Fantastic Negrito, who this year won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album, is a man’s truth told in the form of black roots music. Each song tells the true story of a musician from Oakland who experienced the highs of a million dollar record deal, the lows of a near fatal car accident that put him in a coma, and is now in the phase of rebirth.
Fantastic Negrito was raised in an orthodox Muslim household. His father was a Somali-Caribbean immigrant who mostly played traditional African music. When, at the age of 12, Negrito’s family moved from Massachusetts to Oakland, he was hit with an intense culture shock. Oakland in the 1980s was a million miles from Negrito’s conservative childhood. He went from Arab chants to Funkadelic in one day, living in the heart of one of the wildest, most infamous, most vibrant black communities in the nation.
After learning many instruments and setting out for LA to seek his fortune, Negrito signed with a big time manager and soon after that, a million dollar deal at Interscope …and soon after that, creative death. Negrito came out of the deal with a failed album and his confidence gutted.
In 2000, Negrito was in a near fatal car accident that put him in a coma that atrophied his muscles and destroyed his playing hand. Though he rehabbed intensely for several years, the damage was permanent. He thought he was done with music, but upon the birth of his son, all the creative energy Negrito bottled for years came rushing out.
Negrito turned to the original DNA of all American music, the Blues. The beating life had given him primed him to channel his literal and musical forefathers: the blues musicians of the Delta. Rather than update the Delta Blues, Fantastic Negrito leaves the original sounds of Lead Belly and Skip James intact, building bridges to a modern sound with loops and samples of his own live instruments. But the primary element that drives Fantastic Negrito’s music is uncut realness and zero concern for “pop” anything.