An Interview with Toubab Krewe's Drew Heller

What current or future project are you the most excited about?

Currently, I'm deeply enjoying the challenge and process of writing a soundtrack to Ozu's silent film, I Was Born, but. Each viewing I see more details and depth of narrative. This silent film project is unlike anything Toubab Krewe has been a part of. 

I've been working on a lot of original music and collaborating with my brother, Elliot (aka DJ Equal) and my father Steven. I am looking forward to releasing some of this material as soon as possible.     

Can you tell me a little about the performance you’re doing at the NYGF?

 Toubab Krewe will be performing an original score to a 1932 comedic silent film about a family that moves into a new neighborhood in Tokyo. The playful pace of the screenplay is pushing us into new rhythms, emotions, and tempos. I ‘m working on making my guitar sound like a Jack Russell Terrier slurping up a raw sparrow's egg.   

 What’s your favorite guitar that you own?

Probably this old Stella I bought at MerleFest in 2000. I have traveled many miles in West Africa and Southeast Asia with this guitar and now it feels like an old friend. It inexplicably started sounding much better after getting completely soaked in a monsoon rainstorm in Ivory Coast. After the sun dried it out, the Stella had new life in it. (I don't mean mold either.) The body of the guitar got accidentally cracked on a tour, so I retired it from the road. 

 I also love my 1959 Gibson 125t. She and I are just getting to know each other and I hear a lot of songs in her sound. I plan on using this guitar for the silent film. 

If you could own one guitar that you don't already own, what would it be?

A National steel guitar. 


 Do you have a favorite lyricist?

 Gillian Welch.

If you could play with one living person, who would it be?

 Impossible to pick one.  


 If you could perform with one person no longer alive, who would it be?

 Django Reinhardt, [theremin virtuoso] Clara Rockmore, and Jimi Hendrix.

Best book you’ve read all year?

King Leopold’s Ghost.

If you weren't performing music, what would you most like to do?

 Music production work. I love studio life. 

Do you have any special hobbies outside of music?

 Painting and drawing. Stop-motion animation.  

How do you typically discover new music?

 Growing up, I discovered so much music through my parents and siblings’ records. In the pre-Internet days, we used to make each other one-of-a-kind mixtapes. I owe a lot of my early exposure to music from around the world to those friends and those tapes. I love listening to the radio. My favorite stations these days are WREK Atlanta, WWOZ New Orleans, ORTM Bamako Mali, and WNCW Spindale, NC. I also spend a lot of time streaming music on Spotify and other Internet sites.  

Most influential albums for you currently?

 Ali and Toumani by Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabate 

Kaani by Tal National

Boustane Music by Oudaden

Belladonna by Daniel Lanois

Are there any unrecognized artists who you'd like to shine a spotlight on?

 Ali Birra is an amazing Oromo guitarist/singer/poet from East Africa who is virtually unknown outside of the Oromo community.

 Adron is a great guitarist/songwriter from Atlanta, GA. 

All-time favorite venue to perform in?

 The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida, is a magical space for music. 

What was your most memorable Eureka moment (in a performance context)? 

 When your sense of Self evaporates and you're witnessing/feeling something grand and mysterious pulling the strings. Happens on occasion.      

Favorite beer/wine/soda?

Guinness/Sancerre/Orange Crème.

Favorite basketball shot?

A successful hook shot from half court in a tie game, 1 second left on the clock.


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