Taj Mahal: music, humanity and tribute 

"We got a chance to play at similar festivals, but never ever together as a combined show," Taj Mahal says of Bonnie Raitt, with whom he's performing this summer on the BonTaj Roulet Tour.

"I worked on her album Takin' My Time," Mahal continues. "She worked on a few different albums of mine in the '90s. This year she didn't put an album out. I was coming down off of mine [2008's Maestro]. Here it was summertime and we wanted to put something together unique," Mahal said.

Mahal says that, when he performs with Raitt, he still sees the young woman he met in the '60s.

"I heard a lot about her playing. She was a lot different than the other players, female or otherwise. She seems to hear the music as a musician, more than a chick singer or chick guitar player."

Back then, Mahal thought that only Raitt and a few other female guitarists - Carol Hunter, "maybe Lisa Kindred and then later on Rory Block" - transcended their gender to become genuine musicians.

"There are a lot more now. The music is a part of their life. She approaches with a hell of a lot more gravitas than a lot of people."

Since his start with Los Angeles-based blues band The Rising Sons (along with fellow eclectic musician Ry Cooder) in the mid-1960s, Mahal has worked in genres ranging from blues, folk, rock to R&B; Hawaiian, Caribbean to African.

"I've had a different background than most people when it comes to music," Mahal explains. "As much as I love the blues, I have had problem with blues in the modern state because it felt like it was never expected to be responsible for itself. It was working off the generosity of other people. It didn't know how to have a worldview. That was the way I was raised. It has to have its own ideas to relate to its own relatives. A lot of people don't think about anybody else outside the United States. My family is from the Caribbean and it's all connected. You can't cut the cord. The title of 'world music' doesn't make it any more worldly. It gives people who are used to marketing a certain heading or a certain way of thinking."

Mahal's latest album, Maestro, exemplifies his cross-cultural worldview. Special guests include Beninese singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo, Jamaica native Ziggy Marley, Tex-Mex band Los Lobos and Americans Jack Johnson and Ben Harper.

"Ziggy brought his roots," Mahal says. "Angelique, Jack, Ben, they all brought their roots. I had an incredible time working with my daughter [Deva, who co-wrote and contributed background vocals to "Never Let You Go"]. Los Lobos? Talk about guys showing their versatility. On one song, they sound like they're from a juke joint in Mississippi ["TV Mama"]. Then they're beautifully playing rockin' reggae ["Never Gonna Let You Go"]. It's about music, man, and humanity and tribute. These are the great things we do."

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