Taj Mahal doesn’t wait for permission. If a sound intrigues him, he sets out to make it. If origins mystify him, he moves to trace them. If rules get in his way, he unapologetically breaks them. To Taj, convention means nothing, but traditions are holy. He has pushed music and culture forward, all while looking lovingly back.
Taj is a towering musical figure–a legend who transcended the blues not by leaving them behind, but by revealing their magnificent scope to the world. “The blues is bigger than most people think,” he says. “You could hear Mozart play the blues. It might be more like a lament. It might be more melancholy. But I’m going to tell you: the blues is in there.”
If anyone knows where to find the blues, it’s Taj. A brilliant artist with a musicologist’s mind, he has pursued and elevated the roots of beloved sounds with boundless devotion and skill. Then, as he traced origins to the American South, the Caribbean, Africa and elsewhere, he created entirely new sounds, over and over again. As a result, he’s not only a god to rock-and-roll icons such as Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones, but also a hero to ambitious artists toiling in obscurity who are determined to combine sounds that have heretofore been ostracized from one another. No one is as simultaneously traditional and avant-garde.
Over the years, Taj had also emerged as a mind-boggling, multifaceted player. In addition to the guitar, he has become proficient on about 20 different instruments–and counting. “There weren’t an awful lot of people still playing these instruments that came from my culture,” Taj explains. “Not that they didn’t before, but nobody was playing them in the time I was. But I wanted to hear them. So I watched people play, got one, sat down, remembered the music that I was listening to, and started picking it out on the mandolin or banjo or 12-string.”
The Hawaiian phenomenon Willie K is undoubtedly the only artist in the world who can go into an Irish pub in the middle of Maui and play anything from indigenous acoustic Hawaiian music to jazz, reggae, rock, country and even opera leaving everyone within earshot slack-jawed in astonishment.