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Sounds Local: Multi-instrumentalist Matthew King branches out as TapRoots frontman

  • The global soul fusion group TapRoots, fronted by Amherst’s Matthew King, will perform at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center on Friday. Contributed photo

  • Rebirth, which plays world fusion music, will open a show for TapRoots at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center on Friday. Contributed photo

  • The global soul fusion group TapRoots, fronted by Amherst’s Matthew King, will perform at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center on Friday. Contributed photo

  • TapRoots released its self-titled debut album in February. Contributed image

  • HUNTER



For the Recorder
Thursday, October 11, 2018

Multi-instrumentalist Matthew King of Amherst is branching out from playing other people’s music, as he’s done for years with local bands like The Alchemystics and Dave Noonan’s Green Island, to front his own band, the global soul fusion group TapRoots.

TapRoots, which released its self-titled debut album in February, will take the stage at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield Friday night at 8 p.m.

The band is a who’s who of Pioneer Valley musicians that includes Noonan on drums; Chris Ball on bass; Dan Thomas on guitar; I-Shea on vocals and percussion; Frank Newton, Jon Weeks and Kathryn Rapinski on horns; and Garrick “Force” Perry, Eraun “Catalyst” Dugger and Zami Buggs-King on vocals. All are joined by King on guitar, vocals and percussion.

King’s journey of forming his own band is a long one. Growing up in the eastern part of the state, he was always interested in music, but later in life he put music on the back burner to spend time working and traveling the world. About 14 years ago, King took a job teaching history at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School (PVPA), and it was there that he found his interest in music rekindled.

“I picked up a bunch of instruments and learned how to play most of them, and it took off from there. Now I’m teaching music at the school as well,” King said about his re-entry into the music world.

“My main thing has been percussion for the last 20 years of so,” he added. “I’ve been studying Afro-Cuban- Brazilian percussion and playing in various local bands.”

Even while busy playing other people’s music, King was writing songs of his own. He shared some of his work with The Alchemystics founding drummer, the late Demse Zullo, who strongly encouraged King to step out on his own.

“Before he died, we had a conversation where Demse said, ‘Your stuff is great, you really need to put it out there and do your thing,’” King recalled. “So I dedicated the CD to him for being an inspiration for me.”

In addition to Zullo’s support, the 2016 presidential election inspired him to start writing. The day after the election, he channeled his anxiety into the song “Hallowed Ground,” in which he writes “One of these mornings/You may find your brothers and sisters gone/Who’ll be there when they come for you?” Once the songs were ready, King decided that he would record the album on his own, playing all of the instruments himself, but thought better of this idea once he started recording.

“I brought in some friends to play horns on a couple of tracks, and after a while it was like, this is about showcasing the community we have here,” he said. “There is such a wealth of great musicians out here.”

King’s musicianship dominates the disc, but he also brought in Mal Devisa to lend her soulful vocals to “Hallowed Ground,” and enlisted keyboard great Mitch Chakour to play keys on “Hand Up.” Noonan played drums throughout the disc. The Alchemystics rapper Garrick “Force” Perry and Ilana Morris lend their talents to the album’s first single, the Caribbean/reggae-flavored anthem “Walk Lightly ’Pon the Land,” which explores our relationship with the earth. The song is currently No. 7 on the world music chart, EthnoCloud.

Musically, TapRoots is a complex tapestry of styles that melds familiar sounds with some that will be new to listeners.

King draws from a wide net of influences; you’ll hear elements of rock, soul, reggae, salsa, hip-hop, samba, folkloric rhythms and more in his music, which he describes as tapping “into the roots of these traditions while imagining something refreshingly new.” King also said his music will appeal to fans of Carlinhos Brown, Rubén Blades, The Beatles, Fela Kuti, Ozomatli and Santana.

“I was always worried there are so many different influences,” he said. “I wanted a mix of things that weren’t familiar to people even if the totality of it would be like, ‘I don’t know where this is coming from, but I can feel that rock ’n’ roll thing underneath it’ or ‘I can feel that soul.’”

In addition to being musically ambitious, the eight tracks on the disc find King writing about a wide range of topics including the environment, police violence and the life’s inconsistencies.

“TapRoots” is a political album, but also one that is deeply spiritual. The collection of songs is about hope and healing; building community and moving forward toward a better future. This is music that makes you think, makes you feel and will make you dance.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I was always drawn to songs that were about something, that kind of inspired both a feeling and a sense of urgency that the world is falling apart and we’ve got to do something about it,” King said. “It’s not the time to give up. That is the ultimate message.”

“I want to put it out there that if you are feeling down about this stuff, you are not alone and you are stronger the more people you gather together with you to try to make a change,” he added.

When the disc was released in February, King put together a band of talented local players to bring this music to the stage. They hosted a successful release show at Hawks & Reed with Rebirth opening. King said it was “love at first listen,” when he heard Rebirth, so the band, which also plays a brand of world fusion music, has been invited to open the show Friday night.

King said that fronting his own band hasn’t always been easy, but he is committed to TapRoots and is working hard to expand the band’s audience.

“For me, this is about very consciously creating community through music, art (and) activism, and kind of bringing these loose strands of our lives together — the political, the spiritual, the artistic — and celebrating them as who we are as whole beings trying to make sense of this world.”

“TapRoots” is available on Amazon, iTunes and on the band’s website, thetaprootsmovement.com. Tickets to Friday’s show are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Tickets can be purchased at hawksandreed.com.

Busy musical weekend in Turners Falls

If you are looking to hear live music this weekend, you might consider heading to Turners Falls.

It starts Friday night with Kat Wright at the Shea Theater Arts Center at 8 p.m. Wright has been called a “young Bonnie Raitt meets Amy Winehouse.” Wright has a terrific voice that lends itself perfectly to the soul, R&B and funky music she creates. The indie-jazz-influenced rock band The Greys will open the show. Advance tickets are $12.

Friday will be a night of country-western swing and more when the five-piece band The Nite Caps perform at the Great Falls Coffeehouse at 7 p.m. The monthly coffeehouse held in the Great Hall of the Great Falls Discovery Center at 2 Avenue A has a sliding scale of $6 to $12 for admission.

On Sunday night, it’s even more music at the Shea when Eilen Jewell returns. Jewell, who is from Idaho, has won a loyal following here in the Pioneer Valley with her country folk sound. Last year, she explored some new ground in her music, covering blues on the album, “Down Hearted Blues.” Jewell and her excellent band will play a 7 p.m. show. Advance tickets are $20.

To learn more about the Shea’s upcoming shows and to purchase tickets, visit sheatheater.org.

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at soundslocal@yahoo.com.