Executive producer Doug Cox is bringing back one of the greatest blues guitarists to ever grace a Vancouver Island MusicFest stage: the legendary Taj Mahal.
“Absolutely, he is,” said Cox. “When you think about acoustic blues players from his generation of Afro-Americans, he was really the only that, in my eyes, made it to that status of superstar status, and because of that he has been a hugely important artist and has had a huge influence on not just only Afro-Americans, but whites too, that played acoustic blues from like my generation, which is kind of the generation after his. And, he’s so good!
“So yeah, it is huge, it’s very exciting, and we are just really thrilled that we are going to have him at the festival again. He’s the perfect MusicFest act. He kind of represents everything we are about at the festival.”
The three-time Grammy Award winner was last at MusicFest in 2008.
“Taj Mahal is the most important, influential Afro-American acoustic bluesman of his generation,” said Cox. “He is the unifying link between the now-gone blues elders and the current generation of young Afro-American blues artists. He was also world music before world music was cool.”
Taj Mahal has won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album on three different occasions (1997, 2000 and 2018) and received the Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement award in 2014.
He has 30 studio albums and 14 live albums to his credit, as well as more than a dozen compilation albums.
He will play on Saturday night, July 9, and will have his band with him.
“For people his age who are Afro-American, it wasn’t really considered cool to play acoustic blues - that was at a time when the music was considered to be representative of the … poverty of (the community).”
“Taj was really the only guy of his age that kind of carried the torch for acoustic blues throughout that time period.”
His website, tajblues.com, describes his music as “mixing a spicy concoction of Afrocentric roots music, a blues gumbo kissed by reggae, Latin, R&B, Cajun, Caribbean rhythms, gospel, West African folk, jazz, calypso, and Hawaiian slack key.”
Although Taj Mahal (born Henry St. Claire Fredericks, Jr.) was raised in a musical family - his father was a jazz pianist and his mother was a Gospel singer - a career in music was never a fait accompli growing up. His first job was at a dairy farm when he was 16 years old, and he eventually went to the University of Massachusetts to study agriculture, with minors in veterinary medicine and agronomy. His musical career first took off shortly after graduating from UMass, when he formed a band called the Rising Sons with another guitar legend (and MusicFest alumnus) Ry Cooder. The rest, as they say, is history.
“What inspires me most about my career is that I’ve been able to make a living playing the music that I always loved and wanted to play since the early 50s,” Mahal says on his website. “And the fact that I still am involved in enjoying an exciting career at this point in time is truly priceless. I’m doing this the old-fashioned way and it ain’t easy. I work it and I earn it. My relationship with my audience has been fun, with great respect going both ways! I am extremely lucky to have fans who have listened to the music I choose to play and have stayed with me for 50 years. These fans have also introduced their children, grandchildren and in some cases great-grandchildren to this fabulous treasure of music that I am privileged to represent. It’s very exciting, to say the least.
“The blues is bigger than most people think. 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.”
To see all the performers announced so far, and to buy tickets, visit Islandmusicfest.com