Bandleader MALCOLM WELBOURNE's personification "PAPA MALI" is a salute to his home territory of north Louisiana. Malcolm was born in Mississippi and raised in Shreveport, where absorbing the blues along Bayou Pierre was just as much a matter of course as chasing the mosquito fogging truck with friends -- and equally intoxicating. He spent his summers with grandparents in New Orleans digging that city's rhythm (and blues) and after hearing the Wild Tchoupitoulas and the Meters on the streets of New Orleans at age eleven, he developed an early and ongoing attachment to Crescent City funk. It was Burning Spear's band that gave Malcolm the nickname "Papa Mali" years ago while touring with Spear and the Killer Bees.
With two critically aclaimed CD's, Thunder Chicken and Do Your Thing (both produced by Dan Prothero and released on San Francisco boutique label, Fog City Records - the same team that introduced the world to Galactic, Mofro and Greyboy Allstars keyboard wiz, Robert Walters) Papa Mali has been gaining a lot of steam. Last year he toured with such musical legends as B.B. King and Widespread Panic. He has also been featured in Guitar Player Magazine, Blues Revue and recently got a 6 page feature article in Hittin' The Note Magazine
Although Papa Mali is essentially a solo artist, slide guitarist, singer/songwriter and acclaimed producer , he is usually seen in the company of some of the funkiest and greasiest musicians on the planet. Recent collaborations include Cyril Neville (Neville Bros) , Big Chief Monk Boudereaux of the Golden Eagles, Anders Osborne, Omar Dykes(of Howlers fame), Jesse Mae Hemphill, Lavelle White, Ruthie Foster, Kevin Russell(Gourds) and too many more to name.
Papa Mali- Guitar, Slide, Vocals
Cass Faulkner or Kevin T. White-Bass, Vocals
Chris Lacinack or Kevin O'Day-Drums
Thunder Chicken (Fog City Records, 2004)
Do Your Thing (Fog City Records, 2006)
Papa Mali: Man of Many Words
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It is an easy conclusion to arrive at: present-day music exists in a very bleak state. One look at ...It is an easy conclusion to arrive at: present-day music exists in a very bleak state. One look at what kind of material comprises the popular music charts confirms this statement, with cookie-cutter wannabes churning out bland, corporate singles, all with the intention of grabbing another dollar or two. A quick tune-in to virtually any station on the FM dial provides additional evidence. Littered with jingles and gimmicks at center stage, FM radio has become home to tired playlists and redundant disc jockeys – put simply, music is dying a slow death in the corporate mainstream, with not so much as an inkling of its former glory days emerging from the darkness.
At least that’s how it seems on the surface, but discerning ears nationwide are a bit more informed as to where the quality is still alive and well. All it takes is a little deep digging past the self-indulgent mainstream, and a world of meaningful creativity and genuine passion can be found. It’s a world that has forsaken financial desire and replaced it with purely artistic drive, a place where music is free to be about expression rather than about pulling in a few bucks for a boardroom full of suits. It is here where artists like Papa Mali reside.
Papa Mali’s corner of the aforementioned utopia is in Austin, TX, a city known primarily for its phenomenal musical landscape. On any given night, countless legends and sadly neglected greats can be heard submitting their own pieces to the universal song, something that singer/guitarist Papa Mali considers himself fortunate to be a part of. “There are so many great musicians that live here, and it promotes a very healthy work environment,” Mali notes with admiration. “There are lots of recording studios and lots of publicists. There’s a scene in Austin, and it’s a vibrant scene.”
But despite his affection for the place, Mali did not always call Austin home. Rather, his roots were once clinging to the fertile soil of Louisiana – Mali was born in Shreveport and nurtured musically in the Zydeco-drenched music center of New Orleans. It was there that the artist found all the missing pieces of his then-burgeoning style and brought them all into his acclaimed 2000 debut, Thunder Chicken. A distinct piece of bayou blues, Thunder Chicken was a massive critical and creative success for Mali, earning him a strong reputation quickly.
Forever the modest man, Mali credits much of Thunder Chicken’s success to producer Dan Proethro, acknowledging Proethro’s guidance and care during the recording of the album. “Dan is very intuitive and can see what my strengths are and what my weaknesses are and not really have any problems sorting through them,” he remarks humbly. “For the most part, he deserves a lot of the credit for the way both my records sound, which is why I really like working with him.”
This regard for Proethro’s abilities sheds a lot of light on the reason why seven years elapsed between Thunder Chicken and its remarkable follow-up, 2007’s Do Your Thing. “In the wake of Thunder Chicken,” Mali explains, “Dan was getting very busy with a couple of his other projects, so it became apparent to me that if I was going to have a new release any time soon, I probably shouldn’t wait on him. I went into the studio and tried to produce myself, but it was obvious to me and everyone else that it wasn’t as good an effort as Thunder Chicken. I didn’t want to release something that I thought sounded less than my first effort, so I went back to Dan and said I wanted him to do my next record, no matter how long it took. It ended up taking longer than either one of us thought it would, but, the end result is as good or better record than Thunder Chicken.”
A bold statement, yet certainly one that holds a lot of truth. Informed by many of Mali’s early dub and psychedelic influences, Do Your Thing expertly builds upon its predecessor’s innovations and turns them into a record that reflects a much clearer image of the true Papa Mali. “When Dan and I made Thunder Chicken together, we had just met,” he recounts. “It was our first time working together, and I was learning from him and he was learning from me. In the years since then, I think he’s come to realize how much I am into that sort of music – dub music, old psychedelic music and stuff like that.”
While the dub and psychedelic vibes do push themselves to the forefront of Do Your Thing, Mali’s traditional blues beginnings continue to be the most consistent element. As a guitarist, Mali was exposed to the blues at and early age, led down the path by underground legend John Campbell. “He was a friend of my older brothers, and from the first time I saw him I was just captivated,” Mali recalls fondly. “First of all, he had the authority of a real blues man. He was the first guy I had seen up close that had that sort of presence and authority. He lived the blues, and just to see him you could tell that he was one of those guys who had the hellhound on his trail. It seemed like his music was the only way he could express his pain, and that touched me at a young age.”
Campbell’s guidance was largely responsible for the development of Mali’s slide guitar skills, which also were influenced by the style’s greatest players. One such player was Duane Allman, the man Mali credits with opening his eyes to the power of the technique. On the strength of a record loaned to him by Campbell, Mali was exposed to the expansive emotional and creative range of slide guitar. “The Allman Brothers were the first ones where I really noticed that the slide guitar was the thing,” the guitarist remembers. “I had heard slide before without realizing it was slide, but when I heard Duane Allman it was immediately like, ‘This guy’s on fire,’ you know? I didn’t really know how he got that sound, so Campbell showed me how to play bottleneck and how to tune to the open tunings like the old blues guys did.”
Papa Mali’s early influences cannot be discussed, however, without a nod to the immortal bayou thunder of the legendary Dr. John. Always the purveyor of all things New Orleans, Mali’s style has clearly been informed by Dr. John’s delivery and approach, albeit an unintentional thing. “Its not so much that I try to emulate him, but that I can’t help but emulate him – it’s weird,” Mali details. “A lot of people have made that comparison, and I’m hesitant to make too much of a deal out of it because, first of all, he’s one of a kind and his track record started way, way back when he was a teenager and he was playing on sessions by amazing people. I would have a long way to go before I could ever catch up to him. Having said that, there’s something about my natural approach to music and singing that owes a lot to Malcolm Rebennack, and I’ll be the first one to tell the guy to his face…”
The singer/guitarist pauses for a minute, recalling an encounter with his hero. “Actually, I did get the chance to tell him that to his face,” he says with a laugh. “I was kind of nervous doing it because he could have said, ‘Piss off’ or whatever, but he was such a nice cat. First of all, he said, ‘I really dig your new shit.’ This is the coolest part to me – he kind of real quietly just leaned in and looked me in the eye and said, ‘You just keep doing what you’re doing,’ and that was all I needed to hear, man. That was beautiful.”
But despite the predilection to jump to such a conclusion, it wasn’t Dr. John’s influence that cemented Mali’s love for New Orleans. Rather, it was the overwhelmingly lush music scene of the city, coupled with the experiences of his formative years, which created the special place reserved for “The Big Easy” in Mali’s heart. That love was thrown into overdrive recently with the onset and disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“On a personal level, Katrina was very frightening,” the artist notes with all due seriousness. “I’ve got family there, so I’m down there quite a bit, and I’ve performed there quite a bit, too. I’ll say this – there are neighborhoods that will never be the same – they got washed away. The Lower 9th Ward, St. Bernard Parish – those were really hit hard. We could talk about that all day and still not get to the core of the matter. But I will say this – we’re going to have to get some assistance on a federal level, which at this point we haven’t seen yet, not only to rebuild the neighborhoods but also to give people that lived there incentive to come back.
“That’s the one thing that’s not addressed as often as the actual physical rebuilding,” Mali continues. “There was a culture that existed because of the people that lived in those neighborhoods. So many of the things that make New Orleans what it is – the food, the music, the parades, the unusual combination of all these things – was in those neighborhoods that got wiped out. Well, FEMA gives these people a check but that only lasts so long, and then what? What do they have to come back to? Nothing. These are people that were homeowners. They may have been living at or below or near poverty level, but they owned that property because those were old houses that were passed down from generation to generation. Now they are stuck in another city somewhere without really any reason to come back, and that’s a shame. That’s the shame of Katrina, how our government treated those people without considering how it would effect future generations of people from New Orleans.”
But Papa Mali isn’t just a man of many words with regard to the rebuilding of New Orleans and its music scene. He’s also a man of many actions. Mali will head back to his homeland to perform in what could be some of the year’s most exciting gigs, all in the name of restoring the musical reputation of New Orleans. “I’m looking forward to Mardi Gras. I have a big show I’m doing down there with John Cleary, Stanton Moore and Uganda Roberts, who used to play congas for Professor Longhair. I’m really excited about playing with him. We’re doing this thing called ‘The Supernatural Ball,’ which I’m putting on at Tipitina’s and looking forward to it. Then I have a couple of gigs with Page McConnell, who I’ve never even met before. He was looking to put together a series of shows to benefit the Tipitina Foundation and called on me and I was happy to do it. It’ll be myself on guitar and vocals, Page on keys, Reed Mathis on bass and Russell Batiste from the Funky Meters on drums. We’re going to be doing mostly Mardi Gras material because it falls right during Mardi Gras week, and it’s a benefit for the Tipitina Foundation and the New Orleans Musicians Clinic. We’re going to be doing a lot of classic New Orleans and Mardi Gras stuff.”
If that wasn’t enough, he is also in the early planning stages for the follow-up to Do Your Thing, something which the artist is excited over. “I’m not going to wait another seven years,” Mali remarks with a self-deprecating laugh. “I have been collecting material for a new record, and I’m waiting for the right recording opportunity and actually talking with a few people about that, including Dan Proethro. I am going to start work on something within the next few months and hopefully have another release out before the year ends.”
With all the lack of excitement in the mainstream music scene, it’s comforting to know that artists like Papa Mali continue to exist in a vibrant underground. Both he and his peers continue to keep music the very thing it was intended to be: a personal, emotional and, most of all, enjoyable pastime designed to take you for a rewarding ride. As long as Papa Mali stays on his determined course, these intentions will become excellent achievements. Music is truly blessed that Papa Mali keeps doing his thing.
Papa Mali on His Signature Songs
“Bon Ton Roulet” – My version of the song is pretty different than any other version I’ve ever heard. I’d say it’s closest to Bo Dollis’ version. I heard his version when I was learning that song and if anybody’s version influenced me at all, it was his. But when I listen to them side by side, they really don’t sound that much alike. I think that even with songs that I cover, I still tend to bring something to the party. Otherwise, it’s not worth covering.
“Walk On Gilded Splinters” – That’s one that’s had so many great versions of it done already. Paul Weller does a great version of the song. Johnny Jenkins’ version with Duane Allman on it is another great one. Of course, Dr. John’s version is the definitive one.
“If I Ever Get Right” – The Dr. John vibe was not intentional. That’s just the way I sing and that’s just the way I hear music. It’s not intentional – I think it’s more like osmosis. I absorb things that I like and I’m not afraid to show it.
“South Austin Lullaby” – I had been in Austin for quite a few years when I wrote that song, and everybody in Austin thinks of me as a Lousiana guy. But I thought, “I’ve been living here. I should write a song about where I live and give respect where it’s due.” It’s a very emotional song for me. Recently, I got to perform that song for Willie Nelson. I was playing in Hawaii opening up for Derek Trucks and I was playing solo, just me and my dobro. So, most of the material I was doing on that tour was similar to the last couple of songs on Thunder Chicken or the last song on Do Your Thing. Right before I was about to go onstage, I see Willie Nelson standing backstage. I had met him once before, but I didn’t know if he remembered me or not. We chatted for a minute and then he and his wife said they were going to grab their seats for the show. So after the show, I came backstage and there was Willie again, and he immediately said, “I really like that song, ‘South Austin Lullaby.’ I could tell that it was real.” Then he quoted the line, “All the money’s spent on pawnshops, dope and rent,” winked at me said, “We’ve all been there.” (Laughs)
“Honeybee” – “Honeybee” is probably my favorite that I’ve recorded. A lot of it has to do with Henry Butler’s piano work on it, but I think also that it just sounds like something that came from another era, and it surprised me when I wrote it because I’m usually not that nostalgic or sentimental, but there’s something about that song that makes me feel sentimental. As much as I tend to gravitate toward the mysterious or the spooky, that song is just the opposite of that. It sounds like it came from some parlor in some Storyville whorehouse. It’s got such a lilting, uplifting thing about it that surprises me that it’s me. That song we recorded completely live, four of us in a room together, on the first take. Every time I hear it, I think that it’s the thing that I’m most proud of.
Papa Mali as a Producer
In addition to his staggering work as a performer, Papa Mali has also made a distinct name for himself as a producer. Here are some of his more notable works:
Ruthie Foster – The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster (2006)
The Greyhounds – Liberty (2004)
Miss Lavelle White – Into the Mystic (2003)
Omar & the Howlers – Screaming Cat (2000)
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Papa Mali By Jimmy Leslie | August, 2007 Some players wake the dead. Papa Mali invites their s...Papa Mali
By Jimmy Leslie | August, 2007
Some players wake the dead. Papa Mali invites their spirits to jam. The dreadlocked, 50-year-old guitarist transforms his gigs into voodoo rituals where he channels the energies of bygone musicians who played the same venue. Born Malcolm Welbourne—and nicknamed by reggae superstar Burning Spear—Mali was raised along Bayou Pierre in Shreveport, Louisiana, and later moved to Austin, Texas. The bayou has remained in his blood, as is evident by his funky guitar onstinatos, gruff vocals, and slide lines that slither over swampy rhythms and howl at the moon. Anyone who has heard what Mali describes as his “electronically stereotized” CDs—2000’s Thunder Chicken and this year’s Do Your Thing [Fog City]—or who has experienced one of his all-night raves will testify that the man is way more than funky. He’s a musical shaman.
Where does your funk come from?
My mother is from New Orleans, and we’d always go to Mardi Gras, where I was exposed to parade rhythms, funky carnival sounds, and the Meters. I remember that the Meters were out on the streets playing on a flatbed truck. I was 12, and I’d already been playing guitar for about six years, but all of a sudden, I was face to face with the funkiest band in the world. And they were jamming with these Mardi Gras Indians wearing colorful costumes called the Wild Tchoupitoulas. At that point, I realized I was in it for the long haul. Along with Jimi Hendrix, Leo Nocentelli was my hero. Seeing him propel an entire audience by playing something rhythmic, repetitive, slinky, and funky made a huge impression on me.
How did you develop as a slide player?
I picked it up from a swampy Delta bluesman from Shreveport named John Campbell. The voodoo paraphernalia—bones and candles—that he’d lay around when he performed added to his mystic aura. He turned my head, because I’d just started listening to The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East, but I’d never seen a slide player before, so that sound was a mystery. Campbell turned me on to the roots of the sound—guys like Tampa Red and Charley Patton—and taught me about open tunings and their lore. I learned that the old guys called open G “Spanish Tuning,” and that open D was called “Vestapol.” I still use those tunings the most.
Your slide parts have a pretty unique tone.
Well, I like to use my Thomas Organ wah as a notch filter when I’m playing lead. I play fingerstyle, and I do a lot of hammer-ons and pull-offs to produce an effect that almost sounds like clavinet accompaniment underneath the slide. I also fret behind my slide—which is currently a hand-blown Glassbender Papa Mali model, although I used a ’40s-era red Bakelite slide on Do Your Thing. Sonny Landreth was the first guy other than myself who I ever saw do that, and although my technique is not nearly as sophisticated as his, I think it’s effective, because my music is more crude and raw.
Your sound is primal and organic, yet it’s also drenched in spacey echoes and reverbs.
Who's Your Papa Mali?
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Malcolm "Papa Mali" Welbourne has lived in Austin, Texas for 18 years, has traveled extensively thro...Malcolm "Papa Mali" Welbourne has lived in Austin, Texas for 18 years, has traveled extensively through Jamaica and New Zealand, and was the co-leader of the acclaimed reggae band the Killer Bees He's also the unlikely brainchild behind 1999's Thunder Chicken, a quasi-psychedelic hardcore funk album reminiscent of Dr. John's Gris-Gris and In The Right Place -- and one of the best New Orleans funk and swamp-rock records in recent memory.
"After playing reggae for so many years, I wanted to make this record as a love letter to my childhood," says Shreveport native Welbourne, via phone from Austin. "My mother's family lived in New Orleans, and when the train still ran from Shreveport to New Orleans, every year we'd take the train in for Mardi Gras. Back in those days, my cousin and I were allowed to ride our bikes all over the city. I was exposed to good music, the carnival vibe, the African elements of the city -- I wouldn't be who I am today without that experience."
Welbourne's New Orleans adventures aren't the only Louisiana signposts permeating Thunder Chicken (Fog City Records). Welbourne's primary inpiration on guitar was acclaimed Shreveport gris-gris bluesman John Campbell -- who dies less than two months after his headline appearance at the 1993 Jazz Fest -- and the album is packed with judicious layers of slide guitar playing, from the rising accents on a funked-up version of Clifton Chenier's "Bon Ton Roulet" to the murky bottom-of-the-bayou lead on "Keep Happy".
"John was my mentor and teacher," says Welbourne. "When I was just 12 or 13 years old, he took me under his wing and said, 'I think you could benefit from listening to these old blues records.' He heard me playing along with an Allmans record one day, and then turned me on to the real classic blues stuff, and started giving me lessons. He showed me how to play bottleneck [slide]. More than anyone else, he was an inspiration."
While Campbell was Welbourne's guide to African-rooted blues traditions, it was Welbourne's wanderlust that opened his eyes and ears to Caribbean sounds. "As soon as I turned 17, I took off hitchhiking all over the place, and then I went to Jamaica in '76", says Welbourne. "I was there for three weeks, and I had an experience. The best reggae music made was during that time, in my opinion, with all the harmony groups, all the dub records. I came back a changed person, and knew I needed to explore that further."
The idea of a reggae band in north Louisiana in the mid-70s was somewhat radical. "I called Michael Johnson and said 'We've got to start a reggae band'" Welbourne remembers. "Michael said, 'It'll never work,' and paused and grinned, 'in Shreveport.'"
Johnson and Welbourne packed up and moved to Austin, forming the Killer Bees. The band became an internationally respected reggae band (Cyril Neville sang the title track of the band's second album), and in 1987 earned the honor of becoming the first American band to play at the Reggae Sunsplash Festival in Montego Bay. "We were together 20 years," says Welbourne. "Michael was my best friend." Johnson passed away earlier this year after recurring health problems.
Welbourne hasn't ruled out a return to reggae, but he's hit an artistic high mark with Thunder Chicken. The cover selection -- including Dr. John's "Walk on Guilded Splinters", the Wild Magnolia's "Fire Water" and Buddy Guy's "Man Of Many Words" -- shows big cojones, and Welbourne pulls them all off with a concoction of dripping guitar reverb and wah-wah pedal flashes, funky clavinet, waves of trap-drum percussion and slurred, singing-from-the-side of the mouth vocals dripping with grease. The album's engine is drum legend Barry "Frosty" Smith, who channels decades of experience playing with everyone from Sly Stone to Dr. John, turning the shuffle "If I Ever Get Right" inside out into a gloriously off-kilter stumble, and making Welbourne's "I'm The One" into a soul march.
The band's performance this week at Tipitina's is Welbourne's first headline appearance here since the album's release -- and Welbourne's understandably happy to be coming back to town. "I still have family in New Orleans, I met my wife in New Orleans, I got married at the Columns and the Dirty Dozen played my wedding," he says. "There's always been that connection for me. New Orleans has had a huge influence in my life."
- Scott Jordan
PAPA MALI & THE INSTAGATORS-07.13-TIPS
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Last Friday Papa Mali brought his band the Instagators back to New Orleans, a city he readily admits...Last Friday Papa Mali brought his band the Instagators back to New Orleans, a city he readily admits has played an integral role in his life. Also along for the ride was MOFRO, the Florida swamp easy grooving soul machine. This combination made for a special night at Tipitina's, and marked the conclusion of the Fog City Records Caravan tour (a brief burst of inspired barnstorming that touched down at juke joints across the South).
Malcom Welbourne, aka Papa Mali, is an enigmatic, somewhat mysterious, and overtly friendly character whose lifelong embrace of roots music creates a deep, multi-layered live show. This is a man who was an integral part of the well-regarded reggae band, the Killer Bees, who organizes a gospel jam every Sunday in Austin when he's off the road (in order to "get right" with the Lord), and who plays the guitar with soul, purpose, and taste that this reviewer has rarely encountered.
Papa Mali's band featured Paul "Buddha" Mills on drums, Courtney Audain on bass, and an unknown organ player. Each player had a firm grasp on the genre bayous of music that Welbourne likes to travel (blues, funk, and reggae, predominantly). They were more than willing to follow Welbourne's scorching guitar and richly grumbling voice to thickets of sound that reminded me of Dr. John circa 1972, the Meters during their Rejuvenation period, and the crazy reggae of Eek-A-Mouse.
The setlist for this show was essentially a shopping list of Papa Mali's influences, and it goes something like this:
I'm A Ram (Al Green)
When the Levee Breaks
Le Bon Temps Roule
Junco Partner (Professor Longhair)
Guilded Splinters (Dr. John)
Firewater (Bo Dallis)
Man of Many Words (Buddy Guy)
A great moment during this show (among many) was at the end of Junco Partner: Welbourne walked to the front of the stage, turned around, and pointed upward in salute to the massive painting of Professor Longhair that sits above the stage at Tipitina's.
The conclusion to Papa Mali's set, which knocked my syntaxes out of socket and therefore prevented any attempts at setlist taking, was a frenzied full-out reggae breakdown that lasted for approximately 15 minutes. I can't tell you the names of the songs that were played, but I can tell you it was intense, scorching, heartfelt music that sealed my respect and appreciation for Papa Mali and the Instagators.
Opening the show on this Friday the 13th was MOFRO. This band showed the promising results that can emerge from pairing a French bass player and Australian keyboardist and sax player with two down-home backwoods Florida singers and guitar players. As for the drummer Bee, well, I don't know where she was from but she certainly kept a mean beat. The actual lineup for Mofro is:
JJ Grey, guitar and vocals
Daryl Hance, guitar
Fabrice Quentin, bass
Nathan Shepherd, sax and keys
Mofro's set was an exercise in relaxing, laid back grooves and ridiculously soulful crooning and testifying from JJ Grey. When he wasn't singing, Grey was telling involved stories ranging from fishing during childhood to the delicious dinner he had down the street at Frankie and Johnny's.
The double bill of Papa Mali and Mofro was the most enjoyable evening of music I have witnessed since Jazzfest. I encourage you to support these bands and learn more about them.
JamBase New Orleans Correspondent
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" If you like your music funked up, Papa Mali is the place to be. This band has been rocking every h..." If you like your music funked up, Papa Mali is the place to be. This band has been rocking every house in Austin with some of the most slammin' jams known to man. "
- Arena International
"As steeped in Mardi Gras parade rhythms as Papa Mali has always been, from the juke-joint slide to the hip-hop flavor of "Keep Happy,"- Welbourne raps out an order of hot-links, po-boys, and fried chicken - all raised above the level of standard-issue bayou funk into free-form jam packages wrapped in tight, persistentgrooves." - Austin Chronicle
"Best Swamp Music I've heard since Tony Joe White."- Lee Froelich Playboy Magazine
"Papa Mali conjures up a potent gris-gris bag of tribal rhythms and true New Orleans-style funk, peppered with judicious touches of slide guitar and more than a bit of bayou joie de vivre. The vocals are delivered with a soulful swagger, almost as if Jimi Hendrix had been raised in the swamps on a steady diet of James Brown, the Meters and scratchy Delta blues with greasy authority, touching on key New Orleans classics with in-the-pocket instinct. A raucous, insinuating debut. "
- Kevin Forest Moreau, New Orleans Gambit Weekly
Learn about Papa Mali before tonight's concert
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In Hindu philosophy “Cause is the effect concealed, effect is the cause revealed.” That same ellipt...In Hindu philosophy “Cause is the effect concealed, effect is the cause revealed.”
That same elliptical sensibility often surrounds the best music. One wants to figure out exactly where it comes from, like an intrepid explorer tracing a river to its source while others just wish to enjoy the ride.
New Orleanian Malcolm Welbourne is here to take all of you for a ride. Resembling a classic jazzman clad in shades and hat, his musical incarnation Papa Mali has released the funky, woozy, bluesy, bold and beautiful “It’s Your Thing.”
Papa Mali will perform at 10 p.m. today Bennie’s Boom Boom Room in downtown Hattiesburg.
On first listen, those Crescent City polyrhythms work their voodoo all over you bringing forth the spirits of great Louisiana albums past. In the background you can hear Buddy Bolden’s brass, feel the kinetic pulse of all the parades and hail the return of the Dr. John The Night Tripper in Papa’s “Gris Gris”-ish grooves.
“I am never far from the spirit of that landmark recording,” Welbourne explained. “That made a huge impact on me at a very young age. I grew up in Louisiana in the 60s and went a love of macabre comics and magazines like ‘Tales From The Crypt’ and ‘Creepy’ to an obsession with voodoo, wax museums and ancient graveyards.”
Welbourne naturally followed that dark walk on guilded splinters to Dr. John and “his crew of freaky junkyard zombies.”
“There was something otherworldly goin’ on,” Welbourne excitedly remembered. “Spirits were being summoned, spells were being cast and ancient voices were being conjured telling me to join in on the chorus!”
After performing around Austin, Texas and New Orleans, Papa Mali (a tribute to his North Louisiana heritage) roared out with “Thunder Chicken” in 2000 and returns with a darker more experienced vision on “Do Your Thing.”
The CD opens with the clarion call of the title track, his bubbling funk cover of Isaac Hayes’ statement of purpose and closes with the Sam Cooke-ish David Egan song “Hallelujah, I’m A Dreamer.” While he dips his guitar in the Electric Mud-dy waters to “build up steam” on the Hayes song, a dreamlike haze descends over you revealing that throughout the album the lyric “dream” is somewhat of a “common thread.”
“In a dream state, one is open to the possibility of the extraordinary happening without warning,” Welbourne explained. “While we all share aspects of reality that are unflinching-many who walk through life with the belief that dreams and reality share the same time and space and really separated only by a thin veil.”
Beneath Welbourne’s thin veil, he is clearly out to cast a spell on you with an album that evokes mood, defies time and simply cannot be categorized or figured out.
Then again, once you feel the primordial blues that pulsates within “Early In The Morning”-why would you want to figure it out. That mystery continues to Welbourne’s philosophy that being ambiguous is best for his voodoo music.
“I prefer to my audience figure it out on their own,” Welbourne said. “For those whose tastes are outside of the mainstream, it’s not difficult to put the pieces together but I mostly try not to underestimate the listener’s ability to interpret my work to their own level of reference and imagination.”
Every good voodoo doctor requires assistance. Papa Mali summons sousaphonist Kirk Joseph, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Henry Butler, the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians with Reverend Goat Carson, Chuck Prophet, Victoria Williams and JJ Grey & Mofro.
In regards to his crew, Welbourne is gracious and astounded.
“I am very fortunate to call these great musicians ‘friends.’ To have them wield their supernatural talents on my recording shook the rafters and made the heavens open up and weep tears of joy.”
There are no upcoming dates at this time.