As we embark on the last day of April, I can literally feel the sun and festival spirits creeping in through my final emergence from the usual Winter hibernations. For the past few years, May has arrived like a beacon of hope. I replace my four walls with a sea of trees, and I put down my book and embrace music festivals and necessary hikes. Festival Season is where I find my peace. Spring and Summer gatherings come in all shapes and sizes- whether it is the local festivals that so many of us yearn for, The Brimfield Flea Market, early morning farmers markets, or campfires with friends; this time of year is one for re-centering and gathering over a shared love for community and the arts. On May 31st local band TapRoots brings an event to Gateway City Arts that is rooted in these same values, a one-night indoor festival that celebrates the communion of music and intention. Global Groove Fest is a celebration of World Music and gathers TapRoots, Dave Noonan's Green Island, and Los Sugar Kings, as well as artists and vendors for a night of dancing and unity. Recently, Matthew of TapRoots took some time to chat with us about this event and what his thoughts have been as he has been throughout its cultivation.
Hi Matthew! Thanks for taking some time to chat so that we can learn a bit more about your upcoming event, Global Groove Fest. Why don't you start by telling us a bit about TapRoots and how long you have been making music in The Valley.
Global Groove Fest is a great name for an event, and implies that we will be hearing great culturally diverse music. Can you tell us a bit about that?
The idea behind Global Groove was to create a kind of mini-festival vibe, and highlighting bands that brought elements of World Music into their repertoire. I wanted it to be eclectic stylistically, but united by a love of global sounds and rhythms, as well as great musicianship and a message of unity. For most of my life, I have been drawn to exploring diverse styles in music from around the globe, and I’ve known that American popular music was just one of thousands of ways that musicians and artists have expressed themselves, their cultural heritage, and the way they see and experience the world. My own band, TapRoots, draws from a number of traditions, including Afro-Cuban folklore, Jamaican reggae, jazz, Brazilian samba, Nigerian afrobeat, and other elements; although we don’t necessarily try to reproduce these styles note-for-note, their influence is blended and married into the overall sound of the band’s musical tapestry of rich harmonies, pulsing rhythms, socially conscious messages, and intricate layers of musical conversation. While the Global Groove lineup of this event leans heavily towards Caribbean sonic palettes, it is possible that future events will explore other lands and musical families.
Global Groove Fest features TapRoots, Dave Noonan's Green Island, and Los Sugar Kings. Can you tell us a bit about the other two projects? What is it about these two bands that made them a great fit for your line up?
I feel that both of these Massachusetts powerhouse bands are a perfectly synchronous match for this event. Each of them explores culture, art and music in different yet complementary ways. Together with TapRoots, I think they will get the crowd dancing, singing, and ultimately bringing the world a little closer in this “Happy Valley,” where American/European folk traditions seems to have a predominant voice.
Los Sugar Kings is a Boston-based quartet known for their dynamic live performances, great harmonies, intense musicianship and ability to transcend genres with an authenticity rarely heard. In their world, respect is paid to the forefathers and traditions of Afro-Cuban Son, Salsa and Rumba-Flamenca but Los Sugar Kings (named after a Cuban baseball team) also actively draw on influences from nearly every continent in their unique roots-rock-reggae fusion repertoire.
Dave Noonan’s Green Island is a collective of some of the Pioneer Valley's best and most versatile musicians. The band performs a wide variety of musical styles-original compositions and select covers from artists ranging from Coltrane to Ranglin, Marley to Marvin, classic Soul and afro-beat. Organized by Dave Noonan, Green Island is dedicated to showcasing the wonderful talents of its members and rotating special guests as well as rocking the dance floor.
I know you are planning some other elements of this events aside from the music, can you speak a little to that?
In wanting to make this a true community event, I have reached out to some local artists and vendors to see if they would want to display and sell their crafts. I feel that, more and more, the community around us needs to be brought into these types of spaces to help create more immersive and interesting artistic and creative spaces.
What is your personal musical background? Do you remember what first inspired you to play music?
Well, if you were to ask my mother, she would say I came out of the womb drumming. Banging on whatever I had around me. Rhythm and percussion has always been a part of my journey, and as far back as high school, I remember being intrigued by how different communities around the world created in interpreted the natural rhythms around them. As far as when music started calling me personally, I remember being about five or so and riding the bus to kindergarten. The bus driver would always have the radio on and I just soaked up every bit of what I heard. This was in the early 70s, and from what I remember, the radio stations delayed all the popular music under the sun, from James Brown to Led Zeppelin to Minnie Riperton to Simon & Garfunkel to Black Sabbath and everything in between. I remember just drinking up all the different sounds and rhythms and harmonies that I heard, drumming along to the back of the bus seat and singing along. Since then, it is been a lifelong journey to learn all I can into try to express the music I hear inside my head. So far, I have learned how to play adequately well guitar, drums, bass, keyboards, really whatever I can get my hands on, but my real passion is with percussion. I’ve traveled the world and studied music in India, Latin America, and in the Caribbean, and have learn from some remarkable percussionists and musicians along the way, diving deep into the rhythms of Cuba, Brazil, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. All of these elements that I’ve learned throughout my life have been folded into those foundational moments of grooving to American popular music on the bus: rock ‘n’ roll, funk, jazz and soul … the result is TapRoots.
What are some main themes and elements in your writing? What is TapRoots' writing process?
The music I’d make is both deeply personal and universal, and a lot of it just springs from the Earth herself. Rhythms and melodies I will hear walking the land (I have a theory that music came from humans trying to imitate birdsong) will always make their way into my music, and sometimes messages from the land herself. One song that we play, Walk Lightly ‘pon the Land (the first video we put out), was something that came to me almost in its entirety while hiking in the Mount Holyoke Range. Thematically, TapRoots music is both secular and sacred, political and poetic. There are many layers to both the music and lyrics, and there is almost always a message, or learning in the lyrics somewhere. Sometimes explicit, as in the case of Hands Up which addresses issues presented by groups like Black Lives Matter, while others are more hidden, like the post apocalyptic Hallowed Ground, which was written the day after the 2016 presidential election and seeks to reconcile human folly with the natural rhythms of time. Finally (although not leastly), I would say the music of TapRoots is all about spirit. The spirit of the land, ancestral spirits, the spirits that guide us and all we do. This music is for them just as much as it is for the people gathered there. The community we play to is both seen and unseen.
Do you have any personal performance highlights or stories you don't mind sharing with us?
In all honesty, I just love making music with my friends. The musicians in this band are some of the finest in Massachusetts that I know, and each of them brings their own expertise and spirit to this eclectic mix. It’s interesting in that when I recorded this music, I played many of the instruments myself on the TapRoots debut CD, and it has been a great joy for me to hear this music birthed and interpreted by such a fantastic group in a live setting. Then of course there’s the interaction with the audience. To teach them some of the songs and to hear them sing along, to feel their energy as they dance and soak it up is nothing short of magical.
Do you think that community and art are related concepts?
Art and the communities that produce it are completely intertwined and interrelated things. In many ways you can’t have community, and certainly not culture, without art. Artists, dancers, storytellers, musicians, or culture makers are all community builders and shapers. Effective communities have music and art braided into the fabric of their daily rhythms. To me, there’s no separation between performer and audience, we are all members of the same band, the same tribe. If there are issues that our community is grappling with, we will sing about them. Likewise, it is through our collective expression of art and community that I believe will help to solve some of those same issues. You cannot have one without the other.
Why should people come out to Global Groove Fest on May 31st?
People should come out to dance! To learn something new. To listen deeply. To celebrate this diverse community of artists, both in the valley in in the world. To feel deeply the spirit of this music and to touch something deep within themselves that connects them to all life on this planet. To rage against the machine. And ultimately, just to have a good time!
What's next for TapRoots?
I am starting to write music that will ultimately be a follow-up to my debut CD, released a year and a half ago. Hopefully this music will build upon the foundation that I’ve already established, and broaden the global musical palette that we use to express ourselves. The tap root of this music draw up from the Earth itself and has grown a tree whose branches go many directions musically, culturally, and spiritually. Be sure to check out our web page to keep in touch, learn about the stories behind the songs, follow us in the press, and most importantly - hear the music!
Global Groove Fest takes place at Gateway City Arts on Friday, May 31st at 8PM.
Doors are at 7PM.
Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.
For tickets click here.
To see all of GCA's upcoming shows visit our website.