06 Pot Pourri 01 Kiran AhluwaliaSanata: Stillness
Kiran Ahluwalia
Independent MTM-CD-930 (kiranmusic.com)

The release of Indian-Canadian singer and songwriter Kiran Ahluwalia’s sixth album Sanata: Stillness, provides copious confirmation that her songs are “one of global music’s most interesting adventures.” Ever since Ahluwalia‘s first CD in 2001, it seems each new album marks new regions of personal musical growth, accompanied by evolving instrumentation and stylistic components. Recorded in Toronto, Sanata, as does her touring group, features some of the city’s top world musicians. Among them number percussionist maestro Mark Duggan and bassists extraordinaire Rich Brown and Andrew Downing.

In my September 2014 WholeNote cover feature on Ahluwalia, I observed that her geo-musical expansiveness is a result “of her careful listening to yet another [geo-cultural] zone of our world. She has [further] shown a continued eagerness to contest the borders of her musical comfort zones in live performance.”

Sanata provides ample proof of that process of exploration and synthesis at work. We hear Ahluwalia’s signature masala of her unique interpretation of Indo-Pakistani ghazal and Punjabi folk song, rendered in her expressive yet unstrained vibrato-less voice. It’s hung on a solid backbone of years of classical Hindustani musical training. Her gift for crafting catchy melodies is evidenced in her songs; I’m guessing a key feature in their audience appeal.

Another significant strand is the addition of pungent echoes of Saharan blues guitar, as in her award-winning 2011 CD Aam Zameen: Common Ground. It grounds the title track and also propels “Hayat” with a swaggering groove at just the right tempo. The superbly supple electric guitar accompaniments are provided by her American husband Rez Abbasi, who is also the album’s arranger and producer. Abbasi gets a chance to show his ample jazz guitarist cred in his “Tamana” solo and elsewhere.

While the album is carefully woven together with jazz-forward and sometimes rock-infused arrangements, “Jhoom” and “Lament,” the two songs in the qawwali tradition, return the album’s musical topography and transport the listener – via many transcontinental byways – to the Subcontinent.


06 Pot Pourri 02 TagaqAnimism
Tanya Tagaq
Six Shooter Records (tanyatagaq.com)

This album is a profound exploration of transcultural confrontation and transformation as expresed through the magical qualities and healing power of sound. Featuring the brilliant vocalism of Inuk avant-garde throat singer Tanya Tagaq, Animism synergistically merges her indigenous rights activism with the expressive force of her art. Not simply a typical “wordless protest album” however, its release promptly caused significant critical acclaim. To cap it off, Tagaq won the 2014 Polaris Music Prize, presented annually for the “best Canadian album regardless of genre or sales,” becoming its first indigenous recipient.

To be sure, the involvement of the polished improv-based musicality of her regular accompanists, Toronto drummer Jean Martin and the B.C.-based violinist, producer and arranger Jesse Zubot, is essential to every track.

Tagaq’s vocal art lives in zones of layered, multiple hybridity, a foundational feature of which is her free improv performance strategy. Paradoxically however, this CD’s first song is a cover of the Pixies’Caribou” (1987) sung in a “standard” (that is non-throat singing) voice by Tagaq and masterfully arranged with the addition of synth, horn and string parts by Zubot. Comparing it to the original Pixies’ recording, I prefer this album’s extended version, still rocking in sections yet musically convincing us without strumming a single guitar chord.

The pop-orientedCaribou” is an exceptional case here, however. Other songs like Rabbit propose an almost cinematic soundscape. Atop field recordings of northern soundscapes by Michael Red, and Zubot’s significant contributions, Tagaq’s vocalise transforms itself effortlessly from human to animal sounds and back.

The music on the innovative Animism, though sonically and emotionally rooted in the arctic, is nevertheless poised to move audiences no matter where they live.

autorickshaw album coverThe Humours of Autorickshaw
Tala Wallah Records TW 005 (autorickshaw.ca)

The JUNO-nominated world music ensemble Autorickshaw’s delightfully exciting fourth album is a rich record of a particular transcultural Toronto musical masala. Make no mistake; The Humours of Autorickshaw is no parochial product however. Rather its achievement resonates across other communities of musicians forging other new musical hybrids. In its ambitious aspirations—adventurous genre mixings, and in some of its lyrics touching, contentious reaches of the human condition—it will resonate with select global audiences.

Read more: The Humours of Autorickshaw

07 pot pourri 01 marco poloThe Musical Voyages of Marco Polo
Maria Farantouri; En Chordais; Ensemble Constantinople; Kyriakos Kalaitzidis
World Village WVF 479092

Italy to China in Marco Polo’s footsteps, interpreted stage by stage by local music, inspired Kyriakos Kalaitzidis to coordinate and to compose a virtual journey along the Silk Road.

Early music enthusiasts will get their eye (or ear) drawn in with the well-known Lamento di Tristano which weaves its sedate course by bringing together Western European and Middle-Eastern instruments. This same combination forms Kalaitzidis’ choice for one of his own compositions, the equally sedate Marco’s Dream. What a contrast then with his second composition, Gallop, which conjures up Marco Polo confidently and swiftly crossing the Silk Road on his mission.

As Marco Polo moves eastward the music escorts him, as its style changes. In Migrants Circles lyrics by the 14th century Iranian poet Hafez are inspired by a Chinese melody. Kiya Tabassian (sitar and voice) brilliantly conveys the winding and demanding nature of Marco Polo’s journeyings.

 Then the traveller reaches Uzbekistan for perhaps the most impassioned song on the CD: Ey Dilbari Jonomin (Oh, my heart-stealing beauty) where the voices of Kalaitzidis and Nodira Permatova are allowed to express the song’s haunting quality, accompanied only by oud, viola and violin. All too soon we are back on the road east with Five steps, a piece played on Nepalese sarangi to guide us to Mongolia, where Chandmani nutag evokes the latter’s grasslands and streams.

Finally, China. Yi Zu Wu Qu (dance of the Yi nation) is a thoughtful piece for solo pipa, contrasting with the complex seven-part Musical Voyages of Marco Polo. And then a final inspiration. Greek legend Maria Farantouri sings Xenos (the stranger), conveying Marco Polo’s feelings of being a stranger in a new life. Farantouri, long considered one of the foremost interpreters of Greek music, has lost none of her touch. Enjoy this expressive journey.


07 pot pourri 02 amanda martinezMañana
Amanda Martinez
Independent (amandamartinez.ca)

Latina songstress, broadcaster, actor and composer/lyricist, Amanda Martinez’ latest CD, Mañana is a zesty musical “Caldo” – brilliantly and authentically produced by Javier Limon and George Seara. The 12 tracks provide a tasty banquet of original, Mexican and Tejano-inspired compositions, served up with healthy doses of a tropically infused blend of the tart and the sweet. On Mañana, Martinez wears several hats – as artist, composer and lyricist, and the recording itself is a tribute to the musical influences of her beloved Mexico, imbued with contemporary and traditional motifs as well as stylish arrangements and superb musicianship and vocals from her fine ensemble.

Martinez’ co-creators include the talented bassist Drew Birston, singer Fernando Osorio, skilled guitarist Kevin Laliberte, Javier Limón (arranger and co-producer) and writers Elsten Torres, Daniel Martinez Velasco, Claudia Brant and Nana Maluca. All songs on Mañana are sung in Spanish, with the exception of three: “Frozen” – featuring Martinez’ intriguing narrative lyric, “Le Chemin,” rendered in flawless French, and the youthfully romantic and salsa-rific, “Let’s Dance,” sung in English. Martinez’ clairent, musical tone melded with her sibilant, colonial Spanish is a delightful treat for the ear, the heart and the soul. Her pure and supple voice is capable of communicating a range of potent emotions – from the deeply sensual to heartbreaking innocence.

Superb tracks include the optimistic and traditionally arranged “Esperanza Viva” – a fine composition by Brant and Maluca; the lilting Dias Invisibles, which is an inspired collaboration between Martinez and guitarist Laliberte replete with some delightful Burt Bacharach-ish horn lines. Also of particular beauty is Martinez and Limón’s “Ahora si te Canto” – a tender and evocative ballad, laden with lush and almost mystical, Iberian modalities as well as thoroughly stunning violin work by Osvaldo Rodriguez.

Concert note: Amanda Martinez launches Mañana with a concert at the Winter Garden Theatre on April 5. 

07 pot pourri 01 art of timeSgt. Pepper
Art of Time Ensemble
Art of Time Recordings ATR 001 (artoftimeensemble.com)

It was 47 years ago that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was unleashed on the planet. It was a major departure, not only for the Beatles but for the pop/rock world in general, because of its complex arrangements, overdubs and use of an orchestra. The Beatles had recently declared they were fed up with touring, so with Sgt. Pepper they were free to record whatever they wanted without the constraint of having to recreate it live later on. So the fact that Toronto’s Art of Time Ensemble has not only recreated it, but also released a live recording, is a major feat. But this is no mere copy of the iconic album. The arrangers – all 11 of them from across the spectrum of pop, jazz and classical music – have written inventive treatments of the songs, building on the great songwriting and ideas of the Lennon/McCartney/Martin team.

Andrew Burashko, the force behind Art of Time, has gathered together a dozen of the best musicians in the land from a variety of disciplines including singers from some well-known Canadian bands. Steven Page (Bare Naked Ladies), Andy Maize (Skydiggers), John Mann (Spirit of the West) and Craig Northey (Odds) all bring their individual styles to the lead parts. Covering a much-loved work such as this is a delicate balancing act – needing to be different enough to be fresh, but not too far off to be unrecognizable – and they’ve done it admirably. Anyone who is a Beatles fan – or a music fan – should enjoy revisiting this great work through this CD.

Back to top