Friday, October 15, 2010

Toubab Krewe - TK2

Rating: C-

A few months ago, I had a conversation with an academic who was working on some really interesting interactive workspaces. It was very cool stuff, involving digital cameras, a huge touch screen, and a computer that would store state information. I asked him what he was planning on doing with it: strike out on his own, solicit venture capital, try to find partners to manage the business side; how was he going to move forward?

"Oh," he replied, "I'm not looking to make any money. I just want to be part of the dialogue on workspaces."

This is the thing that drives me crazy about academics: at the end of the day, they don't need to actually produce anything. Say what you want about the cruelty, amorality, corruption, and stupidity of the business world, but at the end of the day, they have to produce something people are willing to exchange money for.

I feel similarly about jam bands. Sometimes in the middle of an "epic" guitar part or drum solo, you just want to scream out, "Is there actually a song here?" There are definitely those bands who can rock out extended breaks without losing the plot, bringing it back to the melody or fitting the solo in to the vocals or elegantly transitioning or doing something, saying something, communicating something of the emotional language that is at the heart of great art. Toubab Krewe is not one of these bands.

Full disclosure: I'm a lyrics guy; TK2 is entirely instrumentals. I'm a little distrustful of white guys (in this case, five dudes from Asheville, NC) playing black music - and in this case, not just black music a la Chuck Berry but West African instruments. So Toubab Krewe was going to have an uphill climb with me. But leaving that aside, the music just isn't that interesting. It meanders, its repetitive, it has cryptic names like "Area Code" and "Konkoba," and there just doesn't seem that much point to it. There are exceptions: the catchy "Carnavalito" (which a friend described as the sort of music that would be present in a Bollywood Western) and the moody "Holy Grail" stand out and create an atmosphere. But too often, the songs fade into one another.

Worst of all, the African instruments don't add that much. Too often the djembe (bongo-like West African percussion) are drowned out by the very conventional rock drumming, and while the kamelengoni (a stringed instruments with a body made from a gourd and a stick) can be heard, it is plugged in and amplified and hard to distinguish from the electric guitars. The music doesn't sound West African. Nor is it a blending of American and African folk music. It just sounds like My Morning Jacket with occasional bongos. I don't know what Toubab Krewe is trying to communicate with its music, but what I'm getting is "plugged-in African instruments fit seamlessly into mediocre American jam band music."

Buy it from Amazon:
Toubab Krewe Official Site

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