Not new to the music industry by any stretch of the imagination but new to me and I guess to 99% of people reading this. And in any case, Negrito has recently gone through his ‘third re-birth’ so he counts as ‘new.’
Raised in an orthodox Muslim household, the self taught street musician and multi-instrumentalist blends everything from his father’s Somali-Caribbean background of traditional African music to Arab chants to Funkadelic.
His back story is even more memorable than his name. By all accounts he’s had a hard life. Here’s his (abridged) story.
When, at the age of 12, Negrito’s family moved from Massachusetts to Oakland, California in the 1980s he was hit with an intense culture shock. It was a million miles from Negrito’s conservative childhood. He went from Arab chants to Funkadelic in one day, living in the heart of one of the wildest, most infamous, most vibrant black communities in the USA.
By the time he was 20, Negrito had taught himself to play every instrument he could get his hands on. He was recording music, but he was also caught up in street shit for several years until a near death encounter with masked gunmen. After that Negrito packed his bags and headed south to Los Angeles, armed with a demo on cassette.
It didn’t take long for Negrito to find himself entrenched in the ‘Hollywood’ lifestyle; “clubs and bitches and bullshit politics that have nothing to do with great music.” Negrito signed with a big time manager and soon after that, a million dollar deal at Interscope Records. But the record deal was a disaster. Gangsta rap was ruling the airwaves and Negrito was in the wrong place in the wrong era. Negrito came out of the deal with a failed album and his confidence gutted. He was infected by the constant emphasis on ‘what would sell’; which looks, hooks and gimmicks would attract an audience. He lost all sense of himself. The songs stopped coming to him, so he sold up and quit.
In 2000, Negrito was in a near fatal car accident that put him in a coma. For four weeks it was touch and go. Because his muscles atrophied while bedridden, he had to go through months of physical therapy to regain use of his legs. Rods were placed throughout his body. Worst of all, his playing hand was mutilated. Though he rehabbed intensely for several years, the damage was permanent. In 2008, he returned home to Oakland.
Back in Oakland, Negrito forgot about life as a musician. He settled down, planted vegetables, raised his own chickens, and made money growing weed. His conservative Muslim values melded with the liberal, multi-cultural world of Oakland. The cynicism that comes from struggle made room for the hope that comes from cheating death. He truly knew who he was. He was confident about his place in the world because he understood it as much as any man can. And then his son was born.
With his son’s entrance into the world, all the creative energy Negrito bottled for years came rushing out. His musical choices were sharp and without doubt. He began recording without the hindrances that come with chasing trends. Negrito turned to the original DNA of all American music, the Blues. The beating life had given him primed him to channel his literal and musical forefathers: the Blues musicians of the Delta.
For Fantastic Negrito, “derivative” is the devil so to ensure his sound is his own, every chord comes from a place of immediacy. Immediacy opens the door for instinct. Negrito leaves the original sounds of Lead Belly and Skip Woods intact and builds bridges to modernity by looping and sampling his own live instruments.
When you listen to Negrito, you’re invited to hear the story of life after destruction. Your dream can die. You probably will give up. But from there, you can start everything over.
Like I said the guy’s got a story to tell. There’s something of ‘Sugar Man’ Rodriguez in this, though even more dramatic.
We don’t often get performers of this variety in the UK so his support slot to Chris Cornell (ex Audioslave) at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester on 27 April must be worth checking out. In his own words he’s embarking on the third comeback of his life.
Links to current single:
http://tinyurl.com/gqjlrvy (Radio Edit)
http://tinyurl.com/h4nuo38 (Album Version)
Lost in a Crowd: