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Thursday May 25, 2017
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Taj Mahal



The result is more than just a pleasant pantropical musical fantasy. Hawaiian and Caribbean musics are distinct from African American music but are also tied to it; Hawaiian music, the top-selling genre in the United States around the time of World War I, influenced the blues deeply. By linking Hawaii and the Caribbean and grafting the amalgam onto African American traditional music, Taj is building a structure that magnifies black American music's miraculous capacity for absorbing the traditions amid which it lives. In his late middle age, he is searching for an African American music with global resonances. One stage of what has been a long process was Kulanjan, his groundbreaking collaboration with Malian musician Toumani Diabate, which seemed to illuminate the missing links between West African music and the blues. The Hula Blues are the next stage.

Consider the seamless weave of diverse material on the group's current Hanapepe Dream album. Taj resurrects "Love, love, love alone," an old calypso refrain about English King Edward VIII's notorious abdication. He sings ballads from British ("Blackjack Davey") and African American ("Stagger Lee") traditions. He unearths a great slack key piece with a rather calypso-like lyric called "Living on Easy" ("She has a personality / To suit my genealogy"), gives Mississippi John Hurt's "My Creole Belle" an alluring exotic flavor, and turns Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" into a globally ominous thing. His own compositions are strokes that complete the masterly composition of the whole.

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