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An amusing phenomenon has been recurring during Fool's Gold's sets, and Lewis Pesacov can't figure out its origin. With increasing regularity, crowds have been spontaneously busting out the conga line — that goofy processional popular on balmy Caribbean islands — without any encouragement from the band. "It's nothing we've ever led," he says. "We've never done it onstage. We don't go into the audience and start a conga line." Bewildering as it may be, the guitarist gets a thrill when one pops up and strangers join in: "The conga line might be the lowest common denominator as far as organized group dances go. I don't mean that as a pejorative, but it's a simple thing that [all attendees] can do. It's kind of an amazing thing. It's hilarious."
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In contrast with the slim number of movements necessary to keep the average conga line going, Fool's Gold's sound is a complex potpourri. Established by Pesacov and singer and bassist Luke Top, the Los Angeles–based project creates a compound of African musical forms (soukous from the Congo, Tuareg music from the Sahara, Ethiopian and Eritrean music, and highlife from Ghana) and coats it in gliding Hebrew and English vocals. Less apparent influences infiltrate the mix, too, like Qawwali from Pakistan and what Pesacov calls "the mellow honeyness of Southern California/Los Angeles" via the Beach Boys. "We're not necessarily out to capture these references as much as we're allowing them to come in," he says, adding that the only kind of music they might purposely eschew is "middle-of-the-road indie." Top has called Fool's Gold "tropical-soul beat," while his bandmate prefers "Afrorock"; to Western ears, indie-rock-inflected world music works, too. This is vivacious pop filtered through a cross-cultural prism, and the result is both unfamiliar and immediately palatable.
Pesacov gained entry into the alluring territory of world music through his parents, who took long trips to the Caribbean and England and returned with reggae, African, and Latin records. "It was the sound of my youth, in a way," he says. Pesacov and Top bonded as teenagers over a mutual fondness for Ethiopian music and, more specifically, Ethiopian soul singer Mahmoud Ahmed. The pair established Fool's Gold as an African music collective in which players would dip in and out based on availability; at its peak, the band had 12 members. Now it's a leaner six-piece that uses guitar, bass, saxophone, keyboard, and multiple sources of percussion, including conga drums and shakers.
One reason the band has pooled all these reference points is aesthetic, but a grander purpose involves them wanting to make something beyond just songs. "In our best shows, we come to this point where we all have this group mind, this group consciousness," Pesacov explains. That "group mind" is fueled by energy traded between the audience and performers, and in that "metatexture," the power of a community means more than something made by an individual. On a more grounded level, Fool's Gold wants the culturally loaded mix to spawn something extraordinary. Pesacov knows that pasting Hebrew singing over the music of predominantly Muslim countries could have a jarring, unusual effect, but that confluence represents a cultural coexistence. "In a weird way, we want to promote peace," he says. "That seems pretentious and a crazy thing to say, but we want to promote peace and communal ideas." In keeping with their high ambitions, he notes that he also wants Fool's Gold to play in far-flung places such as Palestine, or in front of American troops in Afghanistan.
All of that aside, Fool's Gold ultimately exists to fulfill a musical calling that is more physical than mental. "We can get wrapped up in all these bigger-picture philosophical conversations, but at the end of the day, it's dance music," Pesacov says. "People come to our shows and always dance, and it's amazing." And even though he can't figure out why the conga line keeps happening, the gesture makes an excellent tribute to Fool's Gold's communal delights.
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