World of Taj
Traveling around the globe through the music of Taj Mahal.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Taj Mahal has released 24 studio albums over his 40-year career. As each one takes the listener on a unique musical adventure, from country blues and calypso to Afro-Caribbean and Indian, the bluesman reiterates why he’s maybe the greatest genre-bender ever.
“I wanted to keep pushing the ideas I had about jazz, music from Africa and the Caribbean,” he says. “I wanted to explore the connections between different kinds of music.”
A look at six of Taj Mahal’s strongest LPs demonstrate the plethora of world sounds and cultures that have long been his sources of inspiration, and offer a taste of what’s on tap this Thursday at Sunset Center in Carmel:
Hanapepe Dream: Mahal brought together a mega-band to record this album: a trio of ukuleles (little, baritone, and tenor), Hawaiian steel guitars, slack-key guitars, horns, steel drums, bass and drums. The outcome is a multi-layered soufflé of blues, Pacific Island music, jazz and reggae. In addition to Mahal originals, he puts a tropical tang on a few covers, including Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” which delivers extra soul thanks to saxophonist Rudy Costa.
Señor Blues: Mahal packs Memphis and New Orleans horns, Caribbean character and compound polyrhythms into his second Grammy Award-winning album. He even drops an unexpected nugget of funk on the collection with the cover of James Browns’ “Think” (originally penned by Lowman Pauling), which sounds like it was written for him.
Mkutano Meets the Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar: The Taj Mahal Trio – featuring bassist Bill Rich and drummer Kester Smith – collaborated with 15 musicians in Zanzibar to concoct this East African eye opener. On songs like Muddy Waters’ classic “Catfish Blues,” Mahal incorporates a symphony of bongos and a more laid-back time signature.
Smilin’ Island of Song: Mahal has released three children’s albums, but this collaboration with Bob Marley’s mother, Cedella Marley-Booker, is the best. The musical excursion through Jamaica is guided by Marley-Booker’s stories and Mahal’s takes on old-school reggae tunes like “Sweet Guava Jelly” and the Marley favorite “Three Little Birds.”
World Music: Pan-African rhythms and steel drums fuel this fusion of Africa, the Caribbean and West Indies. Featuring the Slickers’ “Johnny Too Bad” and Mahal’s “When I Feel the Sea Beneath My Soul,” the album can (and should) be listened to straight through.
Kulanjan: With the help of renowned Malian kora-player Toumani Diabaté, Mahal merges West African music and the blues to create original grooves and reinterpretations of tunes like “Queen Bee.” President Barack Obama is a big fan of the album. No word on whether he’ll show for the Carmel performance.
THE TAJ MAHAL TRIO performs 8pm Thursday, April 12, at Sunset Center, San Carlos Street at Ninth, Carmel. $49; $59; $69. 620-2048.