PICTURED: Taj Mahal hosts a live-streamed concert series brought to Ventura County audiences by the Bank of America Performing Arts Center.
by Tim Pompey
The term “legend” is often bandied about, especially in the music world, but there is no doubt that it applies to 78-year-old Taj Mahal, who continues to explore blues and its variations well into his golden years.
“I just want to be able to make the music that I’m hearing come to me — and that’s what I did,” said Mahal. “When I say, ‘I did,’ I’m not coming from the ego. The music comes from somewhere. You’re just the conduit it comes through. You’re there to receive the gift.”
With that thought in mind, Mahal is livestreaming a series of weekend concerts from his hometown in Berkeley, and as usual, it will feature a variety of musicians from multicultural backgrounds.
The series began on March 13 (and featured Mahal with the Phantom Blues Band). It continues through the weekends of March 20 and March 27, streamed live from the UC Theatre in Berkeley.
Mahal has spent a lifetime using the blues to expand and redefine for new generations the sound and scope of the blues. “The blues is bigger than most people think,” he explained. “You could hear Mozart play the blues. It might be more like a lament. It might be more melancholy. But I’m going to tell you: the blues is in there.”
Mahal was born in Harlem in 1942 to a musical family. His father was a jazz pianist with Caribbean roots. His mother was a gospel-singing school teacher from South Carolina.
He made a name for himself by learning more than 20 instruments and counting. His early success included performing with Ry Cooder, Otis Redding, the Temptations, and Martha and the Vandellas, as well as working with blues legends such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Over the decades, he has immersed himself in African roots, Latin, reggae, Caribbean, calypso, Cajun, and even Hawaiian music.
From the 1960s forward, he has consistently produced a host of albums and soundtracks. As a result he has won three GRAMMYs, including the recent 2017 collaboration with Keb’ Mo’ titled TajMo.
So, what drives Mahal to keep working?
“It’s just more knowledge to self — to realize that almost everything is right here,” he said. “We’re so used to looking outside of ourselves for things, and it’s right here.”
What can we anticipate for the upcoming shows?
On March 20, Mahal will introduce the Roots Rising Showcase. This includes a collection of Mahal’s hand-picked favorite emerging artists performing songs recorded live and exclusively for this concert series. In addition to performances by Mahal, artists include Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley, Amythyst Kiah, Annie Mack, Leyla McCalla, the Piedmont Bluz Acoustic Duo, Ranky Tanky, Allison Russell and Jontavious Willis.
On March 27, Mahal will play an all-star multigenerational finale duo collaboration with Fantastic Negrito.
A GRAMMY-award winner and NPR’s inaugural Tiny Desk contest winner, Fantastic Negrito has performed at some of the biggest festivals and stages in the world. He and Mahal are mutual fans, San Francisco East Bay neighbors and, more recently, good friends. They have shared bills before but hatched the idea for a duo livestream together on the phone during the pandemic. Utilizing a shared band, expect both separate and collaborative performances on stage.
All shows will begin at 6 p.m. Ticket purchase will grant you a 48-hour access to the stream in case you can’t join the performance live. Individual show tickets are $18. A group ticket (intended for group viewing within one household) is $25. Tickets can be purchased through the Bank of America Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks; a portion of every ticket sold will benefit BAPAC.
For more information on the Taj Mahal Livestream Series, including dates, full lineup and tickets, visit bapacthousandoaks.com.