Trail Mix – Toubab Krewe

Many years ago, I went through a period where I dug into African music. Or, at least, I thought I was digging.

I got my hands on a few records from artists like Habib Koite, Hugh Masakela, and Ali Farka Toure, among others, and I listened intently for a few months. But my interest waned and hindsight has proven that my I was just scratching the genre’s surface.

Leave it to a quintet based in Asheville, North Carolina, to pique my interest again.

Toubab Krewe has been mashing up the sounds of West African with their own American roots to create a groovy world blend for over ten years. And the band is all in, not just paying sonic lip service to some contrived intercontinental inspiration. Toubab Krewe has spent time playing and living in Africa, and the band is an ardent supporter of an initiative to build a music school in Mali.

This month, Toubab Krewe released Stylo, their newest record.

I recently caught up with Drew Heller of Toubab Krewe to chat about the new record, great music from West Africa, and the band’s efforts to establish the school in Mali.

BRO -Where does one go to learn the soku or kamel ngoni? That can’t be as easy as seeking out a guitar teacher.

DH – It’s much easier to find a soku or kamel ngoni teacher in Mali, West Africa, than in Western North Carolina.

BRO – For those unfamiliar with African music, who would you suggest they check out?

DH – Three great albums from West Africa are New Ancient Strings by Toumani Diabate and Ballake Sissoko, Djeneba Traore’s Super Yayaroba, and Bama, from Orchestra Baobab.

BRO – You are known for donating ticket proceeds to Instruments 4 Africa, a non-profit dedicated to building a music school in Africa. How is that progressing?

DH – The land has been purchased and a three-room building has been constructed. The progress continues and there is still a ways to go for completion. Check out for more information and a link to donate to the project.

BRO – Is there a particular challenge in expressing a musical idea without words?

DH – There is a great freedom of interpretation for both the musician and the listener when there are no words.

BRO – We are featuring “That Damn Squash” on this months Trail Mix. What is the gourd getting so much shade?

DH – This particular gourd caused a lover’s quarrel. But even that gourd was cooked for dinner and enjoyed later that night, from what I understand.

Toubab Krewe will be hitting the road to support the release of Stylo on April 11thShows in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Louisiana are all on the schedule. For more information on the band, tour dates, or how to grab the new record, please check out the band’s website.

And to hear “That Damn Squash,” along with new tunes from John Craigie, Haley Heynderickx, and Madam West, be sure to check out this month’s Trail Mix.


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