ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Grammy Award-winning musician Taj Mahal likes to call what he does as make “music that melts in your mind.”
“I grew up with bebop that morphed into jazz,” said Mahal during a recent phone interview. “Change is what music is all about. It’s all about how you roll with it.”
Mahal, who sings and plays guitar, keyboard and banjo, and his longtime musical collaborators, drummer Kester Smith and bass player Bill Rich, come to the Lensic Performing Arts Center tonight to share some of their 40 years of musical experiences together with audience members.
“The concert will be loose and relaxed,” said Mahal. “We like to mix it up. There are things we want to play and things we know that people want to hear. Sometimes one of us suddenly says ‘Let’s do that one’ in the middle of a concert and we do something we hadn’t planned.”
During the course of his five-decade-long career, Mahal has mastered a wide range of musical styles from Mississippi Delta blues to African rhythms. He’s produced 50 albums and recently came out with a box set of 13 albums that covers music made from 1965 through 1976.
One of the reasons that Mahal is so excited about his current fall tour, which takes him from California to Vermont, is that he’s sharing the stage with South African guitarist/vocalist Vusi Mahlasela and the duo Fredericks Brown, which consists of his daughter Deva Mahal and keyboardist Steph Brown.
“Everyone will do their own set, although there certainly will be some collaborating during the concert,” said Mahal. “Having these incredible voices alongside me is thrilling.”
Deva Mahal, who has lived in New Zealand, and Brown, who hails from New Zealand, have fused their diverse backgrounds to form a unique sound that reflects both their musical heritages.
“I’m delighted that my daughter has her own niche,” said Mahal. “She’s not a blues person, but she’s not necessarily rock ‘n’ roll. She’s got her own style.”
South African folk rhythms combine with pop, blues and soul in the music of Mahlasela. The title track of Mahlasela’s first album, “When You Come Back,” became an anthem throughout South Africa and led him to national fame and a performance at President Nelson Mandela’s inauguration.
Born Henry St. Claire Fredericks in Harlem in 1942, Mahal grew up in Springfield, Mass., with his jazz pianist father and gospel-singing mother. Springfield in the 1950s was a community of immigrants from all over the globe. Musicians from the Caribbean, Africa and throughout the United States frequently visited Mahal’s home.
Mahal’s first albums in the late 1960s drew from the sounds and styles he had absorbed during childhood.
Inspired by a dream, Mahal adopted the musical alias of Taj Mahal during his college years in Massachusetts. After graduation in the mid-1960s, he headed to Los Angeles and launched his music career. He has been nominated for nine Grammy Awards and won two of them.