Toubab Krewe Mix Mali, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Appalachian Magic

It had been years — well, three — since Toubab Krewe had done a Florida swing. We were fortunate enough to get four shows on the weekend of November 8-11. They packed The Crowbar in Ybor City (Tampa) on Saturday, with Row Jomah and Somatic, two local bands, in support.

Somatic has expanded from a quartet to a sextet, and they delivered an excellent set. Max Kipnis (guitar and vocals) led his band through a fine set of originals and a dynamite “West L.A. Fadeaway” closer. The rhythm section of Sean Hartley (bass) and Eric Layana (drums) provided the perfect backdrop for the show. An inspired addition to the lineup is keyboard magician Kyle Sareyani, who has half a dozen projects going right now; he also played flute. Also joining the group was Brian Doss on tenor saxophone. These two gave Somatic great new options and directions.

Max Kipnis
Sean Hartley
Sean Hartley and Brian Doss

Next up was the Clearwater quintet (plus one) Row Jomah, still glowing from the success of their September release of Guns & Gods & Gold. Leader Joe Roma was in fine voice, selecting songs from the new album and earlier album Cat People! “Fire and Ice” continues to be a favorite, and the country-ish intro to “Stay With Me” is such a clever device. Stoic shredder Mel Walsh showed some real emotion (well, nearly) as his guitar work again highlighted every tune in the set.

Row Jomah
Joe Roma

Roma offered: “Here is a song about love and the weird shit it makes you do.” What followed was “Windowpanes,” about, well, exactly what he said. Austin Llewellyn worked some great keyboard magic of his own before a lovely acoustic guitar intro (Roma) into closing tune “Funk.” About that plus one: drummer Dylan Chee-A-Tow is a brilliant drummer, but he always sounds even better when Dave Gerulat (shoeless soul) joins the band.

Dave Gerulat and Dylan Chee-A-Tow

And kudos to the sound engineer. Yes, I work ear plugs, but it was very manageable, and you could hear each instrument clearly. Even Gerulat’s triangle!

And then it was time for the Asheville Five to bring the world to Tampa. Throughout the evening, Justin Perkins moved from kora to kamele ngoni and briefly to electric guitar, giving the music amazing dimensions. These gentlemen have studied in Mali, and their dedication shows. Guitarist Drew Heller loves his whammy bar, which gives some of the songs a great surf jangle.

Justin Perkins, Luke Quaranta and Justin Kimmel

They offered several new tunes from an album that percussionist Luke Quaranta told us should be ready in February. Perkins was on kora for the first, switching back to kamele ngoni for the second. Drummer Terrence Houston was a polyrhythmic tornado, propelling the band throughout the performance. With everything else going on, it would have been easy to overlook bass player Justin Kimmel, except that on song after song he provided the amazing bottom.

Justin Kimmel

Heller knocked out a great tune on slide guitar, followed by a percussion-heavy intro into a rockin’ tune centered around Heller and Kimmel. Things began to skyrocket next, especially with a great feature for Quaranta. Next, Quaranta explained that, to that point, they’d been featuring music from Mali, from Guinea, from Ivory Coast. “Now we’re going to feature Appalachian music.” With that, Perkins stood up with kora and sang “Cluck Old Hen,” Quaranta on tambourine. It began Appalachian style but ended totally rocked out.

Luke Quaranta

It was probably during that tune that Houston removed his shirt (which said MUSIC = LIFE) and draped it over his head as he continued to play, much to everyone’s delight.

Terrence Houston

When the crowd insisted (oh, hell, yes!) for an encore, Perkins sat down next to Quaranta and played djembe; the song highlighted Heller’s guitar and the percussion trio.

As old friends often say to each other, “Let’s not wait another three years to do this again.” PLEASE!

Justin Perkins playing kamele ngoni

All photographs by kind permission of Jess Phillips.