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'Tacos & Tastemakers' finds musicians retracing their creative paths at Twin Cities taquerias

Tim Wilson of Urban Lights and Ali Elabbady settle in at Tavial Grill during the premiere episode of Tacos & Tastemakers.

Tim Wilson of Urban Lights and Ali Elabbady settle in at Tavial Grill during the premiere episode of Tacos & Tastemakers. Tacos & Tastemakers

Twin Cities DJ, enthusiast, and creator Ali Elabbady (aka Egyptoknuckles) has given us a gift that triple-dips to satisfy music fans, foodies, and voyeurs who simply love eavesdropping on great conversations.

For most of the past year, Elabbady dreamed and schemed, then assembled a crew to bring to life his brand new show, intended to one day find its way to television. He's called it Tacos & Tastemakers.

The idea for his show first bubbled into Elabbady's mind after the loss of Anthony Bourdain. “I wanted to bring back the element of conversation he was able to strike up with musicians and music adjacent people, as well as cast a wider net to third culture kids like me,” he tells City Pages.

Its creator describes the project as the intersection of Parts Unknown and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee… plus tacos. 

As he began to flesh out the show’s format, our host – who has lovingly written about one particular form of tacos for this very publication! – explained, “Tacos seemed to be more of a natural fit than anything else, because there are a lot of amazing Latino/Mexican owned-and-operated taquerias and taco trucks [in the Twin Cities], so tacos quickly elevated to be the centerpiece for the conversation.” 

Once he had the concept down, Elabbady reached out to his longtime friend, music video director and CGI/GFX whiz Adam Dunn to help make Tacos & Tastemakers a reality.

The pair dropped their first episode in the series this morning, which finds Elabbady at Tavial Grill – the St. Paul gem owned by Victor and Tanis Alquicira – with Tim Wilson, the iconic proprietor of Urban Lights.

Filmed in the Before Times (as was the entire season), Wilson and Elabbady's conversation feels like a breath of fresh air, punctuated by expertise, ease, and friendship. The subject matter quickly exceeds the trays stacked before them, straying into Wilson regaling Elabbady with tales from his early days of making jaunts to New York to work with Daddy-O of Stetsasonic… which landed him in the room as The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die was being recorded.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – erm, first basket of tacos – the pair confront.

Elabbady has the palate and chops for these conversations in his own right. He brings to the table two decades of DJing, years of co-hosting and producing a hip-hop radio show on Radio K, plus music criticism, experience running the label/collective Background Noise, and more.

"I had become so entrenched in the local music scene," says Elabbady of how this project has come together, and intersected with his life's passions. "The DJing has always led to a lot of cool intersections for me, which I'm very grateful for."

The mission of Tacos & Tastemakers during this pilot season is clear: “I wanted to keep it Twin Cities-centric to really allow artists to talk about their creative paths, a-ha moments, and how they got to where they are now,” says its creator, admitting that he keeps a running list of notes for national guests for the future. 

“It's more a showcase as to what this program can be, and how we can put a spotlight on both Latino/Mexican owned businesses that are currently in the throes of diminished business during the pandemic, and put the tastemaker title back into the hands of Black/Indigenous/POC artists.”

Find the premier episode below, and expect new episodes from Tacos & Tastemakers: PILOT SZN every other week.