Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ have teamed up for an album and tour under the name TajMo. We caught their gig at the lovely old theatre, the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, which was packed with appreciative fans.
- What a fabulous idea to bring two blues masters together in this way. Two performers with great stage presence, two very different but complementary singing styles and two people clearly with a love of life and music. Add to that mix an outstanding band with drums, bass, saxophone, brass, keyboards and two wonderful singers – and you have a recipe for a hugely entertaining night. Oh, and stir in Keb’ Mo’s guitar virtuosity (and his dazzling range of guitars – that PRS Semi!)
- At 75, Taj Mahal’s still got his groove. He jiggled and shook his way onto the stage, shaking a pair of maracas, beaming broadly, as the band played him in, clearly delighted at the raucous reception from the London crowd. And, oh my, that voice – still strong, with a throaty rasp. The man can sing the blues – and play the guitar, harmonica, banjo and ukulele.
- Keb’ Mo’ is a hugely talented songwriter, singer, guitarist and performer, but even he seemed to be delighted to be on the same stage as Taj Mahal. Mahal, of course, is a legendary artist who has been performing since the late 60s. As we waited to get into the venue I chatted to Randolph from New York City, who’d first seen and heard Taj Mahal at Woodstock in 1969. Mahal has released more than two dozen studio albums, as well as live albums, and contributions to other people’s records. He’s been nominated for nine Grammy awards, and won two Grammy’s for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Nobody was in any doubt that we were in the presence of a blues legend.
- At ten years his junior, Keb’ Mo’ must have been delighted when, after another tasteful guitar solo, the older master called for a reprise with, “One more time, son.”
- The collaboration of these two artists dispels the notion that the blues are downbeat or depressing. Friday evening was two solid hours of unmitigated joy. As Taj Mahal says, “Some people think that the blues is about being down all the time, but that’s not what it is. It’s therapeutic, so you can get up off that down.” The blues faces life head on, calls it like it is, but it’s a way to work through trouble and hard times. This performance was fun, even uplifting, and more than a thousand people went away after the performance with huge smiles on their faces and optimism in their souls.
- Backing singers needn’t take a back seat. Taj Mahal’s two daughters, Zoe Moon and Deva Mahal smiled, grooved, danced, and of course – sang – their way into the audience’s affections throughout the course of the evening. Their joy in the music was infectious.
- Keb’ Mo’ had obviously read our review of his concert last year in Union Chapel, where I bemoaned the fact that he hadn’t played a personal favourite of mine, Life is Beautiful. He, Taj and the band duly rectified that with a sweet version of the song. The setlist overall covered most of the songs on the TajMo album – which I’d highly recommend, by the way – a few Keb’ Mo’ songs and a couple more songs done by Taj Mahal in the past. At the beginning of the concert we had the up tempo Don’t Leave Me Here, a longing for the blues heartland of Mississippi, which drew the audience from the get-go. The band disappeared for a few songs along the way to allow Mahal on acoustic guitar and Mo’ on a Resonator to give us some nice country blues, including the Sleepy John Estes number Diving Duck Blues, which was particularly enjoyable. As the concert drew to a close, the Empire crowd sang and clapped along to Soul, with its African rhythms and world music feel. And let’s not forget All Around the World, with its indomitable optimism:
“What’s all the fuss about, why can’t people just get along?
Maybe we ought to talk about all the good we got goin’ on
Everybody knows there’s a better way
And we’re all hopin’ and prayin’ that one day
There’ll be love all Around the world
There will be peace and understanding All around the world
There will be joy All around the world
There will be happy children singing All around the world.”
There’s a lot of heartache, pain and suffering going on around the world. But New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff pointed out recently that, “Despite the gloom, the world truly is becoming a better place.” Indeed, 2017 is likely to be the best year in the history of humanity.” He pointed to the large gains we’ve seen in combating disease and poverty, even in the developing world. Scourges like leprosy, malaria, worm infestation are receding and that’s before we starting thinking about the decline in extreme poverty. Yes, there are still huge challenges and many millions living in desperate conditions – so we must never be complacent or stop the fight for justice. But, there is hope – especially when we strive for peace and understanding. Thanks for the reminder, Keb’.