If you trace the history of rock music back as far as the bluesmen of the Mississippi Delta, you may be shocked by the stories of hardship that you discover and how frequently you discover them. Bluesmen of the early 20th century, living tough and unforgiving lives in the Segregated American South, were so affected by their circumstances and ails that they became the very core of their artistic expression (take Blind Lemon Jefferson and Bad Luck Blues, a self-portrait of a man, blind from birth, who has lost his clothes, his money and his sweetheart and wants only to return home). Throughout the evolution of the music; blues’ urbanisation and transformation into rock and roll, difficulties have remained around the corner for many musicians and been written into their own musical histories.
For many, the hardships endured by these artists are what made them and though you wouldn’t wish such hardships on anyone, you have to recognise how instrumental those personal to Oakland’s modern blues Fantastic Negrito, have been in his artistic rebirth.
Like the blues men of old, Fantastic Negrito has suffered physically; a car accident in 2000 saw the then disillusioned musician, deeply affected by a disastrous record deal that had stripped him of creative drive, fall into a coma, leaving him with injuries that required intensive physical therapy. He all but gave up music in the years following his ordeal, his guitar playing affected and his lifestyle altered, but then with the arrival of his son in 2008, found himself creatively engaged once again and turning his gaze to the DNA of American music via his musical forefathers, the blues musicians of the Delta. Negrito, whose birth name is Xavier Dphrepaulezz, views this artistic awakening as a rebirth.
Through looping, sampling and an array of modern songwriting and performance techniques, Fantastic Negrito brings a modernity to blues, not to mention a rock ‘n’ roll swagger, rhythm ‘n’ blues lilt, a soulfulness and Californian confidence. Tasting notes for his modern blues-rock range from Gary Clark Jr. and Benjamin Booker to Jack White and Leon Bridges, with his unique storytelling and wealth of experience setting him apart entirely.
His Grammy-winning, recently re-issued album The Last Days of Oakland, is a statement of Fantastic Negrito’s artistic intent and was described as ‘a head-buzzing spin through blues, R&B and soul…blindingly fresh and current’ in a recent Belfast Telegraph review.
Watch Negrito’s performance of the incredible Hump Thru The Winter, a Gregory Porter-esque portrait of an every day encounter of social significance, on Ditty TV Memphis below. The footage shows of the showmanship and rawness he possesses and will put on display for the benefit of a Manchester audience at Band on the Wall on 31st July.