Just over the Windsor/Detroit border, Fantastic Negrito brought his Blues infused black roots punk attitude music all the way from Oakland, California, with special guest Detroit’s Jiva, to The Loving Touch in Ferndale, Michigan. As part of the Eyes On The Road series, where Eyes On Windsor takes a look at entertainment events a short road trip away from Windsor Essex in partnership with photographer Kevin Blondin, we went to check out the show on Saturday, September 8, 2018.
Kevin Blondin says, “Fantastic Negrito performed at the showmanship level of Chuck Berry, leaving Detroit fans wanting more at the end of the night. All in all, a ten out of ten, best show I’ve seen all year.”
During his show, “Xavier was dressed to impress, with snake skin shoes, psychedelic patterned slacks, a neck tie, a scarf and a vest,” explains Blondin. “A natural storyteller, he told personal stories of his relationship with his father and commanded his band to start and stop with the simple raising and dropping of his hands.”
Raised on the East Coast in an Orthodox Muslim household with a Somali-Caribbean immigrant father who mostly played traditional African music, Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz whose stage name is Fantastic Negrito, experienced a major culture shock when, at twelve years old, his family moved to Oakland, California, on the West Coast. Oakland is perhaps the most infamous vibrant black community in the United States. By twenty years old he learned to play several instruments, was recording music, and became involved with “street life”. After nearly loosing his life to masked gunmen, he packed up and moved to Los Angeles.
In L.A. Fantastic Negrito signed a record deal and recorded an album which failed in a market dominated by Gangsta Rap. He became distracted from his music, lost his creative drive, quit his music career, and was caught up in the fast paced Hollywood party scene. In 1999, he was left in a coma following a near fatal car accident resulting in permanent damage, metal rods being surgically placed throughout his body, and months of grueling physical therapy. In 2008, he returned to Oakland.
Following the birth of his son, Fantastic Negrito’s spirit crushing life and near death experiences, and strict Musilim values colliding with Oakland’s wild cultural environment, turned his feelings of cynicism into hope, and his musical creativity came rushing out once more.
This time, instead of being constrained by following trends, he shaped music created from his heart and soul instead. This resulted in emotionally charged, award winning music. Awards included winning 2017 Best Contemporary Blues Album Grammy Award, and the inaugural National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk contest. NPR called his debut full length album, Last Days of Oakland, “among the rawest pieces of music — sonically and emotionally — you’ll hear all year.” Negrito also caught the attention of Chris Cornell who took him on tour in Europe and North America, and again with Cornell’s legendary supergroup Temple of the Dog.
During his show at The Loving Touch, Kevin Blondin says, “he changed the setlist and threw in a song called Dark Windows about his close friendship with the late Chris Cornell, or Christmas Cornell, as Xavier likes to call him.”
While Fantastic Negrito is finally winning awards and receiving critical acclaim, something he chased in the past, it’s not what he strives for anymore because that mindset nearly killed him in the past.
Today Fantastic Negrito is concerned with the path the world is on, especially America, because he feels that it mirrors the journey his life recently was on, towards destruction.
“As a society we are so divided, we are so entrenched in our ideology, we won’t budge for common sense,” says Negrito. “We worship celebrities and billionaires, while people work harder than they ever worked, and make less money. Our children are being gunned down in school shootings and we seem numb to it! We’ve got militarized police shooting first instead of protecting and serving. Nazis in the streets. Families torn apart by deportation. A tiny 1% getting richer while people sleep underneath freeways and overpasses in my hometown of Oakland, CA. Home ownership and education seem out of reach. This is not the American Dream.”
Negrito’s music is about the story of life after destruction and inspiring people who felt like life was over yet hoped it wasn’t. His newest album is called Please Don’t Be Dead. In Detroit his music and storytelling connected with the crowd.
“A lot of people in the crowd were just seeing Fantastic Negrito for the first time and from what I gathered, everybody was blown away by him,” says Blondin. “The crowd held on to his every word, waiting to hear what he would say next, and watching to see what he would do. They sang along during familiar chorus lines of his most popular songs, including The Duffler, Lost In A Crowd, and A Boy Named Andrew. When xavier thrusted his hips, the audience moved. When he sang, they danced. When xavier demanded attention, the audience responded.”
In addition, Xavier charmed the crowd with catchy hooks like “take that bullshit, and turn it into good shit” from a song titled Bullshit Anthem. His song Cold November Street sounded reminiscent of House of the Rising Sun, and St. James Infirmary. He also performed a bone chilling rendition of the classic Leadbelly song, In The Pines, also known as Where Did You Sleep Last Night, a song made famous in the 1990’s by Nirvana.
Following his show, Xavier took the time to meet and sign autographs for a long lineup of fans, which included the venue’s staff and show promoters.
For more information about Fantastic Negrito visit: https://fantasticnegrito.com
Detroit’s JIVA opened the show for Fantastic Negrito. Kevin Blondin said, “the hometown crowd enjoyed their kinda funky alternative sound, it was was rock with just enough rhythm to get the audience in the right type of mood for what was to come.”
JIVA is a soul rock band with noticeable influences ranging from Prince to Led Zeppelin, delivering gritty soulful guitars like Jack White combined with more pop focused vocal hooks like Maroon 5 or Lenny Kravitz. The band toured and made its mark on the festival circuit and college radio across the midwest most steadily between 2007 and 2012, but the JIVA seed was planted at Michigan State University dating back to 2001. JIVA was a 2012 Detroit Music Award nominee for outstanding rock/pop group, and their video “Ecstasy” received an Emmy Award nomination in 2013. The most recent album “Breathe” is available for download on iTunes and Amazon.com. Some of the earlier releases are available as well including “Masquerade” which features a much darker/heavier sound and the bands original female singer Tasha Valdez. It was the spirit, creativity, and musical relationships formed during the life of this band that has led to JIVA Music Licensing, founded by guitarist/songwriter Nick Behnan and writing partner Bobby Myers. They produce a wide range of tracks including songs that have been featured in various Films and TV shows on NBC, MTV, VH1, Nat GEO, Lifetime, TLC, Fuse, Bravo, Fox Sports and many others.
For for information about JIVA visit http://jivamusic.net
The Loving Touch Ferndale is an intimate bar, billiards hall, and popular live music venue bringing some great acts to the Detroit area. For more information about the venue including upcoming shows visit http://thelovingtouchferndale.com
Photos by Kevin Blondin / Eyes On Windsor
Kevin Blondin is an aspiring photographer studying public relations at the St. Clair College Mediaplex. He is dedicated to promoting artists, entertainment and events in the Windsor-Detroit area. Kevin has recently launched Sound & City Photography which can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.