For a good time, call …
Island of Black and White play hard for the money
If you’re watching Island of Black and White and catch yourself smiling uncontrollably during the band’s set, not to worry—this is precisely the reaction its members want.
And while the band’s joyful music and engaging live shows have earned it regular gigs at the likes of bookstores and cafes, it’s hardly your standard background-coffeshop-soundtrack kinda act.
“I think what people really enjoy is that we bring something they’ve never seen before. How many times have you seen somebody playing the guitar [and] keyboard at the same time while using a talk box with an accordion, playing a Marshall Tucker Band song?” said Chris Haislet, the band’s lead singer and multi-instrumentalist.
Call it pure, uncut entertainment.
Island of Black and White formed in 2004 when Haislet and a friend used it as a means to travel and play when and wherever they felt like it. It wasn’t until 2008, however, when Nawal Alwareeth joined forces as the band’s manager (and, eventually, its drummer) that they started to take all this fun more seriously.
Haislet’s friend eventually quit, leaving Haislet and Alwareeth at its core. Now, while Haislet amuses everyone by juggling instruments, singing and acting like a goof, Alwareeth backs him up on the drums, and the pair is often—although not always—accompanied by other musicians.
Regardless of how many people are in the band on a particular night (the band occasionally expands into a quartet), Haislet stays busy, jumping around and getting the crowd excited.
Island of Black and White’s sound follows suit, switching seamlessly between a long list of genres that include reggae, classic rock, folk, funk, blues, country and just about anything else they feel like playing.
“We really like all kinds of music. If you’re a country band, then you’re stuck always playing country. We left the option open to play whatever we want,” Haislet said.
Though it might seem somewhat random, it’s not the musical styles that connect the band’s music—it’s the energy created, whether that’s through a reggae groove or folk-rock anthem.
“If you’re having fun, then people are having fun. It goes both ways,” Haislet said. “It feeds off of each other.”
Fun, in fact, is the band’s No. 1 goal, Haislet added. And it’s not just his energy that gets them there. The entire band engages the crowd with a wild spontaneity that reaches levels few bands are willing to reach—no small feat considering its performances often exceed three hours.
“We’re not one of those bands that practices everything we do. [It’s] live, real, improvised [and] in the moment,” Alwareeth said. “When we’re up there, everything can change.”
Indeed, while the band does plan out some sections and arrange certain vocal harmonies, the music can and does change at any time. Sections get cut short or switched around. Sometimes Haislet decides to play a solo for 10 minutes or, maybe, jump into an unplanned breakdown.
Such an approach, Haislet said, keeps them in sync with the crowd.
“We’re on the same page as the audience. They don’t know what’s coming next, but neither do we,” Haislet said.“We try to make it special. … You have to make it good. You got to make it different.”
All that merriment is paying off. The band currently plays five nights a week. In short, it makes a living playing music and clowning around.
“We take our music [seriously], “ Haislet said. “But we [also] take entertaining [seriously].”