Music in the summer: the very notion evokes a field of pleasant images. I’m thinking of concerts in a green and flower-filled public park or a more intimate garden setting, touring groups appearing on festival stages throughout our province, as well as Harbourfront Centre’s lakeside venues teeming with casual, lightly clad crowds out for a good time. People generally appear more relaxed and good-humoured in the summer than in other seasons; smiles seem more common. The other seasons are meant for music encounters indoors. The few months of kind summer weather we are allotted make it an ideal time to cross paths – and share outdoor musical discoveries – with families from around the world.

World-Gonsalves.jpgLuminato: The first major Toronto summer series featuring global music is the Luminato Festival, this year running from June 19 to June 28. In order to get a sense of the direction of the programming of interest to you, dear reader, I spoke with veteran music curator Derek Andrews over the phone. He pointed out that there will be changes this year to the venues, compared to recent Luminatos held at David Pecaut Square. “The big stage is gone at The Hub – which has a landscaped backyard garden theme this year. We now will have The Festival Shed, an indoor venue of around 200, plus an expansive outdoor venue with a much larger audience capacity called The Garden Stage (which the TSO will use on June 28). It will also host the 35 acts in my program.”

With numerous individual shows and several themed concert series spread over the ten days, Luminato has much to offer listeners out to explore world music. Many have “Americas” themes, pre-echoing the Pan Am games about to take over Toronto in July. To my regret, I can’t pretend to cover more than some part of the vast scope of this subsection of the festival. June 20, during the first weekend fete at Luminato, begins with the launch of “The North-South Project,” billed as “a collective work of storytelling authored by 12 celebrated writers working the breadth of the Americas, from the Canadian Arctic to Argentina.” It’s co-curated by Andrews and literary and ideas curator Noah Richler. The readings by the authors are accompanied by several singers articulating lyrics of dissent. Singer-songwriters Amai Kuda n’ Y Josephine, Drew Gonsalves and Quique Escamilla will also bring their own unique pan-American music to the festival stage.

Among the lineup is Ani Cordero, a founding member and drummer of the Mexican rock band Pistolera and other groups. Recordar, her latest solo album, is a tribute to the voices of dissent via reinterpretations of Latin American protest songs. Another participating artist, La Yegros, has been a powerful presence on the Buenos Aires underground music scene for years. Her signature voice and commanding stage presence is imbued with South American flair, but she also brings with it a globally aware mindset, drawing equally on deep regional folk traditions and cutting edge beats.

On June 21 the solstice, National Aboriginal Day and Father’s Day all fall on the same day. (As a dad, I’m hoping for a lavish BBQ dinner hosted by my sons as per family tradition.) Why not celebrate them all at The Hub with performances by four aboriginal women? Leela Gilday, a member of the Dene nation, transports the listener through her northern stories sung in a gutsy voice and open stage presence. Martha Redbone’s music blends Native American elements with her deep roots in Appalachian folk and Piedmont blues, plus soul and funk.  On the same day, the “New Canadian Music Series” features two emerging aboriginal musicians, cellist Cris Derksen and singer-songwriter Binaeshee-Quae. Derksen’s music braids the “traditional and contemporary in multiple dimensions,” weaving her classical music training and features embedded in her aboriginal ancestry “with new school electronics, creating genre-defying music.” Her 2010 debut album The Cusp was nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award and won the 2011 Canadian Aboriginal Music Award for Instrumental Album of the Year. Binaeshee-Quae, from Pic River First Nation, describes her musical style as “jazzy-alterna-folk mix.” She delivers her songs in a full-throated, sometimes quirky yet articulate mezzo.

Music curator Andrews has waggishly dubbed Luminato’s June 22 tribute to Mexico, “Distrito Federal Chilango Power Ska Punk meets Chiapas Mexico Message Music.” It is a mouthful, but it also serves as an accurate genre-inclusive tag. Headliners include the Toronto-based troubadour Quique Escamilla, the 2015 Juno Award-winning multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter and producer. Active on the Canadian music scene since 2007, his powerful voice and passionate performances fuse Mexican genres such as ranchera and huapango with rock, reggae, ska, pop, jazz, cumbia, bolero and other Latin American forms. His incisive song lyrics are often keenly socially and politically engaged.

Los de Abajo from Mexico City is another politically committed group (they’re supporters of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation). Over a 23-year career, it has constructed a distinctive fusion of regional Mexican musics. A champion early on was David Byrne, in 1999 signing Los de Abajo to his Luaka Bop label. The group has gone from strength to strength, touring extensively and including yet more influences in its diverse palette: ska, reggae, hip-hop and even echoes of Balkan music.

Skipping to June 25, “Caribbean Calypso” is billed as a musical “exploration of coastal Caribbean Garifuna culture and Trinidadian Roots Reggae Calypso.” Taking centre stage will be the Canadian group Kobo Town. Named after the Port-of-Spain neighbourhood where calypso was born it was founded by Trinidadian-Canadian songwriter Drew Gonsalves. The group mixes Caribbean calypso and reggae using acoustic instrumentation along with innovative production, social commentary and an indie rock attitude. Independence, its debut album, won the International Folk Alliance Award. Another headliner is Aurelio Martinez. He is not only a star Honduran musician, but also a passionate politician and cultural ambassador for the coastal Garifuna people as well. Known by his first name alone, Aurelio possesses a gritty expressive voice with which he performs a compelling musical blend of received Afro-Caribbean cumbia fused with Latin rhythms.

The Luminato Festival celebrates in style June 27 with a “Brazilian Block Party,” billed as a “fun family event featuring day-long animation by strolling artists, craft-making workshops and irresistible food!” Luminato programmers aim to capture the Brazilian tradition of festive gatherings at this all-day public party with food, drink, music and dance, all elements embracing “a beloved part of the Brazilian cultural landscape.”

The Festival Hub’s Block Party is curated by Toronto’s own Uma Nota Culture, programming a “carnival of active cultural jamming.” That includes an invitation to connect with fellow Torontonians by dancing to live music – to irresistible forró music from the Northeast of Brazil, the martial arts-inspired capoeira and the ever-popular samba.

Among the notable acts taking the stage is the Quebec City-based Flávia Nascimento and her Smallest Big Band. Hailing from Recife, Pernambuco, Mundo Livre S/A is a genre-defining manguebeat band formed in 1984. Mundo Livre’s founding notion was to connect the culture of the mangues (mangroves) of Recife with a network of global pop genres. It has released three albums, the last of which was included in many best-of-the-year lists. Aline Morales has built a solid reputation in Canada as a percussionist and bandleader. Her Juno-nominated Flores, Tambores e Amores also showcased her interpretative, vocal and composer chops. With her project Forró Nite, Morales taps deeply into her forró music roots.

Among the newest Brazilian drum troupes in town, Tdot Batu is a diverse, youthful group performing samba reggae, but spun with their own edge. (Samba reggae became a hit in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil in the 1980s when the group Afro-Blocos mashed Bahian rhythms like ijexa and samba with Caribbean musical influences.) It sounds like quite the lively party.

World-Brebach.jpgSunfest ’15, London, Ontario: Now to a festival decidedly outside of Toronto and sporting a pedigree older than most: TD Sunfest ’15. From July 9 to 12, downtown London’s Victoria Park is transformed into a culturally diverse playground where over three dozen world music and jazz groups entertain audiences on five stages scattered throughout the park. “Canada’s Premier Celebration of World Cultures” is its byline and all events are free.

Headliners this year include the venerable Afro-Cuban All Stars, and the new generation Scottish folk five-piece Breabach. It has been described as “the new face of Scottish Traditional music.” Paulo Flores, the distinguished Angolan singer-songwriter and author who performs in the semba genre, also takes the Sunfest stage. His lyrics often touch on the politics and hardships of Angolan life, and since 2007 he has served as a UN Goodwill Ambassador in Angola.

When my kids were young we repeatedly visited Sunfest, feasting on its small-town Ontario feel and diverse ethnic good vibes – but also on the scrumptious international street food and crafts for sale by dozens of vendors. That too is experiencing musicking in the summer for me.

Summer Music in the Garden: What more pleasant a reminder of the evanescent – and thus even more keenly savoured – summer in Southern Ontario than music in a garden? As it has for 16 years, Harbourfront Centre is this year again producing a delightful season-long series titled Summer Music in the Garden, skillfully curated by Tamara Bernstein. It’s held in the pleasantly verdant surrounds of the Yo-Yo Ma co-designed public Music Garden at 235 Queens Quay West. Cooled by the nearby waters of Lake Ontario, it’s all free. Make sure you get there in plenty of time however, to snag a seat on one of few benches. Also arrive early if you wish to claim a private pied à terre on the sloping lawn in front of the open air grassy stage area under the magnificent mature weeping willow. (I think you can guess I have performed and visited there many times over the years).

My picks? I can’t make up my mind from among the multiple tempting summer offerings. I invite you to check The WholeNote listings to discover your own old – or perhaps new – favourite. Relaxed, high-quality music in a garden: how can you lose?

A Celebration: June 14 Darbazi, the choir which was formed in a Toronto living room (yes, I was there), marks its 20th anniversary with a concert at St. Andrew by-the-Lake Anglican Church on Ward’s Island, Toronto. Darbazi is Canada’s first choir dedicated to the music of the various regions of the Republic of Georgia. Under the direction of Shalva Makharashvili and founding guest conductor Alan Gasser, the group hosts local groups Trio Zari and Hereti as guests to mark this significant occasion. I invite you to join me to celebrate in Georgian style with song, food and toasts to many more years of music and warm summer weather in which to enjoy it.

In keeping with my custom, I wish you a gloriously musical summer and invite you back to revisit me in these pages in September. 

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

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Here be dragons is an English translation of the Latin phrase “hic sunt dracones,” a notation gracing a few medieval manuscript maps and reflecting the wider period practice of drawing dragons, sea serpents and other mythological creatures to identify regions of the unknown and fearful, dangerous or unexplored territories. Some researchers suggest the term may be related to the existence of giant lizards called Komodo dragons indigenous to a few small remote Indonesian islands – and which are still a tourist draw, in the region and beyond, as when in 2003 the first Canadian Komodo dragon was hatched at the Toronto Zoo.

Tales of such creatures, morphed by repeated telling into hybrid beasts, were common not only throughout Asia but also much of the world, acquiring complex and conflicting transcultural rap sheets over the centuries. The great majority – although not all – of dragons depicted in European stories and iconography represent chaos and evil (think St. George and his confrontation with his alter beast).  In Chinese legend and lore, by contrast, they are generally considered beneficial and represent orderly government, potency, auspiciousness, strength and good luck for those worthy of it. The Emperor of China often used the mythical animal as a symbol of his imperial power; in a more philosophical vein the dragon represents the yang principle complementing the phoenix’s yin. In recent decades the term “descendants of the dragon” has become a self-identifying marker of national, ethnic identity among some Chinese, both in the Chinese homelands and throughout the extensive diaspora.

A case in point is the Sound of Dragon Music Festival making its Ontario debut in five Southern Ontario venues from May 20 to 24. Its artistic director, Vancouver-based Lan Tung, explained in a recent phone conversation that the first characters calligraphed in the festival’s descriptive Chinese title refer to dragons singing across the ocean. It’s a potent poetic metaphor for music deeply rooted in Chinese tradition but expressed with a characteristic Canadian inclusive accent. Tung’s instrument the erhu, as well as others such as the pipa, zheng, sheng and ruan will share the spotlight with the violin, viola, cello, bass, flute and clarinet, enlivened with world percussion instruments. Together they perform scores by composers of several nationalities.

2008_-_World_-_Irineu_Nogueira.jpgLaunched last year in Vancouver, the festival, Tung notes, “brings a unique approach to preserving traditional [Chinese] music, while promoting creativity and innovation.” The festival’s core contingent is made up of members of the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra (VICO), along with collaborating musicians from Taiwan and Toronto. VICO, founded in 2001, has been described as “the United Nations of music” (CBC Radio) and “music that sounds like Vancouver looks” (Georgia Straight). It’s a significant and I believe particularly Canadian music development — a professional orchestra devoted to the performance of newly created intercultural music. It was one of the first such ensembles in the world and is the only one of its kind in Canada, a testament to the spirit of cultural cooperation many of us like to think exemplifies the best in Canadians.

VICO’s core roster consists of 24 musicians, trained in many world music traditions. Its mission is to “act as a forum for the creation of a new musical art form, one in which all of Canada’s resident cultures can take part….”  It moreover “serves as a voice for Canadian composers and musicians of diverse backgrounds, and fosters the creation of musical works that fuse and transcend cultural traditions.” To date VICO has commissioned and performed over 40 new works by Canadian composers.

The Sound of Dragon Festival, Tung explains, aims “to intertwine diverse styles: ancient, folk and classical Chinese repertoire, as well as contemporary Canadian compositions … and creative improvisation.” By presenting musicians from different ethnicities, nationalities, and musical genres, it aspires to “re-define Chinese music and reflect Canada’s multicultural environment.”

Each concert of the festival has a slightly different focus. It kicks off May 20 with a free concert at the Blue Barracks of the Fort York National Historic Site where members of VICO, Taiwan’s Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra and the Toronto pipa virtuoso Wen Zhao perform traditional and contemporary music written for Chinese instruments, joined in the second set by guest players from  Toronto’s creative music scene to collectively explore and improvise with multiple combinations of Chinese, Western and other instruments.

May 21, as part of Small World’s “Asian Music Series,” the Sound of Dragon Festival takes the Small World Music Centre stage, presenting an intimate evening with musicians from the Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra and VICO, joined by Wen Zhao, pipa soloist. The concert finale features the Toronto premiere of Vancouver composer John Oliver’s Eagle Flies to Mountain, a work which animates notions of the four elements (earth, air, water, fire) through musical combinations, and which also invokes the essential complementary duality of the ancient concept of yin and yang.

The following day, May 22, the festival moves north of Steeles Ave. to the Flato Markham Theatre. Free Chinese instrument workshops in the afternoon will be followed by an evening concert featuring a 12-member chamber orchestra conducted by the Taiwanese maestro Chih-Sheng Chen. The orchestra, consisting of VICO core instrumentalists augmented by musicians from Taiwan and Toronto, will perform Lan Tung’s 2014 signature work Sound of Dragon, a lively blend of the well-known Chinese piece Crazy Snake Dance infused with North African rhythms and sprinkled with improvised solos.

Saturday May 23, the festival shifts to the Aeolian Hall in London presented in a concert by Sunfest, formally known as the London Committee for Cross-Cultural Arts Inc. Members of VICO and Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra join forces once again to present a program of Chinese folk music arrangements and commissioned Canadian works, including  “Indian, klezmer, Persian, Chinese and Taiwanese,” and no doubt Euro-North American essential features too.

May 24 the Sound of Dragon Festival completes its Southern Ontario tour with a concert at The Jazz Room, Huether Hotel in Waterloo, produced by Neruda Arts, K-W’s world music presenter.

Meden Glas: May 2 Toronto’s Meden Glas releases its debut album Balkan Mixologies at the Music Gallery. The group is directed by ethnomusicologist Irene Markoff, a specialist in Balkan and Turkish vocal styles and the bağlama (long-necked lute). Members of its expanded group and Bulgaria’s virtuoso kaval (end-blown flute) player Nikola Gaidarov will join the core quintet. Together they present a journey into the vocal styles, intricate rhythms and instrumental music of Croatia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Sardinia, Russia, as well as that of the Kurds and Roma. They promise an “adventure that will bend your ears and get the evening kicking with your dancing feet!” I’m in.

Footsteps of Babur: May 8 the Aga Khan Museum in conjunction with the Aga Khan Trust for Cultural Music Initiative present “Footsteps of Babur,” referring to Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire, and the legendary lavishness of 16th-century Mughal court life in which music of many kinds and from many regions and performance genres played a prominent role. Musicians Homayun Sakhi (Afghan rubab), Salar Nader (tabla) and Rahul Sharma (Indian santoor) evoke the light refined music that filled the palace rooms of Mughal India and Afghanistan in centuries past. Sharma is the son of the important Northern Indian santoor player Shivkumar Sharma, often credited as the man who established his instrument in Hindustani classical music performance.

Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project: Also May 8, “Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project,” also the title of their delightful new album takes the Koerner Hall stage. Two-time JUNO-winning banjoist, composer and band leader Stone has distilled and reinterpreted songs made by the American ethnomusicologist and folklorist Lomax, along with his distinguished instrumental and vocal collaborators. Lomax is justly celebrated for his field recordings conducted over the 50 years straddling the middle of the 20th century. The project revives for our century the voices and spirit of that era’s rural Americana. We hear stirring renditions of sea chanties, fiddle tunes, work songs, moving Georgia Sea Islands African-American a cappella singing and Appalachian ballads. It’s an important roots revival album, and audiences can expect Stone at the core of his tight ensemble at Koerner Hall adding deft touches of his musically nuanced, never superfluous, banjo playing.

Asian Heritage Month at the TPL: May is Asian Heritage Month in Toronto. As in previous years the Toronto Public Library is celebrating it in various ways, including free music performances given by select musicians from Toronto’s Asian music diaspora. May 16 at 1pm the Richview, Etobicoke branch presents Andrew Timar (yes that’s me moonlighting as a musician) and dancer Keiko Ninomiya in a program of “Southeast Asian Dance and Music Fusion” set within a North American aesthetic. North York Central Library’s Auditorium’s stage will be particularly musically active this month. May 21 “The Music of China” takes to its intimate stage with a program of “regional, contemporary, and Western music.” For “An Afternoon of Persian Music” on May 23 the polished Shiraz Ensemble performs music from the Persian Qajar dynasty, plus works by the important composer and santur player Farāmarz Pāyvar (1933—2009), as well as improvisations.

2008_-_World_-_Shawn_Mativetsky.jpgPedram Khavarzamini and Shawn Mativetsky: May 16 Pedram Khavarzamini and Shawn Mativetsky headline at the Music Gallery in a program titled “East Meets Further East.” The concert’s goal is to highlight Iran and India’s deep drumming traditions. Montrealer Mativetsky, performing with bassist George Koller, is an accomplished tabla performer and educator, an exponent of the Benares gharana and disciple of the tabla maestro Pandit Sharda Sahai (1935—2011). Mativetsky teaches tabla and percussion at McGill University and is a passionate advocate of tabla in contemporary music of many genres. Khavarzamini, who was among the most sought-after tombak teachers and players in Teheran when he was a resident there, will perform with tar virtuoso Araz Salek. He has co-authored several books on the drum’s technique and repertoire. In the early 2000s he was invited to join the Greek music innovator Ross Daly’s group Labyrinth and moved to Europe to pursue his music career. He has toured the world with musicians such as Dhruba Ghosh, Dariush Talai, Vassilis Stavrakakis, and others.  Last year he relocated to Toronto, a move which is our city’s and our country’s gain. These two outstanding Canadian drummers will explore much of the range of their respective instruments and rhythmic vocabularies, culminating in a collective performance.

Lulaworld Festival: The Lulaworld Festival is celebrating its tenth anniversary, and this year it’s a whopper. More than two dozen concerts, family workshops, Brazilian parade and other events at the Lula Lounge and environs between May 27 and June 6 work the theme “Celebrating the Music and Dance of the Americas!” Presented by Lula Music and Arts Centre, it’s billed as the summer’s Toronto 2015 PAN AM Games pre-party, guaranteed to “get Toronto dancing to the music of the Americas.” Even if you don’t dance in public, you can expect a healthy serving of Toronto’s finest world, jazz and Latin musicians, often collaborating with international guest artists on Lula’s intimate stage. With a festival on such a vast scale, I can only hint at the musical – and dance – wealth to be discovered. 

May 27, the festival’s opening night, Toronto’s leading Brazilian dance company Dance Migration is joined by guest Sao Paolo-based percussionist Alysson Bruno and Irineu Nogueira.

May 30 the Lula All Stars release their new CD. The group of musicians with roots from across the Americas plays at Lula Lounge’s weekly live salsa series, co-led by Sean Bellaviti and Luis Orbegoso.

Saturday, June 6, the Lulaworld stage at the Dundas West Fest will be chockablock with Latin jazz, salsa, Jamaican ska, Afro-Caribbean jazz, Spanish rock and pop, Canada’s biggest participatory Brazilian drumming parade and “family-friendly workshops.” Best of all, it’s all free.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

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2007-World-ZariTrio.jpgLet’s call it a personal rite of spring. Along with those first warm sunny days, I also look forward to engaging with the larger world in concerts at several of our region’s universities and concert halls.

This season, my first focus falls on Toronto’s award-winning vocal and instrumental trio Zari, which performs April 25 at the little jewel of downtown venues, Musideum. Composed of Shalva Makharashvili, Andrea Kuzmich and Reid Robins, Zari (meaning “bell” in Georgian) draws on the rich regional repertoire of the polyphonic songs of the Republic of Georgia. Standing at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, their ancient country is called Sakartvelo by Georgians.

Declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2001, Georgian vocal polyphony, with its close harmonies and untempered scales, is characterized by three-part singing in a variety of regional styles. The songs range from the haunting melismatic melodies of the Eastern provinces, to the wild, explosive counterpoint of the West. They also include more recent romantic urban ballads.

Like many other groups I’ve highlighted in this column who have musical affiliations to another part of the world, Zari was made in Toronto. I spoke with the singer, ethnomusicologist and group co-founder Andrea Kuzmich to get the skinny on Zari.

“It was formed in 2003. We met each other a few years earlier at the downtown Toronto living room singing sessions of Darbazi” (Canada’s first Georgian choir). Kuzmich quickly identified a key feature of the group, its dedication to studying the older strata of Georgian music in its birthplace. “We want to deepen our understanding of and feeling for this musical treasure. When Zari performs, we embrace the profundity of Georgian culture: its roots embedded in ancient times, its strength and courage to survive and its inspiring hospitality.” To that end the trio plans to return to Georgia this October for another round of studies and concerts.

And like numerous Canadian groups that reference other geo-cultural milieus, Zari is perhaps better known there than here. Kuzmich notes that during past Georgian tours, “we have performed at the Chveneburebi festival, Festival of Megrelian song, First International Festival of Gurian Song and other festivals that have taken us around the country.” They have also been featured at the “best performance halls of [the capital] Tbilisi, such as the Opera House, and the Philharmonia Concert Hall.”

In addition to formal concert venues, Kuzmich points out the hard-to-overstate significance of the supra. It’s the traditional, often epic, Georgian feast which serves as an important locus for Georgian social culture – and singing. “You know ... there’s a saying that the best performances happen at the supras after the concerts. We can’t really predict how many supras we’ll attend or which ones will be most educational.” And the supra is such an integral part of Georgian culture that it’s not easy to separate the supra from what happens each day. “There will be [formal] toasting every day, if not multiple times in the day, perhaps even around a table while we’re learning a song. In that case the line between supra and lesson gets blurred.”

She gives an example of how such productive blurring can evolve. “[One day] we were all set to have a lesson, but instead had an impromptu midday supra at a small local house-restaurant in Makvaneti, the village of our Gurian [region of Georgia] teachers …. At the supra they sang many songs, interlaced with stories about music-making from when they were little boys, during Soviet times, and today. We sang with them too, sometimes trading off at inner cadence points. We probably sat there for over three hours. All three of us [in Zari] felt inspired and very connected to the tradition [after that experience], and we learned so much in that one sitting.”

I asked about Zari’s Musideum set list. “We’ll be performing songs from several regions of the country,” said Kuzmich. She mentioned a few songs on their long list. One of the Gurian songs is Chven Mshvidoba (Peace to Us). “We are in the process of learning a fourth or fifth variant, though in performance we tend to just let the improvisation happen.” Maglonia, a lyrical song from Samegrelo, features accompaniment by the panduri, a prominent Georgian three-string lute. “There are a few versions we are listening to, but the one we mostly base our version on is by Polikarpe Khubulava, the Georgian master singer who passed away on January 1, 2015,” she added. “We will also do songs from [the regions of] Imereti and Achara, which are similar, though Imereti has more parallel thirds in the top voice, plus one of those dense Svaneti chordal songs. It’s a place which is snowbound for eight months of the year and the songs, like the people, are rugged.”

Zari feels the need to regularly re-connect with those wellsprings of the oral musical tradition they’ve been born into – or as in the case of Kuzmich, chosen – in order to fuel their inspiration and artistry. Their Musideum concert is part of a series of fundraisers to help get them back to Georgia to study with elder master singers, some well past retirement age. In addition to such venerable living connections to the past, the trio also plans to re-connect with researchers at the Conservatoire, including colleagues at the Ethnomusicology Department and the Research Centre for Traditional Polyphony. “Giorgi Donadze, the leader of Basiani [a prominent choir], is also the director of the State Folk Centre, so we’ll be connecting with that institute,” adds Kuzmich. “And we always try to meet up with Anzor Erkomaishvili, who endows us with new publications on Georgian music.”

It’s always exciting to hear such a depth of passion and engagement from an artist. I plan to catch Zari’s Musideum show to hear the latest in the evolution of Georgian music, Toronto style.

World music in the university: April 1 the University of Toronto Faculty of Music holds its annual spring concert of World Music Ensembles at Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building. This season it’s the African Drumming and Dancing, Latin American Percussion and Steel Pan student groups’ turn to shine. Kwasi Dunyo, the Ewe master drummer from Ghana who has for two decades been teaching in universities and schools in Canada and the U.S.A. from his Toronto home base, leads the first ensemble. The Latin American percussion group is led by the accomplished Mark Duggan, an orchestral percussionist, composer and jazz musician. Even 32 years ago his highly honed skills were in demand: he was chosen to play with Canada’s first gamelan, the Evergreen Club. Michelle Colton, an emerging multi-percussionist and educator, directs the Steel Pan ensemble.

The next day, on April 2 at noon, the world music focus shifts to the Maureen Forrester Recital Hall, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, where the Conrad Grebel Gamelan Ensemble performs, directed by Maisie Sum. Introduced into the university as a course only two years ago by Sum, the gamelan semara dana, a kind of Balinese tuned percussion-rich instrumental ensemble, is the first of its kind in Southwestern Ontario. In an interview with The WholeNote a year ago professor Sum reported an enthusiastic reception for the music among the students. “Enrollment for the ensemble doubled in the winter term, so we currently have two groups.”

After the excitement of the noon-hour Waterloo Balinese set, there’s still plenty of time to get down to St. Catharines’ Brock University the same day for an evening concert. Jaffa Road performs at the Sean O’Sullivan Theatre, Centre for the Arts. The JUNO short-listed Toronto world music group offers an amalgam of sacred and secular Jewish song, jazz, Indian and Arabic music, with touches of electronica and dub.

2007-World-GilbertoGil.jpgBrazil’s musical ambassador: April 7 the Royal Conservatory of Music presents “Gilberto Gil: Gilberto’s Samba” at Koerner Hall. Hailed as “Brazil’s musical ambassador,” for more than 40 years the singer, composer, guitar player – and former Minister of Culture – has enjoyed an extraordinary career. Gil is perhaps best known as an eloquent exponent of bossa nova, but he is also a pioneer of the tropicalia and Brasileira genres. The New York Times summed up his monumental yet affable stage presence: delicate bossa novas, strummed rockers and intricate sambas … Mr. Gil didn’t trumpet his virtuosity. It was offered genially, like his melodies and his un-didactic thoughts on love, poetic license and mortality.”

Taiko meets tabla: April 11 two established groups on the Toronto world music scene join for an evening of transcultural percussion-centric musical dialogues. The Japanese taiko group Nagata Shachu directed by Kiyoshi Nagata meets the JUNO-nominated Toronto Tabla Ensemble directed by Ritesh Das on the stage of the Brigantine Room, Harbourfront Centre. Having attended concerts by both groups from their early days, it’s evident that collaborations are important to each. Nagata shares that “I feel that the primal and thunderous sounds of the taiko are a perfect complement to the subtle and intricate rhythms of the tabla. Ritesh and I feel a certain connection, both musically and in terms of how we were trained in our respective traditions.” The personal history the two directors share is an important link between their groups. “I am thrilled to be once again working with Kiyoshi Nagata,” reflects Das. “[He was] one of the first artists I collaborated with after coming to Toronto in 1987. When we rehearsed for the first time in 20 years, I felt a new sense of maturity from both ends, which led to an immediate understanding between us. Together we can create a very rich and elegant Indo-Japanese collaboration.” This respectful fusion not only marks an advanced musical maturity, but is a positive thermometer of the future health of Toronto’s world music scene.

At the Aga Khan Museum: A week later the new Aga Khan Museum and the well-established Raag-Mala Music Society of Toronto join forces for the first time in two concerts at the Aga Khan Museum Auditorium. Titled “Miyan-Ki-Daane: Raags of Tansen,” the programs, presented in the Hindustani dhrupad and khayal music genres, celebrate the music of Miyan Tansen, a bright star among the composers and singers of Emperor Akbar’s 16th-century North Indian court. His beautiful compositions have been passed on through many generations of oral tradition through the guru-shishya parampara, the particular manner of transmission from teacher to disciple in traditional Indian culture.

The first program April 18 features singer Samrat Pandit and bansuri (bamboo flute) player Rupak Kulkarni. The singer received the prestigious Sangeeta Shiromani Award from the State of Maharashtra just last year, while Kulkarni is widely recognized as a leading bansuri player. On April 19 Uday Bhawalkar, among the foremost exponents of dhrupad singing today, and the respected sitarist Partha Bose, present an unusual 11am late morning concert. Audiences will thus have a rare opportunity to hear raags appropriate to that time of day, a practice still maintained in Hindustani classical music. It’s definitely worth making alternate work arrangements for this concert.

April 24, also at the Aga Khan Museum, sounds of the Sahara, the Magreb and West Africa are blended with contemporary pop and funk by the powerhouse Noura Mint Seymali. This compelling singer, a star in Mauritania, was born into a prominent Moorish griot family. She is also a master of the ardine (nine-stringed harp) and a composer.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

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2006-World-Tova_Kardonne.jpgDuring the relentless winter choke-holding the eastern half of our continent we occasionally see signs of weather more benign. Not that I’m complaining about our crisp white-scaped great outdoors, mind, but I’m not complaining either about music’s special power to open the world’s window wide to another, less icy landscape.

A case in point is The Lanka Suite. In it the multi-talented emerging Toronto-born composer, vocalist and violist Tova Kardonne evokes Sri Lanka’s lush natural and human landscapes, expressing her outsider musical explorations in her distinctive jazz and chamber music-inflected music. The Ashkenaz Foundation and Koffler Centre for the Arts co-present the work performed by a choir, an instrumental ensemble, as well as a vocal and an instrumental soloist, in concert at The Music Gallery on March 14.

I called Kardonne on a frosty February afternoon to chat about her ambitious Lanka Suite, and how she got there. Even before pursuing a career in music, she told me, her passion for mathematics – in which she has a degree – initially took centre stage. “I developed a taste for aspects of beauty and emotion in mathematics, for its elegance as well as its ugliness. These are parallel to characteristics I also felt in music.” But she also pursued viola and piano studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music, as well as singing alto in a series of choirs. “Singing (and playing) the alto voice is a great place to be for a composer: right in the middle of the music!” It’s a practice she actively maintains with Andrea Kuzmich’s Broulala, Christine Duncan’s The Element Choir and with the GREX vocal ensemble directed by Alex Samaras. (The latter choir has a core role in the performance of The Lanka Suite on March 14. )

In addition to music, Kardonne explained that dance has been another key to her artistic expression. “I originally studied dance with Jeannette Zingg of Opera Atelier. Later, in ’99 I was introduced to the freedom and discipline of contact improvisation, attending downtown Toronto’s weekly Contact Dance Jams. Improvised movement reinforced my evolving understanding of creation and intention. Though I didn’t quite realize at the time, it would prove important in shaping my compositional process down the road.” In 2014 she remounted an evening titled “60×60 Dance,” continuing her ongoing engagement with the dance world. It featured 60 different combinations of Canadian choreographers and composers, a complex project she co-curated and produced.

Having completed a degree at Humber College concentrating on vocal jazz, composition and arranging in 2008, jazz certainly figures in Kardonne’s musical language. She has involved a number of Toronto’s jazz elite in The Thing Is, her current eight-member band. It has included Jim Vivian, Dave Restivo, Ted Quinlan, Peter Lutek, Rich Brown, Rob Clutton and several others since its inception. Currently she favours musicians with mixed resumés who are able to excel in what she calls “non-idiomatic improvisational contexts.” That’s why she notes “my band is called The Thing Is, because it reflects an open-ended process of becoming,” an ensemble musical work. She creates an evolutionary, boundary-crossing and collegial atmosphere in the ensemble: “As my music evolved, it has attracted different kinds of musicians. At least two of them have been around [the scene] for long enough that I don’t really know where they ‘come from’.”

Kardonne points out one more significant element informing The Lanka Suite: for the lack of a better term, its “world music” features. It goes back to the Klezmer bands she played in, starting in her teens, as well as her grandparents’ Eastern European Jewish roots. “My mixed family heritage directed me along the path of seeking connections through the differences.” Citing her studies of Cuban santería batá drumming, North and South Indian drumming patterns, and her participation in the Brazilian Samba Elégua group, she conludes that  “deep down, I’m driven by rhythm.” In The Lanka Suite this fascination is reflected in unusual time signatures and phrases, drawing from both South Asian and Eastern European folk idioms, though couched in the instrumentation of a jazz combo with its affiliated rich harmonic field.

I asked Kardonne for The Lanka Suite’s back story. The four-part composition was “inspired by a trip with my partner [the experimental electric guitarist] Nilan Perera to Sri Lanka in 2012. He wished to reconnect with family for the first time since the end of the conflict in 2009 and to talk to some of the generation of artists who had grown up in the midst of conflict, not as he had, in the diaspora.” While Kardonne was a complete stranger to the country, she recounts that “those things which were most new and strange nonetheless had parallels in my experience.” Her first-hand observations elicited contrasting emotions of joy as well as confusion. She also encountered a society in transition, rebuilding the fabric of families and institutions after a devastating 30-year civil war. One music seed was sown when Kardonne heard a girl sing to entertain fellow bus commuters on the A9 highway to Jaffna, the northernmost city on the South Asian island nation. She notated the girl’s song and it surfaced in the work’s first movement titled “A9 to Jaffna.”

On returning home, her life-altering experience compelled her to rethink her “own understanding of life back in Canada through the lens of what I learned from Sri Lanka.” The profound themes she explores in her lyrics for The Lanka Suite include Sri Lankans’ essential connection to the land and the importance of self-definition through politics, even though this trust seems inevitably doomed to be betrayed by the political class. The ravages borne by the abundant natural world and the shifting role of women are also examined.

When she first presented The Lanka Suiteat The Rex Hotel last year in its stripped down eight-musician version, the favourable audience reception centred on perceptions of cultural familiarity, despite the score’s vibrant mash-up of musical idioms. Various listeners “picked up on what in the music seemed familiar to them” reported the composer, “but I certainly felt vindicated when people told me ‘I hear you and that’s my music too.’” Infusing additional jazz sparkle to The Lanka Suite’s full airing at the Music Gallery, the multi-JUNO Award winningflute and soprano saxophonevirtuosa Jane Bunnett joins Kardonne, her seven-piece band The Thing Is, and the GREX choir.

Opening the evening is Khôra, the experimental music project of Toronto’s Matthew Ramolo. He performs his music on acoustic and electronic instruments, as well as field recordings and analogue/digital processing, summoning “the spirit of Eastern modes, contemporary classical, avant and sacred minimalism, experimental rock and various forms of electronic music.”

Other Picks:

2006-World-Radik_Tyulyush.jpgMarch 6 and 7, Tuvan singer Radik Tyulyush and Inuk diva Tanya Tagaq, two masters of throat singing, split the bill at the Aga Khan Museum, presented with the support of Small World Music. Though drawing on musically distinct cultures over 6,000 kilometres apart, it’s a rare pleasure for Toronto audiences to witness these outstanding performers on a single stage. The abundantly talented Tyulyush, a member of perhaps Tuva’s most successful music group Huun Huur Tu, is not only a leading performer of the several types of indigenous throat and “regular” singing, but is a master of several Tuvan instruments including the igil, doshpuluur, shoor and khomu. He’s a Tuvan rock star to boot. His set opens the concert.

Tagaq follows. I covered her Polaris Prize performance and reviewed her brilliant album Animism which sealed the win last fall in The WholeNote. There’s no doubt in my mind that she’s among the most musically, emotionally and politically compelling avant-garde vocalists working today. I’m not sure if I have ever deemed a performance a must-see in this column, but her live vocal confrontation, accompanied by her band, of a screening of the silent film Nanook of the North (1922) is such a show.

March 12 at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, Japan’s Kodo Drummers return to Toronto, after a four-year absence, with their “Kodo One Earth Tour: Mystery.” I’ve seen them before and this taiko (Japanese drum) group which has been setting the bar high for decades keeps improving, making theatrically engaging, powerful music. For those who have never seen them live, they also incorporate various flutes and other Japanese instruments in their precision shows. “Mystery” is the second Kodo program directed by the famous kabuki actor Tamasaburō Bandō, designated a National Living Treasure in Japan. He became Kodo’s artistic director in 2012, and during his tenure has aimed to deepen Kodo’s theatricality and to give more prominence to women performers. Of special interest, the pre-show discussion at 7pm features members of Toronto’s Nagata Shachu Japanese Taiko and Music Ensemble examining the history of taiko in Japan, the various drums used in performance, the costumes worn, how the music is taught and learned, as well as the development of the modern taiko movement led by groups such as Kodo.

March 26, the Mississauga- based singer and songwriter Vandana Vishwas presents a selection of her sugam sangeet songs at the Musideum. Songs in the ghazal, bhajan, geet, thumri, folk, Indo-jazz and light classical genres, often reflected on Indian film soundtracks, are collectively known as sugam sangeet. Vishwas, who performed for ten years as an All India Radio artist until she left India, is accompanied by George Koller, one of Toronto’s favourite bass and dilruba players, tabla maestro Ed Hanley and Vishwas Thoke on acoustic guitar.

 March 29 the Small World Music Society in association with Batuki Music Society presents the Toronto debut of Tal National, Niger’s most popular group, at the Drake Underground. Drawing on regional West African music genres like highlife, soukous, Afrobeat and desert blues, Tal National has evolved a joyous dance-centric music driven by drums, guitars and deep grooves. While at home they are known to play till daybreak, bets are off that will happen at the Drake. One sure thing however: the relentless cyclical energy of their music will propel dancers far longer than even they thought possible.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

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2005_-_Beat_-_World_-_Ruth_Mathiang.pngSince 2008 the Batuki Music Society has been tirelessly promoting African music and art in Toronto, seeking out local artists and working with them to book venues. It does much more than typical presenters however, providing the valuable service of advising musicians on career development, recording and touring. Moreover, Batuki appears to have an even larger social mission. As expressed on the society’s website, it provides “visibility and necessary publicity to artists who hail from minority groups by placing them in concerts and festivals in mainstream venues to help them integrate.” Incorporated as a non-profit community-based organization in 2008 by artistic director Nadine McNulty, Batuki’s artistic vision encourages local African musicians to participate in enriching the diverse arts and cultural scene through live music concerts, visual arts exhibits, film, spoken word/poetry, dance and festivals.

Spiritual Songs of Sub-Saharan Africa

Batuki Music Society’s programming usually heats up during Black History Month and this February is no exception. On February 14 it is presenting “Spiritual Songs of Sub-Saharan Africa” at the theatre of the Alliance Française de Toronto. Reflecting spirituality in African music, the songs are rooted in multiple genres performed across the vast continent, from Guinean griot and Ghanaian highlife and gospel, to South Sudanese spirituals, Ethiopian soul, back to Congolese rumba and Zimbabwean spirit music. 

2005_-_Beat_-_World_-_Cheka_Kaetnen_Dioubate.pngThe concert’s curatorial aim is to present the evolving nature of African music from its rural roots to its contemporary urban and transnational mediations, with an emphasis on its spiritual content. The performers have been drawn from Toronto’s rich pool of sub-Saharan African musical talent. Confirmed are seven of the city’s finest African singers, Frederica Ackah, griot Cheka Katenen Dioubate, Ruth Mathiang, Blandine Mbiya, Evelyn Mukwedeya, Memory Makuri, and Netsanet Melesse. The seven singers are backed by an impressive band consisting of Donne Roberts (guitar), Tichaona Maredza (rhythm guitar), Quandoe Harrison (bass), Fantahun Shewankochew Mekonnen (acoustic krar), Kofi Ackah (drums, percussion), Ruben Esguerra (congas), and Amadou Kienou (djembe). 

I’d like to sample the rich program for you. Performing the songs of the Shona people of Zimbabwe will be Evelyn Mukwedeya and Memory Makuri accompaning themselves on the mbira (sometimes called thumb piano), as well as hand clapping, hosho and dancing. The playing of the mbira dzavadzimu, which used to be a deeply entrenched male preserve, is an important ingredient in conducting healing ceremonies among Shona communities. In the 1970s Stella Chiweshe, also a traditional healer, challenged that male exclusivity, becoming one of the first female mbira players. She is now a role model for younger women like Mukwedeya and Makuri.

Blandine Mbiya, a singer and songwriter from the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo performs songs in the gospel-inspired rumba genre as well as those in the so-called bazombo trance music. The latter – the Bazombo are members of the much larger Bakongo group whose communities lie near the Angola and DRC borders – is a music genre reputedly associated with witchcraft and other ceremonies, though solid evidence of this is hard to locate for outsiders. On the other hand, the popular DRC rumba (aka African rumba, which also overlaps with soukous), exhibits Cuban and older Franco-Belgian missionary choral strains. Rumba’s rise to prominence has been directly linked to the suppression of the Congo’s indigenous spiritual music practices during the colonial period.

Cheka Katenen Dioubate is a Guinean griot whose job description includes storyteller, historian, poet, musician and praise singer. Griots are central to the maintenance of Mande traditions in West Africa. Serving as a living archive, they are keepers and singers of the oral history and culture of the people, performing at marriages, funerals and other rites of passage. Dioubate brings to the stage a powerful voice and commanding presence, as befits the griot who must serve as intermediary between generations of her ancestors and her living audience.

Our last stop in this incomplete concert preview is Ethiopia, as represented by the songs of Netsanet Mellesse. This singer has an impressive recording back catalogue, having produced traditional Ethiopian, pop and gospel albums back home. One of Ethiopia’s finest krar players and composers Fantahun Shewankochew Mekonnen will accompany Mellesse at the Alliance Francaise.

2005_-_Beat_-_World_-_Hugh_Masekela.pngVusi Mahlasela and Hugh Masekela: This is not Batuki Music Society’s only big presentation this month. On February 28, in association with Koerner Hall, they co-present “Vusi Mahlasela and Hugh Masekela: 20 Years of Freedom.” This concert is billed as “freedom songs honouring 20 years of democracy in South Africa and the official end of apartheid” and headlines the trumpeter, singer and composer Masekela and singer/songwriter Mahlasela. 

The award-winning Mahlasela, known as The Voice in his home country, is celebrated for his distinct, powerful voice and his poetic lyrics. He has released seven studio albums on Sony and worked with numerous international recording stars. His songs of hope with themes of struggle for freedom, but also forgiveness and reconciliation with enemies, inspired many in the anti-apartheid movement.

In his eighth decade, Masekela, the world-renowned multifaceted musician and defiant political voice, is still going strong. Credited as one of the founders of world fusion music, his global career began in the South Africa of the 1950s with stylist roots which tapped into jazz (ragtime, jive, swing, doo-wop, bop), musicals and pop, as well as multiple African genres including mbaqanga, South African music with rural Zulu roots. His group, the Jazz Epistles, released the first African jazz LP in 1959, followed by 40 more albums over his career. His 1986 anti-apartheid anthem Bring Home Nelson Mandela (1986) was an inspiration and rallying cry around the world at the time. After decades in exile, following the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990, Masekela returned to live in South Africa. It may well be on the Koerner Hall program celebrating twenty years of South Africa’s democracy.

Other picks:

February 6 The Royal Conservatory’s World Music series presents Pavlo and his band at Koerner Hall. The Toronto native with two Juno Award nominations who goes by a single name, Pavlo may have coined the term “Mediterranean guitar sound” for his brand of music, but for his current tour Pavlo integrates “exotic instruments,” as the promotion notes. His fans can expect Pavlo’s signature sound with acoustic Spanish guitar upfront in the mix, but also infused with Chinese erhu, Portuguese guitarra, Arabic ney, Indian sitar and Greek bouzouki.

Also February 6 the Small World Music Centre’s still new intimate theatre is undertaking its first screening, rescheduled from last year. The Stirring of a Thousand Bells (2014) by emerging  American filmmaker Matthew Dunning is an experimental documentary consisting of two videos taking the audience on a kaleidoscopic visual and musical tour of life in Surakarta, a city in Java, Indonesia. It features footage of its centuries-old royal court gamelan music and dance culture, still vital today. A live music concert “Imaginary Soundtrack for Ambient Worlds: Indonesia meets Canada” by the Andrew Timar and Bill Parsons Duo, playing Indonesian kacapi and suling, will begin the program. (Yes I’m that Andrew Timar).

February 8, the Flato Markham Theatre audience will be in for a treat a concert that showcases two generations of one family with a proud musical lineage, encompassing several strands of world music. Amjad Ali Khan, the renowned veteran maestro of the sarod (Hindustani plucked lute) is joined by his sarod-playing sons Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan for this rare three sarod concert. Billed as “The Sarod Project,” percussionists Issa Malluf (Arabic/Middle Eastern percussion) and ace Toronto tabla player Vineet Vyas join the soloists.

Hindustani music is certainly Khan’s forte but in the first set he will demonstrate his affinity for an even wider sweep of musical geography, ranging from various regions of India to the Middle East. His sons Amaan and Ayaan will then demonstrate their traditional Hindustani music cred by performing a raga to be announced at the hall, exemplifying the living tradition that has been passed down from father to son for several generations “Music is the greatest wealth in our family,” confirmed Amjad Ali Khan. 

February 13 and 14 the Aga Khan Museum in partnership with the Aga Khan Music Initiative presents “Wu Man and the Sanubar Tursun Ensemble” at the AKM auditorium. This multicultural meeting of the Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man and the celebrated Uyghur singer Sanubar Tursun, explore ancient cultural links between Chinese and Central Asian music traditions. Wu Man, who has multiple Grammy Award nominations as well as the 1999 City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize to her credit, is a cross-cultural collaboration veteran. She’s worked extensively with the Kronos Quartet and Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, among several others. Sanubar Tursun, who has become an iconic Uyghur cultural figure, employs her delicate, sensuous yet also athletic vocals in renditions of classical muqam and folk songs. The soloists are accompanied by an ensemble of Uyghur musicians.

If these concerts are any indication, it promises to be a rich and musically eventful February.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

 

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