Fantastic Negrito – a.k.a. musician Xavier Dphrepaulezz (pronounced Deh-frep-aw-lez) – is truly an artist for these times, a multi-talented, genre-agnostic original whose life and work embody the struggle, energy, truth and creativity of black music. Negrito was raised in an orthodox Muslim household, the eighth of 14 children of a deeply religious Somali-Caribbean immigrant. The family moved from western Massachusetts to Oakland, CA, when Negrito was just 12 years old, his new hometown’s vibrant black community providing a massive culture shock after what was an extremely conservative childhood.
Raised by the streets of Oakland, Negrito discovered a passion for music and by the time he was 20, had taught himself a range of instruments. Sensing that he was on the wrong path and fearing for his life, he knew he had to make a change so, armed with only his demo on cassette, he moved to Los Angeles where he eventually signed a million dollar major record label deal. Alas, his soulful music was not made for those times and his debut album – released under his own name – went largely unnoticed. His confidence shattered, he pondered his next move.
Tragically, fate intervened in 2000 when he suffered a near-fatal car accident that not only left him in a three-week coma, but also saw permanent damage to his playing hand. He fought hard, enduring hours of painful physical therapy, and in 2008, returned to Oakland where he embarked on a new life as an urban farmer growing vegetables and other, more profitable, green matter.
The birth of his son inspired Negrito to once again pick up his guitar, and encouraged by his childhood friend, co-founder/co-owner of artist collective Blackball Universe, and Empire writer/producer Malcolm Spellman, Negrito began exploring the roots of black music, ultimately winding back to the original source, the DNA of all American music: the blues. But rather than simply updating the Delta blues, Fantastic Negrito created something altogether new and unique, building bridges to the 21st century by weaving the original sounds of Lead Belly and Skip James with loops and samples of his own live instruments.
Dubbing himself Fantastic Negrito, he took to the streets once more, to test his songs and sharpen his message. Bay Area shows with a proper band followed and in 2015, he entered and won NPR’s inaugural Tiny Desk Concert contest, triumphing over 7,000 other entrants. In 2016, he self-produced and self-released the debut Fantastic Negrito album, The Last Days Of Oakland, which scaled unimaginable heights, eventually going on to earn the aforementioned Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album and ecstatic praise around the globe.
Fantastic Negrito has spent much of the past two years on the road, including sold out headline shows, stage-stealing festival performances, and a series on North American and European tours supporting his great supporter and friend, the late Chris Cornell as well as Cornell’s legendary supergroup Temple of the Dog. He also opened for Sturgill Simpson and many others.