My first encounter with the man was a YouTube link to an NPR Tiny Desk gig – just a dapperly clad chap who bears a passing resemblance to a polarised Einstein via Oakland, CA. It’s a simple enough set-up for those of you who haven’t seen it – a stripped-down, short acoustic set in the corner of an office floor, so give it a look, if that kind of thing grabs your fancy.
But let’s not get bogged-down in promoting something completely tangential, we’re here about the wonderful, amazing, insert any superlative here Fantastic Negrito. I know it seems like an oversell, but I shit you not, I haven’t been this excited about a contemporary performer since I saw a band called Hollywood Rose on the strip back in my heyday.
The set opened with ‘Lost in a Crowd’, a bluesy, rootsy number that had my attention form the first sound – a clap and a hum. Xavier ‘Fantastic Negrito’ Dphrepaulezz was on point, delivering soulful, smooth, occasionally raspy old school folk with a modern twist. He’s harder to pin down than that, however. There’s everything in his catalogue, ranging from blues, to folk, to elements of gospel, soul, and whatever else you think you can hear.
Fantastic Negrito’s voice is something that has to be heard to be believed, with a versatility that could see him compared to Freddie Mercury in one track (without the annoying yodelling), James Brown on another, to the rarest of beasts – an in-key Robert Plant on another. It’s hardly surprising, considering this is the style of music those guys grew up listening to. One thing is for sure, this guy has an incredible instrument.
It’s something complimented by the simplicity of the arrangement – nothing overly complicated like overlaid tracks and that nonsense – it’s simple, dignified, earthy blues lines played on real instruments. His newest single – Working Poor – was reviewed here last week, you should check out what Aoife thought of it.
Lyrically, Fantastic Negrito has that wry wit that doesn’t come along too often. He’s the kind of guy who can get away with gems like
“I’m in love again,
And this time it’s not with my hand”
“I want everything for no reason,
‘cause I’m a man”
They’re both in one track, while in another, he’s indicting a system that leads to endemic poverty among the working class. It’s a chasm of a difference; it’s not something you could take seriously from most sources, but Fantastic Negrito is just that – serious. He has, for me, the most important quality in a singer/songwriter – his lyrics are relevant, not preachy, they’re clever, but not pretentious, they’re real, not comfortable. It’s a classic style, when you get to the roots of it (pardon the pun), but the content couldn’t be any more modern.
As the man himself said it, “I am Fantastic Negrito. There’s only one Fantastic Negrito in the world, and today he’s at NPR”. One part of that’s not necessarily true; today, he’s at the Olympia. Sell your mother, bribe a doorman, kidnap Chris Cornell, just do whatever you can to be there, because it’s gonna be something special. Of course, Ticketmaster says it’s sold out, but you know you can sneak your way in somehow…
Check him out on Soundcloud for the try before you buy experience – but believe me, you will buy, both philosophically, and physically.