A case of the blues: Taj Mahal hits Columbia stage

With a career spanning several decades, Taj Mahal brings his uniquely inspired blues music to the annual Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival.


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With a career spanning over 50 years, Taj Mahal is bringing his blues talent to Columbia for the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival. The festival, which highlights local and national musical talent, features Taj Mahal as a headlining performance.

Mahal was born Henry Saint Claire Fredericks, Jr. in Harlem, NY. Music ran in his bloodline, with his father a pianist praised by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and his mother a gospel singer from the South.

His parents, of Indian and African ancestry, instilled a sense of cultural pride in Mahal from a young age. Growing up in Springfield, MA exposed Mahal to a cultural melting pot of sorts, to the point where he spoke and heard “several dialects in [his] house: Southern, Caribbean, African…from eastern and western Europe”.

This in turn, found its way into Mahal’s music. With such hits as “Queen Bee” and “Lovin’ in My Baby’s Eyes”, a West Indian influence can be found in the percussion with the traditional Southern blues sound in the harmonica and lyrics.

Prior to finding his way into the musical industry, Mahal briefly considered a career in farming. In college, he studied agriculture but then formed a popular party band, leading him toward his passion for music. After graduation, he moved out to Los Angeles and formed another six-piece band known as the Rising Sons, opening for the likes of The Temptations and Otis Redding.

Fast forward to present day where Mahal just received what he considers “one of the most powerful and wonderful things that could ever happen in my life”: the Lifetime Achievement for Performance Award at the 13th Annual Americana Honors and Awards. Mahal finds that the personal, historic connection he has to his music is the most inspiring part of how far he’s come as a musician.

“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 said 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.”

One of Mahal’s most famous collaborations is with four-time Grammy Award winner and fellow blues musician Keb’ Mo’, which brought about the track “Diving Duck Blues.”

Keb’ Mo’, a fellow Roots N Blues N BBQ headliner, brought a smooth, new voice to complement Mahal’s raspy, traditional sound. The duo’s album TajMo won them the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album and catapulted them on a tour. In their acceptance speech, Mahal poked fun on the current state of black music and how the blues genre fits into it.

“This is exciting for us to present this kind of music at this time,” Mahal addressed the crowd. “Yeah, we know what’s going on with Migos and we know what’s happening with 2 Chainz. Don’t think that we’re all trying to bring you back. We’re just trying to keep the culture moving forward, keep some foundation.”

Mahal hits the Roots N Blues N BBQ stage for the third time on Sept. 29 at 6:15 p.m. Tickets can be found at (www.rootsnbluesnbbq.com/festival-tickets/)[https://rootsnbluesnbbq.com/festival-tickets/].

Edited by Alexandra Sharp | asharp@themaneater.com

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