Arhoolie Foundation Benefit Concert
Featuring Taj Mahal
and Fantastic Negrito
Join us on October 13 at The UC Theatre in Berkeley for a special night with blues legend Taj Mahal and rising star Fantastic Negrito as they take us back to their roots with rare solo performances. All proceeds to benefit the Arhoolie Foundation and its programs.
Blues legend Taj Mahal’s career has been defined by colorful twists and turns, unexpected whimsical ventures and a commitment to a muse that has long preferred freewheeling innovation to conformity. The two-time Grammy winning singer, songwriter, film composer, and multi-instrumentalist has been following that muse for nearly 60 years.
"Taj Mahal always seemed like the modern-day Leadbelly to me. From the beginning he refused to be put into a box. From the beginning he chose music from the diaspora. He is fearless, and his body of work encapsulates the courage and spirit of a true artist. He is a role model to me."
- Fantastic Negrito
In 1964, Mahal formed the Rising Sons, a six-piece outfit that included guitarist Ry Cooder. The band opened for numerous high-profile touring artists of the ’60s including Otis Redding, the Temptations, and Martha and the Vandellas. Around the same time, Mahal also mingled with blues legends including Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Lightnin Hopkins, and Sleepy John Estes. Since then, he has helped reshape the definition and scope of the blues via the infusion of exotic sounds from the Caribbean, Africa and South Pacific. In 2014, Mahal was feted with the Lifetime Achievement for Performance Award at the 13th Annual Americana Honors and Awards.
Chris Strachwitz states, “Taj is a wonderful interpreter of not only the country blues, but also various other musical styles...he’s really an ambassador of all kinds of African-American music, both early and recent, and a superb carrier of these traditions. He is simply one of the most amazingly versatile musicians I know.”
Fantastic Negrito was raised in an orthodox Muslim household. His father was a Somali-Caribbean immigrant who mostly played traditional African music. At the age of 12, his family moved from Massachusetts to Oakland, living in the heart of one of the wildest, most infamous, most vibrant black communities in the nation.
"I think Fantastic Negrito is a bit different from other young blues musicians in the sense that he's got a little bit more quirk to him. He’s closer to Gil Scott Heron. Gil Scott was the first guy that I could actually hear the sound of new city blues. The city really got into the sound of the music and the lyrics and the poetry. Negrito seems to be more like that. He may be coming from the tradition, but he’s got his own spin on it. And that’s what makes it really interesting. That’s the whole thing!"
- Taj Mahal
He has experienced the highs of a million dollar record deal, the lows of a near fatal car accident that left him in a coma, and is now in the midst of a creative rebirth. This rebirth began when his son was born and he turned to the original DNA of all American music, the Blues. The beating he took in life had primed him to channel his literal and musical forefathers: the Blues musicians of the Delta.
Fantastic Negrito won the inaugural NPR Tiny Desk contest, and has toured with artists like Chris Cornell, Temple of the Dog, and Sturgill Simpson. His debut full-length album The Last Days of Oakland won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album in 2017. NPR called it “among the rawest pieces of music — sonically and emotionally — you'll hear all year.” Paste Magazine has called his follow-up album Please Don’t Be Dead “a passionate and pointed collection of songs with a sly sense of humor and a certain lived-in wisdom.”