Today I’m playing the race card. Today your colour is the most important thing in the world to me. If you are black, white, red or yellow you are my enemy. ‘Cos today I got the blues. You see, I picked the duck with the blue ribbon in the annual duck race and no yellow-bellied son of a bitch is gonna beat my duck to the finish line this year!†
To further my cause I’ve recruited Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ to perform a song from their 2017 album, TajMo. It’s called Diving Duck Blues and it’s just the thing to spur on the little web-footed critter. Here’s a live version:
Taj Mahal is an American blues musician, singer, songwriter and composer. He’s been around long enough for Google to put at the top of the list of questions people also ask, “When did Taj Mahal die?”. The answer it gives is 17 June 1631 but, fortunately for us, that refers to Mumtaz Mahal, the chief consort of the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, in whose honour the Taj Mahal palace was built. Henry Saint Clair Fredericks Jr., the Taj Mahal in the video, is both very much alive and, at the age of 76, still gigging.
Taj Mahal was one of the first major artists, if not the very first one, to pursue the possibilities of world music. Even the blues he was playing in the early 70s … showed an aptitude for spicing the mix with flavours that always kept him a yard or so distant from being an out-and-out blues performer.
As well as his work as a solo artist Taj Mahal has collaborated with a long list of eminent musicians during his 50 year career. They include: Ry Cooder, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Fela Kuti, Toumani Diabate, Wynton Marsalis, Van Morrison and the Rolling Stones. He has a string of awards to his name, most notably three Grammys, the latest of which was given for the TajMo album in 2018.
Kevin Roosevelt Moore (Keb’ Mo’), although generally less well-known, has gone one better in the Grammys having racked up four altogether. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, his style owes rather more to the Mississippi Delta blues. While primarily a solo artist, he, too, has worked alongside some highly respected musicians: Papa John Creach (violinist with Jefferson Airplane), Dr. John, Kermit the Frog (!), Stefan Grossman, Bonnie Raitt to name a few.
Diving Duck Blues sounds like the song of a negro slave who has been granted a quite unexpected day off. His normal days are always long and hard. His rewards are meagre, his outlook is bleak. But for now he can enjoy the cool evening breeze in the company of his fellows, strum his guitar and sing the songs of the oppressed with a little joy in his heart and a spring in his dancing steps.
“The music was designed for people to move, and it’s a bit difficult after a while to have people sitting like they’re watching television. That’s why I like to play outdoor festivals – because people will just dance. Theatre audiences need to ask themselves: ‘What the hell is going on? We’re asking these musicians to come and perform and then we sit there and draw all the energy out of the air.’ That’s why after a while I need a rest. It’s too much of a drain. Often I don’t allow that. I just play to the goddess of music – and I know she’s dancing.”
– Taj Mahal
† My duck was pipped at the post by the green ribboned bird. Ah well, there’s always next year.