Toki Wright returns to Eau Claire

By Lindsey Rothering —

Part 1

Toki Wright and Big Cats will perform at Eau Claire’s House of Rock on Thursday, Feb. 19. This is the first Eau Claire show for the Minneapolis-based rapper and producer since the release of the collaborative album, “Pangaea,” released in September 2014.

This is not the first time Wright has played House of Rock, and he is looking forward to returning. Last April, Wright performed there with Dessa, another Minneapolis-based hip-hop artist, though he promises a different vibe this time around.

“I think the show that we presented last time is a lot more mellow than the show that we’re going to present this time,” Wright commented. “It’s a futuristic thing that is being presented in a traditional performance space.”

Indeed, the roster features a wider variety of guests this time around: from “NBC’s The Voice” Ashley DuBose; Bomba de Luz’s front woman Lydia Liza; and local Eau Claire acts Sayth and Soslylove.

Wright likes the variety of guests that the House of Rock brings in, saying “It has a nice mix of people. I feel like I played there back in the day with Brother Ali…it’s been a long time. I like the environment, I like the atmosphere, I like how mixed the crowd was in their age range, and you know, people were open to it.”

As someone that’s performed sold-out shows over several continents, Wright is also familiar with the differences in how people act at concerts.

“I think there is a general idea for people that go to hip-hop shows, depending on what your upbringing is… of how [you think] you’re supposed to act at a show. So, if you’re a traditionalist in the hip-hop sense, you might be prepared to go to a show and bounce around, jump around and act crazy. Or, if you’re somebody that comes from more of a conservative, mellow background, you’re probably going to act a little more conservative at the show.”

Wright says to expect a change in your attitude when you attend one of his shows, saying “I like to mess with people’s ideas and perceptions and take you in different directions throughout the [show]. You might be prepared to bounce around and I’m going to make you listen first, and then we can bounce around later. It’s just a mix.”

toki

Part 2

Raised in a Buddhist household, the religion’s ideas of living a moral life have clearly affected Wright. He is incredibly socially involved, and any Internet search will give you countless links to benefit concerts and goodwill projects Wright has been a part of. In 2013, Wright was chosen by the United States State Department to be an Art Ambassador, leading him to teach and help in Sierra Leone, West Africa.

While most people would not feel comfortable leaving their home continent to head into an ebola-stricken community, Wright felt it was necessary, explaining, “It teaches you a lot about other people, and it teaches you a lot about yourself. We get caught up in that trap of thinking [our comfort zone of school, work and home] is all we have … when there’s a whole big world out there that needs you to be there.”

Being so aware of social and cultural issues has come with its own set of hardships, however. During production of “Pangaea,” Wright suffered from depression. When asked about dealing with depression while being creative, Wright responded, “If you’re aware of how this world operates, and how cruel we can be, and how kind we can be at the same time, it’s going to play on your psyche. It’s going to play on your mind to know that we have such varying degrees of thinking and varying degrees of treating each other.

“The more aware you are, the more you realize how crazy this world is,” Wright added. “I have the gift and the curse of learning that there’s so much more out there that we don’t know, and we have to figure it out. That in itself, the vastness of eternity, and the vastness of the universe, is enough to give anybody a headache. I’m dealing with it through my songs … and you hear it in the music and you read it in the writing.”

Wright clearly knows what he is talking about, as referenced by several tracks on the album. Before he started collaborating with Big Cats, he had done work for a solo album, which files were ultimately lost in a house fire (though “Permanent,” Wright explains, is the only track on “Pangaea” that was on the original album). After the house fire, collaborations with Big Cats began and “Pangaea” went on to make several top 10 lists of 2014.

If Wright seems like a stand-up guy, that’s because he is, and that impression rings true to his offstage attitude as well. While many artists will come to a town, hit up a chain restaurant, play their show and leave, Wright is the exception. He compared his pre-show rituals to a politician’s behavior, saying “I like going out to see the town. I like getting to a town early enough and just finding out what people do, going to where they eat, you know, going to where they buy music, finding out about the local culture, stopping by the campus, meeting people, saying hello to folks and seeing how they react, you know? I don’t like parachuting into anybody’s town. I don’t like when politicians show up in my neighborhood only when they want votes. In a sense, as a musician you’re a politician too because you’re pushing forth these ideas out to the world, and how can I really speak to a group of people and not try to get to know who they are?”

“I dig Eau Claire a lot and the cool people out there.” The Eau Claire area digs you too, Toki Wright.

Toki Wright and Big Cats play the House of Rock in Eau Claire on Thursday, Feb. 19. Tickets are $7, doors open at 8 p.m. and the show is 21+. For more information on Toki Wright, check out his website at soultools.com and follow him on Twitter @mcwrighttc.

 

 

 

 

Toki Wright and Big Cats play the House of Rock in Eau Claire on Thursday, Feb. 19. Tickets are $7, doors open at 8 p.m. and the show is 21+. For more information on Toki Wright, check out his website at soultools.com and follow him on Twitter @mcwrighttc.

 

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