Tobey LaRoche, 26, was still a young boy when father Ken LaRoche’s seminal world music group Do’ah split in 1991. Even still, he has strong memories of seeing the group perform.
“I have very distinct memories of being a very small child and throwing myself underneath the Do’ah stage,” Tobey LaRoche said recently while en route to Chapel Hill, N.C., with his own world music group, Sol & Kiel, which will perform at the Moon & River Cafe on Friday night.
“The two of them, Ken LaRoche and his partner Randy Armstrong, as well as the other members, would play literally hundreds of instruments in one show. As a young child, feeling the vibrations under the stage of all those different stringed instruments, wind instruments, percussion instruments, really ingrained itself in me very strongly. And even though Do’ah parted ways, [my father] continued to play professionally until his last days — he was in other world music ensembles and Latin groups, and he did some jazz stuff.”
Today, Tobey LaRoche and Michael Harrist, the two main songwriters and founders of Sol & Kiel, are carrying on the Do’ah tradition in their own music — many of the instruments they play on actually belonged to the elder LaRoche.
Sol & Kiel
WITH: Rick Sacchetti, Shawn Marosek
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Moon & River Cafe, 115 S. Ferry St., Schenectady
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 382-1938, www.moonandrivercafe.com
Together with cellist, violist and violinist Jesse Hanson, they are touring for the first time outside their home base in Boston, teaching audiences at coffeehouses and clubs throughout the Northeast about instruments such as the adungu (a nine-string Ugandan harp), the shruti box (an Indian hand pump instrument) and the balafon (a kind of West African marimba), among many others.
“People are definitely surprised when we walk in with an enormous wooden instrument with huge gourds hanging off of it,” LaRoche said. “But they’ve been very receptive to the novelty of the instruments. It’s refreshing to see people getting exposed to things that are really beautiful and don’t get a lot of exposure.”
For the members of Sol & Kiel, the instruments aren’t simply novelty items.
“We take seriously the traditions of each instrument, particularly the beautiful qualities each one has,” Harrist said. “We’re very intentional about using them to develop or make deeper the feelings and emotions we have for particular tunes and compositions.”
Harrist and LaRoche met seven years ago while studying at Marlboro College in Vermont. Both came from musical backgrounds — LaRoche, inspired by his father, picked up hand percussion instruments as a teenager and has been singing since he was a child; Harrist has played both upright and electric bass for jazz and rock groups; and both studied piano as kids.
“[Marlboro College] wasn’t so much of a music-oriented school, but we did a lot of music while we were there,” LaRoche said. “Mike and I both co-hosted some open mics and encouraged the music scene, which is part of what got us playing together and becoming friends and whatnot.”
After graduating, the two kept in touch while pursuing other musical endeavours. In October of 2011 they finally found the time to work together again, setting up shop in Harrist’s father’s farmhouse in Denmark, Maine, where they stayed until February of 2012, exploring different instruments and writing the material that would become their first self-titled EP.
“It was a very exciting winter for us,” LaRoche said. “We explored different sound combinations and we played a lot of instruments from all around the world — a lot inherited from my father, and some that we had acquired since then. After, we moved down together, back to the Boston area, and we have kept it going ever since.”
Hanson, a classically trained violinist, joined up with the duo about a year ago to help fill out the sound. Live, she covers the bowed string instruments, while Harrist plays acoustic guitar, upright bass, shruti box and banjo; LaRoche plays many of the more exotic instruments including Navajo flute, balafon, adungu and others.
“Some instruments are more foundational to a particular track,” Harrist said. “For instance, when we perform our kind of more folk-leaning songs — our songs, not the instrumental pieces — usually guitar is the basis of the track, so guitar is necessary. If Tobey’s singing, there’ll be a string section behind him between Jesse and I; if I’m singing, Tobey will play Navajo flute or adungu or harmonica, while Jesse will be laying some fiddle down or some cello. For the instrumental pieces, that’s where some of the more fun things come in.”
The band’s current three-week jaunt, which began May 11 in Middlebury, Vt., and finishes up with a homecoming show at The Lilypad in Cambridge, Mass., on May 30, is its first tour. After, the band plans to lie low for the summer and work on new material, and is hoping to pick up with more touring again once a new record is finished.
“The whole group strongly believes that music exists to serve something greater than ourselves,” Harrist said. “We hope that in whatever small way we help to spread light and happiness, and heal pain with whatever humble means we have.”
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