9/8 stuff, and a lot of stuff you'd consider 4/4. But all very poly-rhythmic in nature. There can be simplicity to the parts, but it really has to do with what's created when all the parts are put together."

"For us, it was a process of going through the sources and studying with our teachers that we learned and started to play the style. We discovered a bunch of recordings, but we needed to go to the source," he continues. Quaranta recounts the band traveling to Guinea and the Ivory Coast with their percussion instructors, hearing music played in the streets, attending rehearsals and practices, and immersing themselves in the music of West Africa.

"It was years later that we started to take more creative license with the style and integrate influences we grew up with — rock and roll, surf rock, Appalachian music, stuff like that. For a long time, it was [about] becoming proficient in the style and learning this whole canon of rhythms. Then, years later, when we started Toubab Krewe, it was more of a lightbulb going off — that after years of study, we could integrate all the traditional music from there and mix it with styles we grew up with for more of a Western rock set-up."

Quaranta says the Toubab Krewe set is "definitely a dance party. The music is dance-friendly by nature, but it can also be listened to. I think it can serve both purposes. It's very dancey music, and at the same time, people can listen to it and not have to be moving. It'll be kind of a peek into West African music. If folks aren't as familiar with West African music, I think it gives people the context that people will be exposed to it and understand some of the ways the styles work and some of the aesthetic."

Toubab Krewe closes out Friday night of the Lowertown Arts & Music Festival at 9 pm. For more information on the Toubab Krewe, visit their website.

Visit the Yeiser Art Center's website for more information on the Lowertown Arts & Music Festival.

Austin Carter is a Murray State grad and has been involved with WKMS since he was in high school. Over the years he has been a producer for WKMS and has hosted several music shows, but now calls Morning Edition his home each weekday morning.
Melanie Davis-McAfee graduated from Murray State University in 2018 with a BA in Music Business. She has been working for WKMS as a Music and Operations Assistant since 2017. Melanie hosts the late-night alternative show Alien Lanes, Fridays at 11 pm with co-host Tim Peyton. She also produces Rick Nance's Kitchen Sink and Datebook and writes Sounds Good stories for the web.
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