Henry Saint Clair Fredericks, better known as Taj Mahal, is an American music treasure. A self-taught singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Mahal has done more to stretch and redefine blues music than any other artist past or present. Over the course of his over 50 year career, he has taken the blues and fused it with the sounds of the Caribbean, Africa, the South Pacific and beyond.
This diverse, melting-pot approach has puzzled some listeners while making Mahal a hero to lovers of eclectic roots music. “Here’s the thing, plain and simple,” music blogger Miles Mellough once wrote about the man, “Taj Mahal has always been a conundrum; a man who is capable of mirroring many things to many people, and the reason why is because he’s an enigma — an alchemist and a contrarian…Through his music he’s been a dirt farmer, a man of gentry, and a Mississippi riverboat gambler. He’s played the role of the pious country preacher of old South camp meetings to a chain gang prisoner breaking rocks in the hot, midday sun. He’s been a hard-boiled harp player with a gold tooth and process blowing gritty on the South side of Chicago to a West Indies fishing boat captain sipping Banana Daiquiri’s with a St. Kitts woman…Like the blues tree with its many roots, Mahal has become the sum of many parts. But if you were to strip him of the elements that have come to define him publicly, you’d no doubt find that beneath it all he’s really just a simple man with a harp, a steel guitar, and a banjo in his rucksack; a man making music with a whole hell of a lot of heart and soul.”
To appreciate Mahal best is to see and hear him live. Recently, he performed his classic “Queen Bee,” which he included on his Grammy-winning album Señor Blues, while in the back of a mule-drawn carriage as it made its way through New Orleans’ French Quarter. Click on the link below to see this performance.
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