Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Harbour Blues ‘n Roots Festival headliner Fantastic Negrito finds room to grow

Singer-songwriter among the top acts as the B.C. Smoke Shop Harbour Blues ‘n Roots Festival returns this weekend with an eclectic mix blues, bluegrass, folk, country — and even full-on rock.
web1_fantastic_negrito-press-photo-1
Fantastic Negrito, the stage name for Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, will take to the stage 7 p.m. Saturday at the Harbour Blues ‘n Roots Festival. VIA VICTORIA JAZZ FEST SOCIETY

HARBOUR BLUES ‘N ROOTS FESTIVAL

Featuring: Fantastic Negrito, Samantha Fish, Jesse Dayton, Allison Russell, and others.
Where: Ship Point, 800 Wharf St., and Hermann’s Upstairs, 751 View St.
When: Friday, Aug. 25 through Sunday, Aug. 27
Tickets: Some shows are free; ticketed performances $28-$39 from jazzvictoria.ca
Information: jazzvictoria.ca/harbour-blues/

When Fantastic Negrito gets up on stage at the B.C. Smoke Shop Harbour Blues ‘n Roots Festival on Saturday, don’t expect him to hold back.

Fantastic Negrito, whose music spans blues, R&B, and roots music, has had to overcome a lot of life’s obstacles to get up on that stage. Born Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz in 1968, he survived a troubled childhood and a near-fatal car crash that permanently damaged his guitar playing hand.

“We will always face challenges in life. It’s how we adapt that make us who we are. I just never gave up,” said Dphrepaulezz, 55. “I turned bullshit into good shit — turned it into something beautiful.”

He quit music for seven years after the accident, before returning as Fantastic Negrito in 2014.

Dphrepaulezz said that some people were uncomfortable with his stage name at first, which he said came about through growing up with Latino-speaking friends in Oakland and Los Angeles. (Negrito means “little Black man” in Spanish.)

Instead of apologizing, he’s embraced the uncomfortable truth about growing up Black and uses it in his music.

“I am comfortable with discomfort,” he said. “I find that, as an artist, the more uncomfortable you are, the more you grow.”

Dphrepaulezz has produced all of his own albums, learning his way around the mixing console in the 1990s. His first exposure was in a neighbourhood studio that he later realized was owned by the area’s drug dealers. He stopped going when he heard on the news that a headless body had been found in the house.

The three-time Grammy winner released his fifth studio album, White Jesus Black Problems, last year under his own Storefront Records label.

Fantastic Negrito will take to the Harbour Blues ‘n Roots Festival stage at 7 p.m. Saturday. The opening act will be blues singer-songwriter Ndidi O, a two-time Juno-nominated and Western Canadian Music Award Blues Artist of the Year.

The festival features local, international and regional blues and R&B artists/groups, on stage at Ship Point in the Inner Harbour or Hermann’s Upstairs, Friday to Sunday.

This is the second year of the revamped three-day festival, formerly known as the Vancouver Island Blues Bash. The event is produced by the Victoria Jazz Society.

“After offering a straight blues festival for more than 20 years, we identified an opportunity to incorporate more styles, to support other genres and produce a fun music festival that includes bluegrass, folk, country and even full-on rock,” said Darryl Mar, festival producer.

“Performers range from Grammy winners, Juno-nominated performers to talented up-and-comers from around the province. We are super stoked.”

The festival has both free and ticketed acts, with an all-ages venue at Ship Point. Total attendance for the festival is expected to be about 20,000, with night-time acts drawing between 1,500 and 2,000.

Also playing ticketed shows at Ship Point are Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton, who will make their Victoria debut on Friday night, and Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Allison Russell on Sunday.

Other openers include he Blue and Gold and Boy Golden.

Fish is known as a festival headliner who captivates crowds with an unbridled, genre-defying form of blues-rock, while Russell won four Canadian Folk Music Awards, two Juno Awards and made the Polaris Music Prize long list — all in 2022.

At Hermann’s Upstairs, festival-goers can hear Mazacote, a six-piece world/Latin band with deep roots in the music of Nicaragua, Mozambique and Colombia, on Friday, and Winnipeg-born singer-songwriter Boy Golden on Saturday.

The festival offers free performances from noon to 5 p.m. on the outdoor stage at Ship Point on Saturday and Sunday, with the Smokestacks, Big Hank and the Toasters, and Claire Coupland among the performers.

The festival runs Friday to Sunday at Ship Point, 800 Wharf St., and Hermann’s Upstairs, 751 View St.

Tickets for featured acts at Ship Point and Hermann’s Upstairs range from $28 to $39. Children 12 and under are free at ticketed events, when accompanied by a ticketed adult.

For a full lineup, go to jazzvictoria.ca.

parrais@timescolonist.com