OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — In downtown Oakland, at the New Parish nightclub, the concert quickly sold out. Inside at the sound check, is a mesmerizing voice that will break your heart.
Meet Fantastic Negrito. He’s just won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues album.
“The blues were just always there they were always around. I call it black roots music,” he says. “You know it came from Africa and thru slavery. It became something and then it ended up becoming something for all of us.”
A few years ago, Fantastic Negrito was busking in BART stations. Now he’s up for his first Grammy for his debut album titled, ‘The Last Days Of Oakland.’
It could be about any city undergoing gentrification.
“You know, people couldn’t afford to live in ’em anymore,” he explains. “Traditionally African-Americans were there. Artists who were traditionally in these big cities and they were being pushed out and these were great contributors.”
One song on the album is a powerful spin on the traditional song, “In the Pines.”
His version is for the countless black women who bury their children due to gun violence.
“I witnessed that personally,” he says. “It happened in my family.”
Born Xavier Dphrepaulezz in Massachusetts, Negrito was raised in a conservative Muslim household. His family moved to Oakland, where his brother was shot to death.
Living here opened up his world and stoked his musical talent.
“I came here and it was a culture shock, for sure, because you’re coming from this WASP-y pretty much white New England and you’re just heaped into this pit of culture and diversity,” he says. “The streets were just alive.”
As a musician he moved to L.A. where he signed a record deal.
“It was a complete disaster,” he says.
Negrito was in a horrible car crash. It destroyed his playing hand and put him in a coma for weeks.
He came back home to Oakland. Here he tapped into the blues.
“I had reached a point in my life where I could really relate to the emptiness and the rawness.”
Negrito’s humanity has even caught the attention of national leaders.
On the day KPIX 5 interviewed him, a box arrived from a former presidential candidate. Inside, a signed photograph from a big fan: Bernie Sanders.
For certain, Negrito’s fan base is exploding, his concerts are packed. His music is a tonic during these turbulent times.
“We’re really divided right now in this country and this world. Love and understanding. And let me listen to you and you listen to me. We need each other.”