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Taj Mahal & The Hula Blues
I t’s been five years since Taj Mahal’s last studio recording and in the case of H a napepe Dream (by Taj Mahal & the Hula Blues, Tone Cool, 2003) it was well worth the wait. Mahal has been a blues and “roots” music mainstay since the mid-1960s when he was performing with Ry Cooder in the legendary band Rising Sons. With a career spanning nearly four decades, Mahal continues to explore new musical forms and is a stalwart guardian of older ones. While Taj Mahal hasn’t had an album on the charts for years, his strength lies in his ability to continue to amaze audiences with his fluid playing and uncanny ability to blend styles like few other musicians can.
After leaving the Rising Sons in 1966, Mahal went solo. He explored the blues and brought to it a style that has now been taken up by younger players such as Keb Mo. In typical Mahal style he would abandon one form to explore another before things got stale. Taj Mahal is most likely the first major artist to pursue what is now called world music. In the early 1970s Mahal began to broaden his musical horizons, exploring styles such as reggae and calypso long before musicians like Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood made it hip to do so. Having taught himself to play the guitar, banjo, piano, organ, harmonica, bass, and mandolin, Mahal can certainly be classified as a musician’s musician.
Having left such cities such as Los Angeles and New York for the balmier climate and slower pace in Hawaii, Mahal has assembled a world-class line-up of musicians to back him on Hanapepe Dream . Hanapepe is a small idyllic town on the island of Kauai where couples having difficulty conceiving were once sent to “improve” their efforts.
Hanape pe Dream opens with “Great Big Boat,” a self-penned happy-go-lucky tune that sets the pace for the entire album. He follows with “Blackjack Davy,” a song Mahal first recorded in 1974 on the album Mo’ Roots . This latest rendition offers a more up-beat rhythm and fuller sound than the original. “Stagger Lee,” long a Mahal staple, is more proof that age has improved on the original. Hula Blues ukulele player, Pat Crocket takes over the lead vocals on “Moonlight Lady,” a lilting Hawaiian song penned by Crockett and covered back in 1974 by the Gabby Pahinui Hawaiian Band on which former Rising Sons member, Ry Cooder, played. “King Edward’s Throne” shifts styles with a sound reminiscent of the eclectic jazz band, Squirrel Nut Zippers. Mahal’s take on “All Along the Watchtower” mixes a bluesy style with band member Rudy Costa’s sax that is a joy to be heard. The album comes full circle with the instrumental and title track “Hanapepe Dream” that conjures up images of watching a sunset on the pristine beaches of Kauai.
Also included are two CD-ROM live performances that are as good as any cut from the audio portion of the disc. Mahal continues to perform an eclectic brand of music, ranging from reggae to blues and rock, his way. Hanapepe Dream is a welcome relief in an era of manufactured beats and sampled sounds. Mahal delivers and that’s as good as it gets.
John Zavesky is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union , as well as other periodicals.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.