Mike Cameron said his band, Count Tutu, plays politically charged funk music.
“Probably the best way to describe it is James Brown meets Rage Against the Machine,” he said.
That’s not a combination you hear every day, but it’s a combination that will greet attendees to The Hop Jam, a craft beer and music festival that will take place Sunday, May 21, in the Brady Arts District.
Hanson will headline the fourth annual Hop Jam. Count Tutu will christen the fourth-year festival because the Tulsa-based band won the Awesome Music Opening Band Contest, co-presented by the Tulsa World, the Woody Guthrie Center and OKPOP.
A great selection of wide-ranging artists entered the contest, but Taylor Hanson said he loves that Count Tutu will open Hop Jam because the band is incredibly eclectic, incredibly energetic and has a diverse sound.
“I really love their sound and I think it’s a great reflection of the event itself to kick off with such a high energy and original Tulsa band,” he said.
“There is a lot of great stuff in this town, and these guys are a great example of what you’ve got brewing in the city,” Isaac Hanson said.
Playing the Main Stage at Hop Jam will introduce Count Tutu to a big audience. The big moment was 10 years in the making.
Count Tutu wasn’t formed until July 2015, but the seed to create a band like this was planted in 2007. That’s when Cameron got his first exposure to afrobeat music (“which is our main influence”) while visiting Paris.
“I went to a pretty small club and there was this huge band,” he said. “There were probably 10 to 13 people on stage. And they were singing in French and English and every song was politically charged.”
Cameron, a saxophone player, was accustomed to just operating his instrument while performing. But he was impressed that everyone in the band, even the horn players, were being vocal in that little Paris club.
“Everybody was singing on stage and everyone was just like dripping with sweat and it was really the coolest performance I had ever seen, and they were singing in French and English, which was so awesome,” he said.
Cameron said he has wanted to form a band like Count Tutu ever since he moved back to Tulsa from Chicago in 2008. The pieces, and there are a lot of them, fell into place two years ago.
Count Tutu has 11 members. Make it an even dozen. A guest singer, Delaney Z of the band Smoochie Wallus, will join Count Tutu on stage at Hop Jam.
Cameron said the gig will be a little bit intimidating but said he doesn’t feel too uncomfortable because he is confident in the musicians in the band.
“They are all people I have been playing with for a number of years,” he said.
The band owes its name to a mash-up of Count Basie, a jazz legend, and Desmond Tutu, the South African social rights activist. Get ready for music with a message. Count Tutu songs tackle issues like gun control and the exploitation of people by health insurance companies.
Cameron said Rage Against the Machine was one of his favorite bands of the 1990s. Rage Against the Machine had something to say about events of that era. Cameron respected that and still listens to the band.
Cameron said Count Tutu is trying to get involved in more local happenings to raise awareness about issues that are important to the band.
Voters chose Count Tutu as Hop Jam’s opening band. Oklahoma artists had until April 17 to register for the contest by posting video of a live performance. The Hop Jam team selected 12 finalists before voting was opened to the public.
“We can’t wait,” Cameron said. “We’re really humbled that enough of our fans have voted for us.”