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Wednesday April 23, 2014
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Taj Mahal



distillate of the influences that inform American music in general. One thing's for sure: Taj Mahal isn't coasting along on the considerable laurels he's earned since the 1960s as an explorer of African American traditional music. This music is wholly unlike the concert of hard Chicago blues that Taj played the last time he was in town, at the 2003 Ann Arbor Folk Festival.

Taj's Hula Blues builds on two basic elements, Hawaiian music and Caribbean music. The eight-piece Hula Blues band is flexible enough to incorporate sounds from distinct subgenres of these: steel guitar music and slack key guitar on the Hawaiian side, reggae and especially Trinidadian calypso on the Caribbean. The rhythmic glue throughout is provided by drums and a trio of ukuleles, not something you hear often these days in a serious context, and the sound is rounded out by instruments that economically link the music to Africa and to African America — a kalimba (the instrument sometimes known as a "thumb piano") and a complement of jazz winds. The ensemble has a relaxed, subtle quality, and while some numbers are clearly Hawaiian or Caribbean in flavor, there isn't a marked shift between the two.

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