In late August I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Xavier Dphrepaulezz, otherwise known as ‘Fantastic Negrito’ from his home in Oakland, California. Fresh off a tour with Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave, Dphrepaulezz has been bringing his unique brand of punk-infused blues music to the UK and Ireland in recent months, opening for Cornell in the Royal Albert Hall amongst other venues. His album, ‘The Last Days of Oakland’ has been met with rave reviews. He returns to Dublin in September, to headline a gig in Whelans on September 18th.
For those following the US election over the past year, the name ‘Fantastic Negrito’ may seem familiar. He has played at several of Bernie Sanders’ rallies and has been highly praised by Sanders himself. When I asked him if he would describe himself as a political artist, he told me he was surprised that so many would describe him as such. He feels he is the opposite, describing himself as “a contributor in the family of humanity”.
Upon listening to his album, ‘The Last Days of Oakland’, it became clear to me that his sound meshes perfectly with Bernie’s politics. Blues music rose up from oppression, and with Bernie being hailed as the working man’s champion, the combination of the two seems perfect, especially when you consider Dphrepaulezz’s own personal background. He is a living example of the American dream: a man who faced hardships and obstacles and built his way up. When I asked him about his background, he emphasised that he would never have been able to achieve such success without the help of others, and explains that Americans must remember that success should not be gained on the backs of others.
This personal journey of success through collaboration fed into the inspiration for his album he explained. The album describes growing up in Oakland, and explores the themes of perseverance and struggle. His own personal philosophy shines through, that hard work and good support are instrumental in forging a successful path in life.
The album describes growing up in Oakland, and explores the themes of perseverance and struggle.
This philosophy doesn’t come as a surprise when you learn more about Dphrepaulezz’s backstory. Born in Massachusetts as the eighth of 14 children to an Oxford-educated Somalian emigrant, he left home at age 12 when the family moved to Oakland. His career hasn’t been straightforward either. He spent much of the 90’s signed to a major label working as an R&B musician, he left the industry in 2007, re-emerging in 2014 under the name Fantastic Negrito, and taking a more blues orientated approach to his music.
But Dphrepaulezz doesn’t like to be labelled as a purely blues-centered musician, stating that he isn’t a fan of genres, telling me that “genres are a good place to hide”. He calls his sound “black roots music for everyone”, and takes inspiration from many different styles of music, ranging from Skip James, The Clash, David Bowie to early rap. His influences are broad and this is reflected in his personal sound.
When I asked him if any Irish musicians influenced him, he named U2 and the late Phil Lynott as artists who made an impact on him. In the past he shared a manager with the late Prince who he also cites as an musical inspiration. The influence these artists have on him goes beyond their music. It is also their honesty and ability to capture the public mood and incorporate current events into their work that inspires Fantastic Negrito to be the honest, multifaceted artist that he is.
Fantastic Negrito plays Whelans on Wexford Street in town on the 18th of September.
Aoileann Kennedy | Music Editor