by Mark Allan
With a highly unusual and possibly unique sound, Boston band Soulsha will perform Feb. 20 at the Sid Williams Theatre.
If you think mixing funk, bagpipes, African percussion, New Orleans-style horns and down-home fiddling can’t possibly work, visit YouTube and check out an infectious tune such as Rhythm’s in the Melody from the band’s full-length debut Carry It On.
“Other bands have combined similar influences before,” agrees Elias Alexander (bagpipes/fiddle/whistle/vocals) in a telephone interview, although he believes Soulsha is breaking new ground.
“What we do absolutely comes out of who we are. Combining Senegalese music with Scottish music in the context of a funk band is different than anyone has done before.”
Soulsha, explains Alexander, essentially developed its sound without an existing blueprint.
“It pretty much developed from scratch. I had started listening to West African funk and Afrobeat when I was in college, and found a lot of the rhythms to feel really familiar to my background in Scottish music.”
Meeting renowned Senegalese percussionist Lamine Touré (sabar drums/vocals) was a turning point.
“Lamine was also interested in finding ways to combine our styles of music,” although Alexander says it took time.
“It developed over a few years. At first, we just played two gigs a year and little by little we started doing more. We had a rotating cast of people who were coming in and out of the band. Eventually, that solidified into the group it is today and people became more committed.”
Soulsha has been bringing audiences to their feet at northeast U.S. festivals including Outside the Box Boston, Tartan Day New York City, South Hadley Falls Fest, Wake Up the Earth, Glasgow Lands Highland Games and Boston Celtic Music Festival.
“Soulsha had the crowd up on its feet and dancing at Boston Celtic Music Festival,” festival organizer Jon Dorn is quoted on the band’s website. “Their high-energy fusion of sounds brought an exciting youthful energy to the festival, closing out the day-time part of our festival with a party.”
Their city played a large role in Soulsha’s development, Alexander reveals.
“In large part Boston is very much like an immigrant city … there’s a lot of music that has deep roots in the cultures of these immigrant groups.
“Scottish music is really a presence in Boston,” he continues. “There’s a whole connection to Cape Breton in Canada. A lot of people came down to Boston to find work.”
Alexander comes by his bagpipe playing from one side of his family.
“The reason I got involved in Scottish culture primarily is because my mom used to live there back in the ‘70s. She took me there for a reunion when I was 13 or 14.”
Following the trajectory of many other musicians, Soulsha issued an extended play (EP) containing four songs before recording full-length album Carry It On.
“It’s gotten pretty decent radio play on stations around America. It feels like it’s kind of pretty new in a way, still making its way to people’s ears.”
He’s excited to travel to what Americans call the Pacific Northwest for the first time. “We’ve never been to the West Coast. It’ll be fun to introduce the music to a whole new audience.”
It will also be Soulsha’s first foray into Canada.
Although one band member is unable to travel on this seven-stop tour that begins in Courtenay, Soulsha will still be seven-strong when the band hits the Sid stage. Besides Touré and Alexander (fiddle and vocals as well as bagpipes), the band will include a guitarist, bassist, drummer, sax player and trumpeter.
Good luck staying in your seat.
Soulsha performs Feb. 20 at the Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay. The 2019–2020 Blue Circle Series is proudly presented by RLR Lawyers. For concert details and tickets, visit www.sidwilliamstheatre.com, phone 250-338-2430 or visit 442 Cliffe Ave.