Australian singer and songwriter Xavier Rudd  has been making his own special blend of soulful, funk- and reggae-tinged music since his 2002 debut album To Let. Drawing on aboriginal influences, as well as traditional blues, rock, and folk, his songs are infused with a warm spirituality, often paying homage to the beautiful places of the earth – a love that springs from his close connection to his native country's rustic beauty and the ocean where he spends a good bit of his time surfing. He and his new band, Izintaba are currently touring behind their recent release, Koonyum Sun.
I spoke to Xavier recently by phone, just as he was kicking off his North American tour on the West Coast, which will eventually wind its way to Louisville, where he will play at Headliner's Music Hall on September 8.
I asked him first about how he and his new bandmates got together, after his years as a solo act. Until recently, he's been a multi-instrumentalist, one-man show, playing instruments ranging from his homeland's native didgeridoos, to an array of drums, guitar, lapsteel, banjo, and harmonica. These days, he's glad to have a little help on stage.
While playing a music festival in Austria in 2008, he met South African musicians Tio Moloantoa and Andile Nqubezelo. “I felt an immediate connection,” he said and described how important their friendship and support was to him after his wife “called it quits, “ as he put it.
The dissolution of his marriage had taken a toll on his psyche, but his new musical partners helped inspire a renewed energy and fresh sound as they began to perform together and eventually record Koonyum Sun, which refers to a mountain range in New South Wales and the sun that rises to begin the day. Bassist Tio and drummer Andile bring African rhythms and warm vocal harmonies to Rudd's already-rich palette of global influences for a sound that is reminiscent of Paul Simon's work on Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints.
Rudd is also one of those musicians who puts his time and efforts into the causes that he believes in, whether its nuclear disarmament, environmental activism, or vegetarianism. An active surfer, Rudd earned the Rock the Boat award, which is an award presented by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society  to musicians who contribute to Sea Shepherd’s campaigns and help protect the ocean’s wildlife. PETA has named him Sexiest Vegetarian Man of the Year for his support of the vegetarian lifestyle, and he is also a vocal supporter of aboriginal rights in Australia.
Since he is so well-known for activism and songs that highlight environmental concerns, I asked Rudd how he responds to ongoing gloomy climate change forecasts and disasters such as the BP Oil Spill. “I think it's probably too late to save it for ourselves,” he admitted soberingly, “but the Earth will just cough us off and go on. We're living in special times,” he added because we still have the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful places that are left. And he has particular reason to encourage his listeners to do what they can to put off disaster as long as possible – his two young sons by his ex-wife. In fact, it was his son Joaquin who inspired the title track. According to Rudd, sitting around the fire one evening, his son began singing the refrain, “If you could see /exactly what I could see /it would be a great mystery.” Xavier then worked these lines into a meditation on finding strength and wisdom in the eternal rhythms of the Koonyum Sun.
Touring world-wide and being a popular act at music festivals means Rudd is often away from his beloved country, but he draws inspiration from the places and people of each stop on the road: “I feel blessed to be able to do this and I feel very comfortable on the road.” He says that traveling with his new band mates has also been a great experience, describing them as “strong spirits” as befits their moniker: Izintaba is the Zulu word for “mountains.”
Below is the official video for the single, “Time to Smile.
Xavier Rudd and Izintaba  will appear at Headliner's Music Hall  on Wednesday, September 8 at 9:00 p.m. with guest Good Old War . Tickets are available via Ticketweb  and at the door, $18.