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Fantastic Negrito at the Ritz

In Music
BUSKING BIG: Before he won 2 Grammys, Fantastic Negrito was playing at the train station in SF.

BUSKING BIG: Before he won 2 Grammys, Fantastic Negrito was playing at the train station in SF.

One day in 1999, Xavier Dphrepaulezz was driving through L.A. Next thing he knew, he was in a hospital bed. He’d been blindsided by another driver, his car had flipped over and three weeks had passed. His right hand was almost completely paralyzed. Half-atrophied, and held together by steel rods, he was lucky to be alive.

Flash forward to 61st annual Grammy Awards, held just a few weeks ago in Los Angeles, where Please Don’t Be Dead won Best Contemporary Blues Album. The cover of that record is a photograph of Dphrepaulezz, just moments after awakening from his coma.

These days, Dphrepaulezz goes by a different name: Fantastic Negrito, and Please Don’t be Dead is his second album to claim a Grammy.

“I put out two full-length albums, and they both won Grammys. That’s crazy,” Dphrepaulezz says. “I was thinking about it the other day. It was a lot of years culminating in this moment.”

Please Don’t be Dead is a powerhouse, the swaggering, fully-embodied tale of a man who looked death in the face and found beauty on the other side. Its music is deeply human, a howling wake-up call for our increasingly digital age.

“It’s raw and it’s not perfect, and I think we need that now,” he says.

An Oakland resident since the age of 12, Fantastic Negrito burst onto the music scene in 2015, when he won a contest to perform on NPR’s Tiny Desk series. Out of almost 7,000 contestants, it was Fantastic Negrito’s passion and voice that captured the attention of the All Songs Considered staff. Before that, Dphrepaulezz had been mostly performing at the train station in San Francisco.

“I was at the point where I just didn’t care anymore, and I thought I’d just play at the train station. That seemed like the most sincere and honest thing to do at the time. People getting off the train in San Francisco, you’ll never meet a group of people who don’t want to hear your songs more than these people,” he says, laughing.

Though he’s come a long way from his busking days, at 51, Fantastic Negrito is still just getting started.

“I love being a middle-age artist,” Dphrepaulezz says toward the end of our interview. “I hate to talk about what can’t be done. My grandmother used to tell me, ‘Work with what you got.’ I love that; that’s like my philosophy. I got this mangled hand, but I’m grateful that I got it.”

Fantastic Negrito
Mar 9, 8pm, $20+
The Ritz, San Jose

 

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