Somali-Caribbean Singer Fantastic Negrito returns to perform at the fifth annual Safety Harbor SongFest

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A report by Lee Clark Zumpe for the Tampa Bay News Weekly.

The Safety Harbor Art & Music Center will present the fifth annual Safety Harbor SongFest Saturday, April 7, noon to 10 p.m., at Safety Harbor Waterfront Park, 110 Veterans Memorial Lane, Safety Harbor.

Tickets are $35 in advance and $40 at the gate. Visit www.safetyharborsongfest.com.

The festival will feature performances by Fantastic Negrito, Josh Ritter, Michael Glabicki of Rusted Root, Larkin Poe, Selwyn Birchwood, Meiko, Daniel Mohr, Betty Fox, Mountain Holler, Kristopher James, Ari Chi, The Urban Gypsies of Florida, Jonnie Morgan, and Ezra Huleatt of Black Taxi.

Fantastic Negrito, who returns for the second year in a row, won a Grammy award last year for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

“Safety Harbor is becoming my second home,” said Negrito in a press release. “I was first introduced to this community through Chris Cornell. I feel the truest vibration of love from these good people.”

Born Xavier Dphrepaulezz, Negrito’s musical style is self-described as “black roots music for everyone,” blending old school blues with modernized loops, slide guitar and drums.

“We are so happy Xavier and the band are coming back,” said Todd Ramquist, SHAMc co-founder and festival organizer. “He truly embodies the spirit of our festival and his talent is limitless.”

Negrito recently unveiled plans for “Please Don’t Be Dead,” his next album due to be released June 15 on the Cooking Vinyl and Blackball Universe label.

“I wrote this album because I fear for the life of my black son,” said Negrito in a press release from Big Hassle. “I fear for the lives of my daughters. I am uncertain about what kind of future they will face. Will someone shoot up their school? Will they become addicted to prescription pills? Will they wind up on the street, sleeping under freeways and overpasses? Will the police murder my son? I came up with the name ‘Please Don’t Be Dead’ because I felt like we’d lost our way as a society – and I know what happens when you chase the wrong things. It’s the story of my life.”

“Please Don’t Be Dead” is heralded by “Plastic Hamburgers,” the lead track.

“With ‘Plastic Hamburgers’ I wanted to come out swinging,” added Negrito. “With everything happening in the world, I wanted to take it head on. Addiction, guns, censorship, overconsumption. I wanted people to feel like this is our song, our rallying cry: Let’s tear down the walls that separate us and face who we really are.”

Negrito is truly an artist for these times: a multi-talented, genre-agnostic original whose life and work embody the struggle, energy, truth and creativity of black music. Negrito was raised in an orthodox Muslim household, the eighth of 14 children of a deeply religious Somali-Caribbean immigrant.

The family moved from western Massachusetts to Oakland, California, when Negrito was just 12 years old. His new hometown’s vibrant black community provided a massive culture shock after what was an extremely conservative childhood. Raised by the streets of Oakland, Negrito discovered a passion for music and by the time he was 20, he had taught himself a range of instruments. Sensing that he was on the wrong path and fearing for his life, he knew he had to make a change so, armed with only his demo on cassette, he moved to Los Angeles where he eventually signed a million-dollar major record label deal.

But Negrito’s soulful music was not made for those times. His debut album – released under his own name – went largely unnoticed. His confidence shattered, he pondered his next move.

Before making any decisions, fate intervened. In 2000, Negrito suffered a near-fatal car accident. The event left him in a coma for three weeks and caused permanent damage to his playing hand. Determined, he fought hard, enduring hours of painful physical therapy.

The birth of his son would provide the inspiration Negrito sought to return to music. Once again, he picked up his guitar. Encouraged by his childhood friend, co-founder/co-owner of artist collective Blackball Universe, and Empire writer/producer Malcolm Spellman, Negrito began exploring the roots of black music, ultimately winding back to the original source, the DNA of all American music: the blues.

Rather than simply updating the delta blues, Negrito created something altogether new and unique, building bridges to the 21st century by weaving the original sounds of Lead Belly and Skip James with loops and samples of his own live instruments.

 

 

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