TAJ MAHAL / “World Blues Mixtape”
Hawaii, Zanzibar, Mali, Jamaica, India—they all are a long ways away from Springfield, Massachusetts where Harlem-born (May 17, 1942) Henry Saint Clair Fredericks was reared. The distance is immense for a college-educated farmer who is essentially a self-taught musician although he did have some formal lessons as a child growing up in a musical family. Taj Mahal loved the land. By nineteen he was a farm foreman and later majored in animal husbandry and minored in veterinary science and agronomy at the University of Massachusetts. After graduation he had to make a decision. He did what earlier generations of blues musicians had done: he picked up his guitar and hit the road. Taj has been traveling ever since. This week we’re focusing specifically on Taj’s worldwide hajj to spread the blues gospel and, at the same time, to pollen the blues tradition with global influences. Nobody else has done what Taj has achieved. Carrying a guitar, a banjo, a harmonica, and a kalimba, Taj has made music throughout the African diaspora and beyond. Taj’s first giant step was fusing Caribbean rhythms (mainly reggae, but also calypso and others forms) with country blues. So the first part of the Mixtape focuses on Taj’s International Rhythm Band. I’ve dug into my stash of live recordings and bootlegs to bring you this band doing what they do in front of enthusiastic audiences. Needless to add, some of this music is not commercially available but you really need to hear it in order to fully appreciate the first radical departure Taj took from the traditional blues routes. 01 “Music Keeps Me Together” - Music Keeps Me Together I was blessed to witness this band a number of times and it was always, always a joy. Or like Taj titled one of his many albums (over 40 and counting), Music Keeps Me Together. The graphics on the front of this album remains one of my all time favorite album covers. These three tracks are from The Rising Sun Collection, recorded in 1980 in Montreal, Canada 02 “Baby, You Are My Destiny” 03 “Sugar Mama Blues” 04 “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” These three tracks are from a bootleg of a concert at St. Paul Theater (St. Paul, MN) 3/17/1975. 05 “Why Did You Have To Desert Me” 06 “St. Kitts Woman/My Ancestors” 07 “Johnny Too Bad” After the Caribbean, our next stop is Hawaii and what Taj calls The Hula Blues Band and features the distinctive Hawaiian slack key style of guitar playing. 08 “Hanapepe Dream” - Hanapepe Dream 09 “Coconut Man” - Sacred Island 10 “Sacred Island (Moku La'a)” - Sacred Island Now on to Zanzibar and the music is seriously twisted to incorporate both African and Arabic musical influences. Although they have been numerous collaborations with West African musicians, this delving into the music of the East African Island nation of Zanzibar is totally unexpected and at the same immensely rewarding. I’ve been to Zanzibar. It’s truly a different world. Even though I found the culture fascinating and totally enjoyed my short visit, although I should have known better, somehow I never expected Taj Mahal to journey to Zanzibar to collaborate with a vastly different sounding but not unrelated musical tradition. But, just give one quick listen and you can tell this is a blues album. What is most thrilling to me is how well the merger works. If you like the sample, I urge you to get the whole album: Mkutano (aka Taj Mahal Meets The Culture Musical Club Of Zanzibar). 11 “Dhow Countries” 12 “Catﬁsh Blues” 13 “M'Banjo” Next stop India: Taj and two Indian musicians doing a meditative reading of originals and blues classics. The two selections from the album Muntaz Mahal. 14 “Mary Don’t You Weep” 15 “Stand By Me” Last stop before heading back is Mali, West Africa. Here Taj hooks up with the kora playing phenomenon Touani Diabate. From the album Kulanjan we include three selections. 16 “Catﬁsh Blues” - Toumani Diabaté & Taj Mahal 17 “Take This Hammer” - Toumani Diabaté & Taj Mahal 18 “Mississipi-Mali Blues” - Toumani Diabaté & Taj Mahal We conclude like we began with a cut from Music Keeps Me Together. 19 “Why?...And We Repeat Why?...And We Repeat!” Ok, that’s it for this tour. We’ve got another installment of Taj coming some time in the future but this trip should hold you for a minute. —Kalamu ya Salaam
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