Brother Yusef brings his vital ‘fattback’ sound to RedWhite+Bluezz Sunday
By Bliss Bowen 12/19/2012
Performing for tourists at Disneyland presents numerous challenges to musicians. The steady work (and the income that accompanies it) is obviously a boon, but sustaining the attention of passersby hell-bent on grabbing photo ops with Mickey Mouse can make you feel about as significant as a Mitt Romney volunteer the day after the election. Then again, says Brother Yusef, as “trying” as the experience can be, it can also make you a better performer.
“Disney is what it is,” he says. “It’s probably what’s made me the player I am today. I’ve got this attitude: ‘Oh, you’re not listening to this? Let me try this.’ That’s made me a more powerful player … [and] it’s still fun to play for people from all over the world.”
Long a fixture on the local music scene, Yusef started playing his solo blues at Disneyland 11 years ago. His energetic sets are built around his growling vocals and vital guitar playing, which alternates between fingerpicking and lively slide work. He also gives library concerts for kids and travels around performing at Do Something Blue dances. But lately he’s been more focused on getting back into the area club circuit. This weekend he returns to RedWhite+Bluezz, where he performs for the brunch crowd on Sundays.
He used to stress the connections between blues, African griots and rap with audiences, but over time, he has adjusted his message. His passion for his music, however, remains unchanged.
“I try to make it clear to people that [blues] is not sad music,” he explains. “Once, at a library gig, people saw ‘blues’ on the flyer and went, ‘Oh…’ And I stood up and guaranteed their time — and they stayed and had a good time.
“This music lives on. [It expresses] that ability to be free in a society where you’re not allowed to be free — to be a regular person and express yourself about anything: life, work, spirituality, gospel. That’s been more my goal, to show them that this is music born out of poverty, hatred, racism, anger, and so needed by people to allow them to survive. It influenced everything that came after it, including contemporary music in Africa. That’s heavy. That’s major power. To lift people, to allow them to be a normal person in a society that didn’t even consider them a normal human being — it played a large role in our survival. Everywhere I go, even when I’m playing the darkest club, that’s what I play.”
Brother Yusef returns to RedWhite+Bluezz, 70 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, 10:45 a.m.-2:45 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23. Info: 792-4441. brotheryusef.com