In the seven years since they've been performing in the Northeast, Thousands of One have collaborated with Speech (of Arrested Development), Elliot Martin (of John Brown's Body), and recorded their 2011 album, Scarab, with Soulive's Alan Evans at the helm. The band experienced an unexpected first when they co-billed New York's Blue Note Club this January with Kenny G.
"We had the late slot, so it was just circumstance, but he stuck around and listened to us," laughs vocalist Jhakeem Haltom. "It was fun to watch him hold a note for six minutes and watch Japanese people cry while he did it."
Haltom might chuckle about Kenny G's fanbase, but the idea of bringing people of all races together is a cornerstone of his lyrical message. In the same vein as acts like Arrested Development and Michael Franti, Haltom's goal for Thousands of One is to be a musical activist — both for worldwide and local issues around the band's upstate New York home. He stresses that inspiration starts at the local level.
"Americans sacrificed their culture in order to be part of the melting pot," Haltom explains. "The illusion is over, and, hopefully, our music is an agent of part of the people waking up."
Message aside, Thousands of One's hip-hop beats, Afrobeat rhythms, and funky horns provide plenty of hip-shaking fuel to keep a crowd entranced. But Haltom aims to use the platform to inspire change. In New York, the band has actively opposed fracking, a new technology that pumps fresh water and chemicals deep underground to extract natural gas.
"It's a dangerous issue," Haltom says. "People are more willing to make great compromises if they believe that economic development is the way we need to move. Fresh water and breathing are critical elements of life, and for us to compromise them for economic development is a representation of a very dark reality about what's happening to human beings in general."
Thousands of One's current tour marks their first appearance in South Carolina. Haltom is excited to spread their good word.
"We've got a fight on our hands, and the music, that's our bullets," he says. "That's our way of making change. Wherever we go, people are going to resonate with that vibration."