Matthew King - photo by Vinny Natale

Matthew King is a Western Massachusetts-based musician, formerly of the seminal rap/reggae outfit The Alchemystics. He has since ventured out with his own band, TapRoots, which he formed at the end of the last decade. Born out of the desire to explore and blend a variety of musical influences, TapRoots is a new vision of cultural sonic fusion in a sea of monochromatic, genre-specific industry songs. 

About 17 years ago, King took a job teaching history at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School (PVPA), and it was there that he learned more than just the congas, and became the multi-instrumentalist he is today. From this renewed love of all sorts of genres of music came TapRoots, and The Global Groove Fest: a celebration of sounds from all over the world. Matthew King will bring The Global Groove Fest, featuring TapRoots, Hartford’s The Lost Tribe, and Amherst, MA-based Jose Gonzalez and Banda Criolla, to Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls, MA on Friday, August 19th. [Tickets are available at this link.] The Global Groove Festival serves as both a showcase of world music as well as a CD release party for TapRoots, who have debuted their first single since before the pandemic, “Song for the Ocean.”

We recently caught up with Matthew King to pick his brain about his future plans for TapRoots, his travels, and inspirations for his songs both past and present.

LMNR: Thanks for talking with us, Matthew! Please tell us a little bit about yourself- tell us how you got into music, how you decided to become a musician. Who’s your favorite musician or band, who would you count among your influences?

MK: My passion for music I think probably goes back lifetimes to be honest. . . But in this lifetime I have a feeling it all started in my mothers womb. I’m sure there in that oceanic environment, I could hear my mother’s heartbeat drumming out of rhythm that took hold of me and that started me on my way. My mother often tells a story of me banging out rhythms on bowls, plates, the walls. . . whatever I could get my hands on, as soon as I was able. I first picked up a guitar when I was nine and I was hooked on making music from that moment on. About 20 years ago or so I played my first congas, which touched me deeply, and have been immersing myself into the world of Afro Latin music ever since.  Then when I started teaching at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts School in South Hadley, I began teaching others what I have learned, and taught myself bass, drums, keyboards, and arranging for horns along the way. I often joke that if you give me any object, I will figure out how to make some sort of music with it.

As for influences, those are really as diverse as it gets. I remember when I was five years old, I discovered the radio and spent every day listening to whatever was on it. Rock ‘n’ roll, soul, R&B, funk, ballads. Back then the radio just didn’t seem quite so segregated as it does now. A single station would play all of it, from Led Zeppelin to Sly Stone to Earth Wind and Fire to Cat Stevens to Santana to Linda Ronstadt, to Yes, just to name a few of the groups I remember listening to in the ’70s. To me it all made sense as simply music. Once I got old enough to start digging crates at the local record stores, I got into more Puerto Rican and Brazilian, West African, and Cuban artists. Today, I would say that some of my greatest influences are Carlinhos Brown from Brazil, Ozomatli from Los Angeles, and Ruben Blades from Panama. On the compositional and arranging side of things, I would say that artists that have had a huge impact on me are Prince and Frank Zappa. Prince really taught me the meaning of groove, as well as how to write some wicked horn lines. And nothing beats his live shows! He really taught me how to perform in a big way. Zappa, as well as Trey Anastasio, have always compositionally intrigued me in terms of how they will weave classical motifs into the rock idiom. Their music twists and turns and takes you on unexpected journeys, which I have always loved in a good song. At the end of the day, any music from anywhere that has soul and groove, it’s something that will get my attention and influence me in some way.

LMNR: Please tell us a little bit about the genesis of TapRoots.

MK: It really started when I was playing percussion regularly for the Alchemystics. Starting back in 2003 or so, I was living with Alchemystics founding member and drummer, Demse Zullo, at the time, and we were constantly playing music together in the little place we had in Easthampton. Those jam sessions that we would have in his attic eventually gave birth to the Alchemystics in those early days. I started playing percussion regularly with them in 2009 and over the years Demse would often try and inspire me to write my own stuff. He had a lot of faith in the music that he saw coming out of me, and wanted to see me put my own stuff out there, since it was different than, though complementary to, The Alchemystics sound. After Demse passed, I decided to honor him and his advice to me by recording the first TapRoots CD. It was the first time I put out the music I’ve been hearing in my head all of these years. And it’s been growing ever since. From the first album, I put together a band and we started building a little local following until the pandemic shut it all down. I used the first couple of years of the pandemic that we were quarantining to write the music that will become the TapRoots second CD, The Resonance Within. I’ve put together a killer band that is really breathing fire into this new material, which is already taking the original TapRoots blueprint to a whole other level.

LMNR: The music of TapRoots takes inspiration from cultures all over the world. Have you been able to travel abroad and get inspiration directly from the countries’ music/musicians to whom you’re paying homage?

MK: Great question! As soon as I got my hands on some congas and other percussion, my musical journey took me to New York City, where I was able to study with some of the best Cuban and Puerto Rican drummers out there. I’ve traveled to Puerto Rico many times and throughout Latin America studying different musical forms, as well as a year in India about 30 years ago where I studied Hindustani music for a year. For as far back as I can remember I’ve always been intrigued by traditional music of the world, whether it is Asian, African, Latin, Middle Eastern, European, Native American. I’ve always loved how different people use what they have around them to express the spirit of the land they live on, and their most deeply held beliefs. I feel blessed to have been able to travel and study outside of the US, which is something that I hope to continue to do till my last breath.

LMNR: Your new single in quite some time, “Song for the Ocean,” just dropped. Tell us a little bit about it, and how you decided to pay tribute to Yemaya, goddess of the ocean?

MK: When people ask about what kind of music TapRoots is, I always find it very difficult to pinpoint. Is it funk? Is it reggae? Is it Latin? Is it rock? It doesn’t fit any one box and is sometimes passed by as a result of people not knowing how to talk about it and understand it. Over the years I’ve tried to come up with different names. Global Fusion. Latin Prog Funk. Orisha Rock. The point is that there is an indefinable quality to this music, though there are some foundational grounding principles. The first and most obvious is rhythm. This music is complex, and will always have a lot of layers and interlocking rhythmic components to it from different influences. The second is in terms of composition. I’ve always loved music that takes you on a journey, and this music certainly does that; it twists and turns through melodic motifs and the influences of the many genres that form it. The third is spirit. I have always felt music as a powerful spiritual force in my life; for the last 20 years or so I have been a practitioner of La Regla de Ocha-Ifa/Lukumi; the Orishas and Afro Cuban culture has been a hugely influential and impactful presence in my life, and the music I make honors them for their inspiration. “Song for the Ocean” is my tribute to Yemaya, the Yoruba Orisha of the ocean, as well as motherhood. When I look at what we humans have been doing to this planet, and the oceans in particular, it hurts me to my soul. This song is a song of praise for her, thanks for the life that she gives to this world, and a call-to-action to take care of her shores.

Like many of TapRoots songs, it travels through many genres, from Reggaetón, to Sambareggae, to Salsa, to Folkloric music, to Timba. I really wanted it released in time for Summer, because when I hear it, I can feel the sun on my face in the waves of the ocean singing me to sleep as the ocean pounds away in the background. You can listen to the song here:

Download it from this link:

LMNR: Please share with us a favorite story of performing as a musician.

MK: I mean, I will always love playing at the festivals. I’ve been playing almost every year at StrangeCreek and Wormtown since 2009, which always just feels like coming home to family. And in those years playing with The Alchemystics, there were just so many great festivals that we were a part of, that also allowed me to see so many great bands that we shared the stage with. But then again, sometimes the smallest venues provide for the most intimate and energetic interactions with the audience. Playing local places like Hawks and Reed [in Greenfield, MA] or Gateway City Arts [Race Street Live in Holyoke, MA] has always been a beautiful way to connect with and give back to this local community that I feel like has given me so much as an artist. 

LMNR: Please share with us a favorite story of seeing live music as a fan or audience member.

MK: I suppose that would have to be my first concert. I was 13 and I saw Queen perform in either 1979 or 1980 at the Boston Garden. I’ll never forget it. I think they opened it with “Jailhouse Rock,” which I thought was cool that they opened the show not with a big hit of theirs but a cover song. They went through all of their biggest songs, and ended with a five song encore including “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions,” which Freddie Mercury dedicated to John Bonham who had passed away the day before. I was just blown away that anything in the world could be so powerful as seeing masters at work like that.

LMNR: How did you get through the lockdown part of the pandemic? Did you use it as a time of rest and relaxation or were you eager to get back to your plans that you had made before the world shut down?

MK: As I mentioned before, to me the pandemic was a time of intense work. I wrote an entire album’s worth of music, some of the most complex that I’ve written in my life, and began recording it and getting ready for this new phase of TapRoots. I recorded complete and many layered demos of all of the songs in my home studio so that when I went into the studio to record the album I was focused, knew what I wanted, and had everything ready for the many great musicians that have lent their talents to this album. The end result blows my mind every time I listen to it, and I can’t wait to share it with the world, both as a CD and as a live concert.

LMNR: What are your future plans for TapRoots?

MK: My plans are just to continue to get this music out there, and to try to help grow the local world music scene and arts community. I feel like this is really pretty amazing music but it’s not something that you will easily come across on the radio. It’s gonna take us getting out there and showing the people what we are all about; I know that once folks hear this music they will be hooked.  I’m great at the creative side of things, and fall a little short when it comes to promotion and marketing. I would love to find the help of someone who believes in the vision of this music who can help me get it out there into peoples ears and hearts. Often times local venues and festivals are old boys networks, and even though I feel like I’ve been a marginal part of those networks after playing with the Alchemystics all these years, it still is hard to get people to take a chance on something new and different like what we have to offer. A part of me wishes the music festivals here were more like the festivals they have in Europe and Japan. Here it seems to be very focused on just keeping it to a particular family or style of music (like the ubiquitous “jam band”) whereas in other parts of the world they use festivals as a forum to showcase global sounds and unique treasures from all over the world. We shall see. In many ways the world is getting smaller, and certainly the music of TapRoots has familiar elements to the festival scene over here.

LMNR: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

MK: I would like to say that this Global Groove Festival scheduled for August 19, is a celebration of culture, spirit, rhythm, and arts. The bands that will be playing alongside TapRoots are world-class masters in their own right. Jocelyn Pleasant, who leads The Lost Tribe, is very well known for her ability to weave West African rhythms and sensibilities into hip-hop funk and jazz. She and her group are phenomenal performers and are bound to give this Valley a real treat. José González is a truly legendary player from Puerto Rico going back to the 70s and beyond. His set will be filled with culture and passion and the profound and beautiful love of his island for all to enjoy. Together with TapRoots, as well as craft vendors and a live painter, we will be celebrating this valley’s diversity, and providing a form and a space that highlights and showcases BIPOC aesthetics, voices, and cultural forms. It’s something that this area desperately needs as we try to bring together this community and heal from some of the darker aspects of this country‘s history. It will be a celebration to which everyone is invited to come together, dance, feel the spirit, and lift ourselves up in jubilation.

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