Photos by Josh Elioseff
Review by Chibo Acevedo
This past Saturday evening at the Boulder Theater, the Taj Mahal Trio headlined an evening of music, rich in cultural diversity. A full house was treated to some real home cookin’ by the blues legend, along with two openers – his daughter Deva Mahal’s duo project Fredericks Brown, and South African Vusi Mahlasela. The poster read World Blues, and listeners were given exactly that.
Fredericks Brown is the culmination of two Kiwi ladies who moved to New York separately, only to cross paths in the East Village and discovered they shared a kinship for songwriting. Given their heritages; Deva Mahal, being daughter of Taj, and Stephanie “Tipsy” Brown, with a strong Pacific Island influence, it’s no surprise that the music they make together is a sublime pop creation, infused with soul, rootsy blues and a slight island shimmer.
Vusi Mahlasela can be recognized from the 2002 documentary Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony, which chronicled the solidarity of music culture during the struggle against Apartheid. In the past year, he was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by SAMA (South American Music Awards), has been given an honorary doctorate degree from Rhodes University in Grahamstown, SA, and is known in his home country simply as “The Voice.” His music is powerful and his voice is lush, robust and full of life. Mahlasela played solo/acoustic and was also quite an accomplished picker. It is not often that a solo artist, especially an opener, is able to capture the hearts and ears of their audience. Mahlasela had this Boulder crowd eating out of his hands. He belted out tune after tune with such fiery soul and passion, one could not help but be engaged. As part of his last song, he created a “sing along” with the crowd, who eagerly chanted along. A very striking and impressive performance indeed.
Taj Mahal, who must’ve known his opening acts had sufficiently heated up the crowd, took to the stage and started in on a simple blues riff just 10 minutes after Mahlasela left the crowd singing. There’s no question that Mahal is a master of roping in the audience to await every subtle nuance he unfolds throughout his performances, both vocally and instrumentally. During his opening tune he spoke casually but with vitality to the crowd, and directed them to sing over certain parts of the blues change. Within two minutes he had the crowd singing along with an instrumental on the first number.
About the time when the entire room was all warm, Mahal took it up a notch and blazed into an amazing and gritty guitar solo. I have never seen a trio, all of whom were seated, bring people’s energy up that quickly. It was easy to see that all in attendance were ready and willing for anything he was going to throw at them.
He played a predominantly traditional blues set with sprinklings of hits like “Queen Bee” and “Fishin’ Blues,” and picked up the ukulele and a resonator guitar along the way. He even played keys on a number. Mahlasela joined him mid set for a groovy West African-vibed song which Mahlasela sang. Deva Mahal came back on stage toward the end of the night and killed it on a duet version of “Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes.” Dad seemed very proud.
The evening ended with an ensemble cast encore of the Mahal tune “Everybody Is Somebody. Nobody Is Nobody,” and for the last time after a night of call and response fun, he had the bulk of the crowd singing along. ‘Twas a fabulous evening of sound and musical culture, with a grand time had by audience and musicians alike.