Femi Kuti waxes poetic with Seattle’s Publish the Quest members and bellows, “Gimme horns! Gimme horns!” opening the groovy pan-world pop band’s new album Then What!? (Late Night Sessions), and leading into the “Gimme hope! Gimme hope!” of Jacob Bain’s unrelenting optimism. Before you know it, you’re on your feet ready to dance and to sign up to join his quest.
Then What!? is Publish the Quest’s pursuit of musical connection—its own band members’ pop, salsa, reggae, and hip-hop past fused with the deep vocals and alto sax of Afrobeat legend Femi Kuti, the bendy riffs of string virtuoso Eyvind Kang, and the poetic, hip hop vocals of beatbox artist Radioactive.
As a teenager, Bain routinely sneaked off to play his guitar and hang out in a little bootleg cabin in the middle of the woods known as Troll’s Cottage on Vashon Island (Washington State) where he was raised. A haunt for old hippies and eccentric musicians, Troll’s Cottage became his second home for a few years, and a hub for young local musicians encountering the world’s music. Enthralled by Fela Kuti, Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, and Ali FarkaToure. Bain tried to emulate the West African licks, the sounds of the mbira, or thumb piano, on his guitar, to capture the rhythms. This fascination became a quest of its own, one that eventually took Bain to Africa, where he met many of his idols and dove deeper into the music.
While African rhythms set the pulse of Publish the Quest’s blend of electric hip hop pop, Southeast Asia has shaped the band’s lyrics and perspective. “Don’t Point That Gun at Me” and “You Never Know Who You’re Gonna Meet” recount actual experiences in Thailand and Burma. His stories thump and lilt about fear and violence, watching friends fall deeper into debt, and a system that takes and takes, but Bain also expects experiences to knock him off his feet and change the way he thinks. He “asks for peace, to extend the love, to build it up again, to take a stand—and if there are problems, to solve them.”
Off-stage, Publish the Quest continues their search for connection, extending the love, and solving some of those problems they sing about. Band members have traveled to West Africa and Zimbabwe five times to date, performing, teaching, and sharing donated instruments and soccer balls to orphaned children, many who have been born with HIV. Two years in a row Jacob and fellow band members have been to the PakarePaye Art Center, the life work of one of his original African influences,Tuku. Collected instruments from the closets and drawers of generous Seattle musicians were the first that had been donated to the youth art center since its opening in 2003, overwhelming Tuku with emotion at the sight of them.
This musical journey has profoundly affected the Publish the Quest musicians too; the collection of musical instruments has become a large part of the band’s personal mission. They are already working on their next album, a compilation of the last three years-worth of African trips as well as a documentary, The Truth About 99 Cents.
“Showing somebody his or her first guitar chord or how to hold and blow into a trumpet for the first time is special. Sharing songs and ideas about music with new people is one of the most intimate experiences…language barrier or not, music outweighs words. Sharing the stage with somebody to play for an audience is immensely exhilarating. Learning the chords or the rhythm to a new song moments before a performance and then being invited—or more like catapulted, into the present moment, is vivid.”
Then What!? will catapult listeners to their feet, grooving to the horns, lilting with the strings—transporting them to an adventure on the back of Jacob’s words, and all the while singing to themselves, “I’ve got hope.”
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