Updated: Jan 18
On this warm Friday evening in June, I innocently walked into the Fillmore, not knowing what was about to unfold before my eyes and ears. Only a couple days prior I was turned onto this artist, "Fantastic Negrito". I had never heard of him before. So as one does...I You Tubed him and voila...love at first sight! As soon as I heard his music and caught his vibe, I loved it immediately and applied for my photo credentials to shoot this show and see first hand what this cat is about.
Fantastic Negrito, was born in Massachusetts, and originally named Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz. He was number eight of fifteen children. Xavier and his family moved to Oakland, California when he was 12 years old. He began selling drugs early, on the streets of Oakland. And then after listening to Prince's album, Dirty Mind, he began teaching himself how to play music. Impressed that Prince was also a self taught musician, he became inspired to do the same. He started busking on the streets and in BART stations, where he met his superb guitarist, Tomas Salcedo. Other band members include, Michael Shiono, Bryan Simmons, and the amazing, insanely crazy good, James Small on drums! A little more history about this magical music phenom...Apparently he had signed a bad record deal in the 90's with Interscope. In 1999, he was in a near-fatal car crash, which left him in a coma for three weeks. Interscope released him from his contract and he has since said that he felt that this crash "released" him because otherwise he would've had this bad record deal in his career. A bit of time passed, then he got his first big break in 2015 when "Lost in a Crowd" won a Tiny Desk concert competition at NPR. Then in 2017 he won his first Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album! Chris Cornell saw the magic of Negrito and asked him to tour with him, as his opener for The Temple of the Dog tour a few years ago.
Today he is fifty years young and as vibrant as a neon sign flashing on a cold dark lonely night. The energy, the vibe, the music that is Negrito...is simply a no brainer to falling madly in love with this sound. The realness and rawness of emotion he exudes is rare. It comes through whilst simply hearing him, but until you see this master of energy in a live performance, its what makes Negrito a cut above the others. For me, he was a combination of Springsteen and Vintage Trouble. It made this evening, a truly a life changing, religious- ike experience. And judging from the faces of happiness, elation and pure joy in the Fillmore that night, I believe I was not alone in this opinion.
There were two openers, Zack Bateman and Antique Naked Soul. The place was a murmer of anticipation during the first two acts. I got the feeling that most of the people in The Fillmore that night had seen Negrito before or at the very least were aware of the magic that was about to hit us all in the face.
At 10.45 the five piece band of Fantastic Negrito hit the stage and exploded in my lens. First time I've ever taken 800 shots of one artist at one gig...but snapping Negrito was irresistible. I pride my photography on getting the emotion and vibe of the artist and their music... 'Capturing the moment'...and Negrito was made for how I like to shoot.
Regarding his name, when I first heard it, I was a tad uncomfortable, as its meaning is apparently "little nigger'. I despise that 'N' word, and it does make me very uncomfortable. During the show, he explained his name and his explanation was, as soon as he heard this word Negrito, he said it was the word that makes white people uncomfortable so he claimed it! I laughed to myself, as he was spot on! But now, when I hear the name, it's simply synonymous with everything positive in the world of music! Throughout the show, he talked to the audience, and had that rare connection with all that attended.
I was very grateful they allowed me to remain in the pit throughout the show. Two hours later I was left scratching my head wondering wtf I just witnessed, what did I just experience with my new friends in the pit and in The Fillmore. I feel like we had a life changing experience together. It wasn't merely a gig. It was as if, I was religious and attended an engaging gospel performance at my local house of worship. His sound was not blues, although he won a Grammy for best contemporary blues album, his music was not rock, because it was too soulful, and his music wasn't soul cause it was way too rocking! Negrito has created a genre of his own. There are a few more bands I know of, that may fall into this new category I am a fan of... but I do believe Negrito is my top fave!
All in all, this show has made it to my top ten or twelve of my life, for sure. I felt the same when I first saw Springsteen in 76, Pearl Jam for the first time in 2014, and most recently with Jamiroquai. And a few others throughout the years. The elation these gigs provide is incredible. A drug like state of being, that cannot be duplicated. There is a feeling of stand out. Something that gives immense joy and will always be remembered. Remembered not only for the great music, but for the connection between the artist and the concert goer. The artist provides it, and the concert goer receives this gift. Eddie Vedder is a master of this gift giving, as is Springsteen, and now Fantastic Negrito is added to this list of great musicians in my personal music history books! I believe Fantastic Negrito, Xavier, is on his way to explode in the music world! This talented Oakland musician is exploding in the music scene. Try to catch him now, because within a couple years, this dude will be huge!
"Fantastic Negrito is black roots music for everyone, Blues with a punk attitude from Oakland". This is a perfect description of this new genre that Fantastic Negrito is on his way to command!