“Why Can’t We Live Together,” Timmy Thomas’ plea for peace and racial harmony, has had multiple lives.
The stripped-down soul meditation, released in late 1972, became a hit early the following year, rising to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and selling over 2 million copies. It re-emerged via several cover versions, including on Sade’s 1984 debut album “Diamond Life” and on Maria Muldaur’s 2008 collection of anti-war songs “Yes We Can!”
Most notably, of course, it’s the anchoring sample of Drake’s moody hit single “Hotline Bling,” the video for which went massively viral in October.
“He instigated a situation where Timmy Thomas can come back and have a chance to say some good things to this next generation,” Thomas said appreciatively over the phone.
The 71-year-old keyboard player will on Wednesday, Jan. 6, give his first live performance since “Hotline Bling” introduced him to that new generation; he’s headlining a Twelfth Night party thrown by the Krewe of Kalunga, the new Carnival group started up last year by Jimmy Horn, frontman for the gritty-greasy, vintage-styled rhythm and blues merchants King James and the Special Men.
Kalunga, Horn said in a text message, is a word borrowed from the Bantu language Kikongo, meaning “the line/space between the world of the living, also the ocean and other large bodies of water, and the horizon — basically the space between ‘here’ and ‘there.’ ”
“And that’s how we see Carnival time,” he wrote.
Thomas began his career as a sideman and session musician in Memphis in the late ’60s, releasing some singles under his own name on the soul label Goldwax. A move to Miami, where he still lives, accelerated his career; he landed at T.K. Records, which — along with its subsidiaries — was also home to K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Betty Wright and Clarence Reid, the soul singer, writer and producer whose alter ego is the delightfully bizarre, foul-mouthed mask and cape-sporting comedy rapper Blowfly.
Even before the boost from “Hotline Bling,” Thomas’ solo recordings were collectors’ favorites. His signature sound was a combo of organ and an early programmed drum machine, a spare, skittering pulse that, he said, was more the product of necessity and convenience than deliberate artistry.
As a one-man band, he said, he could gig regularly lounges and supper clubs around Miami with ease, nimble and mobile. And more than 40 years later, with electronic instruments quite the norm, the lo-fi, haunted sound comes across as weirdly futuristic.
It pleases Thomas that his songs remain compelling decades after the original recordings were made. But what’s more pressing, he said, is the message of “Why Can’t We Live Together,” which he wrote after watching Walter Cronkite report the day’s death toll from the Vietnam War.
“I think my song is needed now maybe even more than it was needed in 1973,” he said. “It’s time to stop fighting, stop bullying. It’s time to come together. And now I have a chance to finish those things I was hoping to say about ‘Let’s get it together, fix what’s going on in the world.’”
Thomas recently signed with Overtown Records, a Miami-based operation that’s home to his former labelmate Blowfly.
With a group called the Overtown Soul Revue, he’s booked as an official act that the 2016 SXSW music-industry conference and festival in Austin, Texas; by then, he should have material from his upcoming Overtown debut, “Winds of Change,” ready to perform for the new generation of fans. (The first single, “Winds of Change,” is a socially conscious composition along the lines of “Why Can’t We Live Together,” which Thomas will perform Wednesday, Jan. 6, in New Orleans.
The hosts of the Kalunga 12th Night ball, King James and the Special Men, will also perform Jan. 6. Garage punks Gary Wrong Group share the bill, as does DJ Vermiculite and psychedelic art video projectionist 9Ris 9Ris.
The $40 ticket price includes king cake and champagne, though organizers have not specified exactly how much king cake and champagne.
Masks are required for entry. No tickets will be sold at the door; tickets can be purchased at Bud Rip’s bar (900 Piety St.), Euclid Records (3301 Chartres St.), R Bar (1431 Royal St.) and Sidney’s Saloon (1200 St. Bernard Ave.)