I once mused in this column that “summer in the city for me also means music in the city.” It’s not an especially deep statement, but it does suggest that experiencing sound in warm outdoor weather is different from listening indoors. Summer liberates music in Canada in a way other seasons cannot.

The advent of short sleeves, shorts-and-sandal weather means music lovers need no longer be confined to indoor spaces. We can enjoy music at a wide range of outdoor venues this summer. To name only a few: Harbourfront Centre, North York’s Cultura Festival, Peeks Toronto Caribbean Carnival (commonly still called Caribana), Small World Festival, and Ashkenaz Festival. We can also experience global music at TD Sunfest 2018 in the parkland heart of London, and at Stratford Summer Music in the Ontario town Shakespeare made famous.

Many of these concert series feature music which reflects the diversity we see and hear around us every day.

Summertime concerts often cover a huge cultural range, sometimes with several genres on a single bill. It’s an ideal opportunity to sample music you’ve been meaning to try – or never knew existed. The latter’s a special treat for inveterate sonic explorers.

In this 2018 summer column I’ll explore that en plein air experience as presented by three Toronto music festivals rich in global sounds.

Harbourfront Centre: Summer Music in the Garden, June 28 to September 16

We begin our summer global music journey at Harbourfront Centre, which I once called “the granddaddy of current Toronto summer music festivals.” It has followed its multicultural mandate for more than four decades, presenting what it calls a cross-section of the “mosaic of cultures from within our country and around the world.”

I’ve mentioned here before that I was a Harbourfront Centre early-adopter. I hadn’t yet shared, however, that as well as being an enthusiastic audience member, I also performed there with various groups from the 1970s on. Bringing my children along when they were young to Harbourfront Centre’s eclectic high-quality (and mostly free) music programming proved to be a summertime essential for our growing family. Along the way I learned a great deal about diverse musics there. Perhaps our kids did too.

Harbourfront’s concert series Summer Music in the Garden returns for its 19th year by the shores of Lake Ontario. Located in the Yo-Yo Ma co-designed Music Garden, the free concerts are scheduled on most Thursdays at 7pm and Sundays at 4pm. Audiences are encouraged to sit on the lawn and to bring a blanket or lawn chair since bench seating is quite limited. Hats, umbrellas and sunscreen are wise options.

Summer Music in the Garden’s logo is “Our garden is your concert hall.” It’s an apt description of the relaxed backyard-in-the-city environment you can expect, though you’d have to be in the upper one percent to personally own such a waterfront property.

This year’s 18 concerts have been carefully curated by longtime Summer Music in the Garden artistic director Tamara Bernstein. They include outstanding local and touring artists performing in a wide range of music genres. Here are just three picks from the Music Garden’s abundant 2018 crop.

July 1. Kontiwennenhá:wi and Barbara Croall: “Songs for the Women.”

It’s very fitting that Bernstein booked Kontiwennenhá:wi and Barbara Croall for Canada Day. Kontiwennenhá:wi (Carriers of the Words) have performed at the Toronto Music Garden as The Akwesasne Women Singers in the past. They return performing both received songs that are an integral part of Haudenosaunee life, as well as original repertoire.

Barbara CroallOdawa First Nations composer and musician Barbara Croall was (from 1998 to 2000) resident composer with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Her Summer Music in the Garden set features a performance of her Lullaby (2008) for pipigwan (traditional Anishinaabe cedar flute) and voice. The work is dedicated to the many Indigenous mothers whose children died at residential schools.

July 5. Kongero: “Scandinavian Songlines.”

Formed in 2005, the popular Swedish a cappella group Kongero consists of four women folk music singers, Lotta Andersson, Emma Björling, Anna Larsson and Anna Wikénius. They have performed at major folk music, a cappella and chamber music festivals in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Their repertoire consists of a mix of traditional and original songs characterized by tight harmonies, lively rhythms and vocal clarity. They playfully call their genre, “Swedish Folk’appella.”

Summer and beer go together for many Canadians, but how many a cappella groups can boast a beer named after them? This quartet can. Kongero is a bottled Saison/Farmhouse Ale-style brewed by Jackdaw Brewery in Sweden. Audiences can expect to hear excerpts from Kongero’s four full-length albums, though sadly I saw no mention of samples of their eponymous ale.

August 9. Bageshree Vaze, Vineet Vyas and Rajib Karmakar: Satyam (Truth).

The Indo-Canadian dancer and musician Bageshree Vaze and tabla soloist Vineet Vyas both studied their respective art forms with the best in India. They have been part of the Ontario performing arts scene for over two decades. Currently based in LA, Rajib Karmakar is an award-winning electric sitar musician, educator and digital artist with ample international touring credentials.

Last year these three artists were commissioned by Opera Nova Scotia to create Satyam (Truth). Their opera is based on the love story of Savitri and Satyavan, first found in the Mahabharata, one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India.

Small World Festival at Harbourfront Centre, August 17 to 19.

Harbourfront Centre is the venue for several other festivals this summer. For three days in August, this year’s Small World Festival takes over Harbourfront’s facilities for the first time. Placing its 17th annual festival at the height of the summer season in one of the city’s premier summer cultural and tourist destinations is a bold and perhaps even risky move for Small World Music. On the other hand, the fit feels organic. The weekend celebration of “diversity through music” suits the mandates of both organizations well.

In a recent telephone interview with Alan Davis, SWM’s executive director, he told me that this year’s Small World Festival is inspired by the 30th anniversary of WOMAD. Founded by Peter Gabriel in the UK 36 years ago, World of Music Art and Dance was first produced in Canada at Harbourfront Centre in 1988. (I recall that WOMAD particularly well. I performed a concert there with Evergreen Club Gamelan on the outdoor Tindall stage, a stone’s throw from busy Queens Quay.)

Davis noted that the “inspiration [WOMAD] provided created a direct line to the formation of Small World ten years later. Three decades on, this festival explores its legacy and how it resonates in multicultural 21st-century Toronto.”

Small World’s annual signature concert series is known for its “eclectic mix of top artists from around the globe and around the corner, representing the state of the-art in global sound,” continued Davis. “Taking place on multiple stages, the mostly free program will attract a wide range of demographics, ranging from audiences that identify culturally with the music onstage, to mainstream music fans, families and tourists seeking a global cultural experience.”

Davis makes a case for providing “a predominately free program in one of Toronto’s premier summer locales helping to reduce the barriers in celebrating multiculturalism and enriching the cultural tapestry of our city.” He projects the weekend will “draw over 25,000 participants from markets beyond the GTA, including Southern Ontario, Montreal and American border-states.”

What will audiences see and hear? Davis aims “to continue to feature the high-quality presentations that the festival is renowned for. This includes international and Canadian artists from a diverse range of cultures, including but not limited to Korean, South Asian, Iranian, Latin American, Portuguese and Afro-Caribbean.”

Given that the Small World Festival will be held in the middle of August, Davis was reluctant to nail down programming months prior to the festival. When pressed, however, he revealed to The WholeNote readers the acts booked at press time.

The wide-ranging mix includes Daraa Tribes (Morocco), which present a fusion of the ancestral tribal music at the heart of the Moroccan Sahara; DJ Lag (South Africa), a pioneer of the explosive dark techno movement out of Durban; and one of Italy’s hottest bands, Kalàscima, purveyors of a unique brand of “psychedelic trance tarantella.” Also confirmed is the East LA band Las Cafeteras, which fuses spoken word and traditional Son Jarocho, Afro-Mexican and zapateado dancing into a joyous celebration of Chicano culture.

Vieux Farka TouréThe Malian singer and guitarist Vieux Farka Touré may be the best-known Small World Festival headliner to Toronto audiences. Carrying on the musical legacy of his Grammy-winning father Ali Farka Touré, Vieux’s latest album Samba (2017) was praised in the Monolith Cocktail Blog: “This is the devotional, earthy soul of Mali, channelled through a six-string electric guitar.”

Canadian groups include Toronto’s Surefire Sweat, a diverse and multi-generational roster of musicians who feature the danceable original music of drummer Larry Graves which draws on “an amalgam of New Orleans brass band, funk, jazz, blues and Afrobeat.” The Montreal-Moroccan outfit De Ville will also take the stage. More Canadian and international acts will be announced during the summer, so keep an eye out.

Ashkenaz Festival at Harbourfront Centre, August 28 to September 3.

The 12th biennial Ashkenaz Festival happens over the final week of the summer, wrapping on Labour Day Monday. Following the template established in previous editions, this year kicks off with an assortment of events at venues across the GTA before Ashkenaz segues to Harbourfront Centre over the Labour Day weekend.

The 2018 festival features over 90 performances, with more than 250 individual artists coming from across Canada and at least a dozen countries. Following the lead of previous iterations, the festival showcases diversity and cross-culturalism within the Jewish music world. This year the festival also features the enhanced participation of women performers, “spotlighting the role of women as prominent performers, innovators and key custodians of various Jewish musical traditions from around the globe.”

Given the vast scope of the festival I can only provide a few picks.

On August 28, Yiddish Glory (Russia/Canada) is the festival opener at Koerner Hall. The show is built on songs and poetry from the Holocaust era, rediscovered in a Ukrainian archive a decade ago. The songs and texts are presented in a concert format featuring jazz chanteuse Sophie Milman, Psoy Korolenko and Trio Loyko.

Other acts have been confirmed, though their festival appearance dates have not yet been released. Here’s but a taste.

Frank London, Grammy-winning group Klezmatics’ co-founder and one of the godfathers of the new Yiddish culture scene, is this year’s Theodore Bikel artist-in-residence. Fronted by trumpeter London, the band Sharabi has been dubbed “a Yiddish-Punjabi bhangra-funk-klezmer party band.” (Would I kid you?)

Salomé: Woman of Valor (Canada/USA) was created by London and Adeena Karasick. This new work is a multidisciplinary spoken word opera incorporating the interplay of poetry, music and dance. It seeks to refute Oscar Wilde’s “misogynist and anti-Semitic interpretation and re-casts [Salomé] as a powerful revolutionary matriarch, translating the renowned myth to one of female empowerment, socio-politic, erotic and aesthetic transgression.”

Gili Yalo, making his North American debut, is one of the most intriguing new artists in Israel’s world music scene. Yalo mashes his Ethiopian roots with soul, reggae, funk, psychedelia and jazz, forging an energetic new sound.

Neta Elkayam, a leading researcher and performer of Moroccan Jewish music, presents songs with Andalusian, Berber and Middle Eastern influences. Her latest project is a multimedia concert tribute to the great Moroccan-Jewish singer Zohra Al Fassia, featuring 11 musicians..

Choro Das Tres (Brazil) is a virtuoso instrumental ensemble comprised of three sisters and their father who perform choro, Brazil’s first popular music. The group pays tribute in this concert to Brazilian-Jewish mandolin master Jacob do Bandolim, on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

No matter which festival or open-air concert you choose, I wish you a pleasant global musical summer! 

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

The spirit of an extended modal family is reflected in Labyrinth Musical Workshop Ontario’s inaugural season’s remarkably ambitious lineup featuring 11 masters of Greek, Turkish, Bulgarian, Iranian, Azerbaijani, Arabic, Kurdish and Afghani music traditions. Historically these musical cultures interacted for centuries in their ever-shifting places of origin. In 2018 Toronto it’s possible to see such fruitful musical interactions reflecting the demographic reality on the ground.

Each faculty member will conduct week-long workshops and then perform in four concerts in Toronto throughout May and into June.

Labyrinth Ontario is a made-in-Toronto modal music school founded by an Iranian-Canadian musician, but with roots in an unlikely place (a Mediterranean island), and perhaps an even more unlikely founding father (the English-born Ross Daly who boasts Irish ancestry). Let’s go explore.

Labyrinth Musical Workshop, Crete

Labyrinth Musical Workshop began in 1982 as the brainchild of the Cretan world musician and educator of Irish descent Ross Daly. His first series of Labyrinth workshops took place in 1997 in Athens, Greece.

Daly – a specialist on the music of the Cretan lyra (fiddle) and of the Ottoman court, a participant in intercultural composition before world music became a commercial term, and a composer – originally wanted to establish a space for a creative group of friends. His overall aim was to explore “various modal musical traditions from around the world, as well as of the potential for creative interaction between them.”

In 2002, a permanent base for Labyrinth was established in a restored manor house in the village of Houdetsi on the island of Crete, Greece. There Daly has fine-tuned his workshop model of concentrated weekly music lessons focusing “primarily on the modal musical traditions of the Balkans, Middle East, Central Asia, India, North Africa,” as well as presenting concerts by “outstanding teachers/musicians, the prime representatives of these traditions.”

While leading international musicians and students travel twice a year to Labyrinth’s Cretan village environment, in the last two years Daly’s notion of teaching global modal musical traditions has really caught fire. It has spread across Europe and now jumped the Atlantic to Canada. In 2016 Labyrinth Catalunya was established in Barcelona, and in 2017, Labyrinth Italia in Santa Sofia. This year Labyrinth Cyprus launched, with three modal music seminars which were held April 10 to 15, 2018 in Nicosia, capped with a concert.

Ross DalyLabyrinth Musical Workshop Ontario: Backstory

That brings us to the most recent iteration of the concept, Labyrinth Ontario Musical Workshop in Toronto. And it may be the most ambitious of the Daly-inspired spinoffs, animated by a series of 11 workshops running over four weeks, plus four concerts.

Labyrinth Ontario was on my radar back in September 2017 when I offered a preview in my World Music column, observing that it “focuses on the education of a new generation of musicians – and also audiences.”

Two Toronto-based musicians are at the heart of the project. Virtuoso tar (Persian lute) player and teacher Araz Salek serves as its artistic director and keyboardist and sound designer Jonathan Adjemian as its admin director. Having begun his music career in Iran, Salek has been active as a tar player and leader in Toronto for over a decade in both Persian classical music ensembles as well as in eclectic music circles, such the Persian-flamenco fusion group Persamenco. He performs often in other settings too, in Toronto and on tour internationally, experimenting with new transcultural groupings and various crossroads of classical, experimental and improvised music, seeking out creative musicians in all those areas.

Starting an unorthodox music education and concert series is certainly a risky endeavour, but Salek’s street cred in this arena positions him strongly to kickstart Labyrinth’s presence in Toronto. For example, he has served as an instructor at Daly’s Labyrinth Musical Workshop in Crete and since 2012 has been a core member, with Daly, Pedram Khavarzamini and Kelly Thoma, of the Toronto-Crete quartet This Tale of Ours – a group continuing to be a source of inspiration for Salek. They are all workshop leaders in Labyrinth Ontario’s inaugural season.

I followed the story to the 918 Bathurst Centre. There, on the evening of September 15, 2017, Labyrinth Ontario held its launch and fundraising concert. The event had a warm, mixed-community feel, underscored by the ethnically diverse music and foods on offer covering Persian, Southeastern European, Turkish, Kurdish and Middle Eastern ground. That diversity was reflected in Labyrinth Ontario’s board of directors introduced at the event: Poorya Ferdowsi, Pouria Lotfi, Alia Hamdan O’Brien, Irene Markoff and Rob Simms.

Silk Road and the Spirit of the Extended Modal Family

Simms, associate professor of music at York University, recently posted an essay on Labyrinth Ontario’s website placing its project into a much larger frame. He begins by pointing out that while as recently as 40 years ago “Toronto was thoroughly white-bread, WASP dominated,” today it is “regularly cited as one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. While this is a wonderful fact and opportunity for those of us who live in the city, it is even more remarkable how recent this came to be.” He continues that while world history “features many previous hotbeds of cultural contact … none of these come close to the complete global integration we now inhabit and that forms the fabric of daily lives” in major global cosmopolitan centres.

Simms then invokes the example of the network of trade routes known as the Silk Road which provide us with “an incredible continuity of musical expression stretching from North Africa, Southern and Eastern Europe, clear across to Central Asia and Western China. This massively extended musical family shares similar social contexts for performance, aesthetics, philosophy, performance practice, instrumentation and musical structures – rhythmic cycles, forms and melodic modes (scales with particular behaviours or personalities).”

Among the various systems of melodic modes which grew up along the Silk Road, one of the most common is the maqam, literally “station, place” in Arabic. “While the underlying musical foundation was shared … a rich array of varying musical traditions flowered, cross-pollinated and withered through the centuries into our own time. Most of the musicians stayed in their particular sonic and social worlds … Until the late 20th century” – which is when Ross Daly enters Simms’ essay. Simms nominates Daly as one of the “early pioneers of exploring the larger maqam family.” Attracted to the lyra tradition of Crete where he has lived for over 40 years, Daly has “established a unique and highly successful series of workshops that brings together master teachers of myriad maqam traditions and keen students from around the world.”

One of the keys to the success of Daly’s Labyrinth Workshops is that they are at the same time informal and highly social yet also intensive and serious in musical focus. In this mix Simms sees the “spirit of the extended modal family tradition throughout history,” echoing Daly’s own ethos: “Labyrinth is more than a musical workshop, it is a way of life through music.”

Labyrinth Ontario’s First Season: Workshops, Concerts and Discussions

Labyrinth Ontario’s first season workshop faculty includes an international roster of leading instrumentalists, singers and composers in their respective genres. They are: Ross Daly (Greece) on modal music composition, Kelly Thoma (Greece) on Cretan lyra, Ali Akbar Moradi (Iran) on Kurdish tanbur, plus American-based Imamyar Hasanov on Azeri kamancha, Tzvetanka Varimezova on Bulgarian singing, and Quraishi on Afghan rabab.

Toronto-area expert practitioners George Sawa on Arabic music theory and qanun, Araz Salek on tar, Bassam Bishara on oud, Pedram Khavarzamini on tombak and Ahmet Ihvani on Turkish bağlama/saz complete this year’s teaching faculty. Interested readers can find bios of each instructor and the dates of instruction on Labyrinth Ontario’s informative website: www.labyrinthontario.com/labyrinth-2018-workshops.

In addition to the workshops, faculty will give a concert each week, and TBA-moderated panel discussions will be open to the public.

The first concert on May 12 features This Tale of Ours, a quartet with members hailing from Canada and Greece, though certainly not musically limited by those nationalities. (The group’s membership – Daly, Thoma, Khavarzamini and Salek – bridges the parent Labyrinth with its newly minted Toronto offspring.) Look to The WholeNote listings and the Labyrinth Ontario website for details on this and the other three concerts.

Each month in this column I chart a few of (what appear to me at the time as) the high points of master musicians from around the world appearing in Toronto and region in concerts, festivals and one-off workshops. From my vantage point it seems Labyrinth Ontario takes this situation to yet another level, focusing our attention intensively – and at an uncompromisingly high artistic level – on a few fascinating and related modal musical cultures.

Borrowing a phrase from Simms’ essay I’m prompted to ask whether Toronto is indeed the “perfect location to carry this amazing, vibrant Eurasian cultural treasure [offered by Labyrinth Ontario] to wherever it is heading in the 21st century.”

It’s too early to give a definitive answer: we’re still weeks away from the final workshop and concert. But the fact that this ambitious project was founded by a person who has emerged from outside Canada’s established cultural elite circles should be a source of pride in the direction we as a community are moving. I will continue to cover Labyrinth Ontario’s progress as it seeks to explore sites of our own Toronto brand of “post-global” music. clip_image001.png

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

Oversimplifying a complex subject, I believe that all music is essentially hybrid, reflecting the diversity and the hybridity of our own music-loving species. What fuels the hybridizing impulse when staying with the tried and true often seems the safer musical choice?

The continual process propelling the evolution of musical culture can be witnessed in seemingly small things. I’ve seen it sparked by casual jams and offstage exchanges between musicians from different cultures, for example. Such explorations have also occasionally been instigated by adventurous composers eager to incorporate new sounds or cultural sound-views in their scores and recording projects. I see this kind of cultural transfusion as a hallmark of the healthiest scenes, those which will continue to thrive among future music creators, interpreters and audiences.

Relevant to this discussion is the evolving notion of transculturalism. Simply put, it is “involving, encompassing, or combining elements of more than one culture.”

The idea of the transcultural society was developed by the German cultural philosopher Wolfgang Welsch. In Transculturality – the Puzzling Form of Cultures Today (1999) he asserts that the notion of transculturality takes into account “the internal complexities and constant variations characteristic of every culture, as well as recognizing the degree to which cultures are becoming inseparably linked with one another.” According to Welsch, cultures today are no longer homogenous and monolithic but rather have multiple intersections and interdependencies which exhibit network characteristics.

A number of Toronto musicians and music groups have creatively embraced the practices of cultural hybridity and transculturality (with or without using that tag), putting the social reality we experience every day on centre stage.

For this month’s column I’ve sought out music creators and presenters among us who seek to combine instruments, melodies and modes, musical forms, song lyrics, performance genres and practices, presenting concerts mixing two or more musical cultures. Here are just a few I’ve found.

KUNÉ – Canada’s Global Orchestra

Launched last year as The New Canadian Global Music Orchestra by the RCM’s Mervon Mehta, and recently rebranded as the more mellifluous-sounding KUNÉ (“together” in Esperanto), this Toronto world music supergroup could be transcultural music’s poster family. (I wrote extensively on KUNÉ’s origin story in my May 2017 column in The WholeNote (NCGMO Explores the Power of the Collective) and recommend a visit there for those who would like to know more about this ambitious project.)

Directed by David Buchbinder, KUNÉ releases its debut album in concert on April 7 in its Koerner Hall home. As I mention in my review of the album elsewhere in this issue, it is a milestone in the group’s “journey to create a band that looks and sounds like Canada today.”

After intermission David Buchbinder is joined by Grammy Award-nominated Cuban piano master Hilario Durán along with their band Odessa/Havana. They skillfully mash up the worlds of klezmer and Latin music, creating new lyrical and swinging transcultural music along the way.

Kiran Ahluwalia’s “LOVEfest: Welcome the Stranger”

Two-time JUNO Award-winning singer and songwriter Kiran Ahluwalia’s concert “LOVEfest: Welcome the Stranger” is a case study in transcultural performance. The production tours eight North American cities in April. Its sole Toronto stop is on April 14 at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre, part of Small World Music’s 16th Annual Asian Music Series which runs April 6 to May 25.

Kiran Ahluwalia - photo by Swathi ReddyBorn in India, raised in Canada and currently living in New York City, Ahluwalia makes songs deeply rooted in Indian and Pakistani classical music and ghazal traditions. Her songs and arrangements draw from her rich South Asian heritage but they are also heavily influenced by African desert blues and American jazz. In these disparate elements we can trace Ahluwalia’s own multicontinental life journey, witnessing how she has morphed musical influences from each into a sweet sounding emblem of transculturality.

Tagged as “an eclectic celebration of love and diversity through music and dance,” LOVEfest includes sacred and secular performers from both Muslim and Sikh traditions. In an impromptu text chat with me, Ahluwalia pointed out with concern that these “two communities are currently experiencing an alarming rise in hate crimes.” It’s an issue evidently front of mind. The April tour supports her new album 7 Billion; its second track Saat (Seven) explores the faces of cultural intolerance. Says Ahluwalia, “It is a theme close to my personal experience. My story is that of an immigrant born in India and raised in Canada. As an immigrant child the hardships we faced were touted as temporary – the effects were permanent.”

Onstage, Ahluwalia is supported by her crack five-piece band on electric guitar, electric bass, tabla, accordion and voice. Affirming cultural diversity, she welcomes to the show Souad Massi (Algeria), the most successful female singer-songwriter in the Arabic-speaking world today. Massi’s lyrics are about creativity and tolerance, and the common human yearning for freedom.

Adding cultural layers and spiritual dimensions to the concert, the Bhai Kabal Singh trio of tabla, two harmoniums and three voices performs songs in their Sikh temple kirtan tradition. Then Egyptian dancer Yasser Darwish renders the tanoura, a colourful whirling Dervish dance featuring multicoloured skirts that symbolically demonstrate core values of Sufi spiritual belief, such as unconditional forgiveness.

Now for an exclusive insider tip just for WholeNote readers. In our recent text exchange Ahluwalia hinted she and Massi may be singing a cover of a song by a renowned world music diva. After some prompting, she revealed they’re working on Gracias a la Vida, the song made famous by Mercedes Sosa, the late Argentinian giant of Latin American song. It’s a telling choice. Written in 1966 by Violeta Parra, a founder of Nueva Canción Chilena, the song stands as a defiant, life-affirming response to political injustice while unblinkingly reflecting on the bittersweet nature of life’s joy and sadness.

To a generation of Chileans Gracias a la Vida became an anthem uniting people in times of trouble. For audiences on both sides of the world’s longest peaceful border, LOVEfest’s program aims to demonstrate, employing elements from diverse global cultures, what it feels like to “welcome the stranger” though heartfelt music and dance.

“LOVEfest: Welcome the Stranger” also plays April 12 at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts and April 13 at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines.

Ensemble Constantinople “Under the Senegalese Musical Sky”

April 13 the Aga Khan Museum presents “Under the Senegalese Musical Sky,” featuring the Montreal-based Ensemble Constantinople directed by Kiya Tabassian, and guest Senegalese musician Ablaye Cissoko. Inspired by the ancient city illuminating East and West, Ensemble Constantinople was conceived as a forum for encounters and cross-fertilization. In its two-decade career it has explored many musical genres and historical periods, from medieval manuscripts to contemporary aesthetics, from Mediterranean Europe to Eastern traditions.

Ablaye Cissoko (left) and Ensemble Constantinople - photo by Michael SlobodianLast fall the Aga Khan Museum inaugurated a series of performances titled “Conversation Nation,” linked thematically to its HERE exhibition. Using Ensemble Constantinople as the house band, four musical pairings, each with a different national focus and guest musician, were programmed. The series launched in October 2017 with “Under the Syrian Musical Sky.”

The scene shifts to Senegal April 13, with the master kora player, vocalist and composer Cissoko. Born into a Mandingo griot (troubadour/historian) family, Cissoko has developed an international concert and recording career playing music characterized as “at the confluence of African music and jazz.”

Ensemble Constantinople has worked with Cissoko since 2014, forging innovative encounters between Mandinka and Persian classical music, set within a transnational world music aesthetic. Their 2015 collaborative album Jardins migrateurs (Itinerant Gardens) garnered critical plaudits for “conveying a sense of effortless invention grounded in unassuming technical masterery.” We can expect another masterclass in gentle transcultural music from this quartet on April 13.

Taiko Plus! Esprit Orchestra with guest group Nagata Shachu

Although I’ve followed the trailblazing Esprit Orchestra since its inception, I rarely get a chance to write about its music in this column. Why? As Canada’s only full-sized professional orchestra devoted to performing new orchestral music, it usually falls outside my world music beat. Not this month.

On April 15, the 65-member Esprit Orchestra, under the direction of Alex Pauk, assays the transcultural embedded at the core of contemporary orchestral music in its Koerner Hall concert. The work in question is Japanese composer Maki Ishii’s Mono-Prism (1976), scored for orchestra and a group of seven taiko drummers. Under the direction of Toronto’s Kiyoshi Nagata, members of his veteran taiko group Nagata Shachu perform those demanding drum parts.

I caught up with Esprit conductor Alex Pauk on the phone recently. “This isn’t the first Ishii work with non-orchestral percussion we’ve played. In a past season we performed his Afro-Concerto (1982) which uses African drums. The earlier Mono-Prism had its roots in Ishii’s extended studies with Ondekoza, the founding group of the modern taiko movement.”

Mono-Prism, the first work for orchestra and taiko, was premiered in 1976 by conductor Seiji Ozawa at the Tanglewood Music Festival, with Ondekoza playing the taiko parts. Its compelling energy, rhythmic vitality, clouds of sound from the pen of a skilled orchestrator, and its East-meets-West subtext, won a favourable reception. Its heart-skipping finale still excites audiences today.

I should mention that the Esprit Orchestra has embraced transcultural music making before. In 2013 it hosted Toronto’s Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan, jointly performing two works by Canadian composers. (As usual I want to flag my 35-year membership in ECCG – yes, I was on that stage and yes, I’m still having fun doing so!)

As a bonus that night Esprit added a dance performance by Balinese dancer Evie Suyadnyani. Intrepid classical music blogger Leslie Barcza recognized the transculturality that night, exclaiming, “My head is still buzzing in a good way from this exquisitely intercultural experience.”

Gamelan in Concert

Finally, speaking of the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan, the pioneer Canadian world music octet has built a 35-year career making music which regularly crosses cultural stereotypes and boundaries. The group has embraced not only the West Javanese music indigenous to its gamelan degung (set of instruments) but many other global genres as well. ECCG has collaborated in concerts and recordings with an enormous variety of music-makers, including Baroque and contemporary orchestras, string quartets, violin soloists, choirs, NEXUS, opera and world music singers, turntable duo iNSiDEaMiND, rapper Abdominal, and the leading Sundanese songwriter of his generation, Nano S.

On April 21 the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia in Toronto presents “Gamelan in Concert” at its Jarvis Street hall. Doesn’t sound particularly transcultural? What if I told you that three types of gamelan from three distinct cultures are represented?

In addition to playing its Sundanese degung, ECCG hosts Javanese musician and scholar Sutrisno Hartana as its artist-in-residence. He’ll be developing new works in a series of workshops with ECCG, exploring common ground between Sundanese, Javanese and Western instruments and performance practices.

Kayonan Balinese Gamelan Orchestra represents Bali, the third culture in the concert. Founded in 2011 by dancer/choreographer and gamelan musician Keiko Ninomiya, Kayonan is Toronto’s first gong kebyar (orchestra). She has actively promoted the awareness and appreciation of Balinese gamelan music and dance in Toronto through performances, demonstrations, workshops and weekly courses ever since.

During the break between the first and second halves of the concert, the Consulate has considerately arranged Indonesian snacks for anyone in the audience who feels peckish. After a feast of mixed gamelan music and dance, what better than a plate of gado-gado piled high with sticks of sate and pink krupuk to feel truly transcultural on Jarvis Street?

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

From its earliest years York University fostered a unique music environment which embraced what was then the fringe. Experimental music, research into biofeedback as a musical controller, interdisciplinary performance studies, jazz, improvisation, period musical performance and world music were all on the curriculum. Did geographic isolation encourage and help incubate such an adventurous and exploratory musical spirit?

York University Subway StationYork’s Keele campus is located in northwestern Toronto. Back when I first attended, it felt a world apart from the downtown classical music scene anchored in the established programs at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. The sheer distance between the two institutions and the time it took to travel between them emphasized the cultural gulf. Yet in the traffic between the two universities’ world music ensembles there are threads we can trace, via the public transit web that connects both institutions.

There has been talk of a York University subway station on the Keele campus ever since the Music Department was incorporated in 1969 as part of the Faculty of Fine Arts. Rumours continued to rumble as the decades rolled on about a York subway stop until the new TTC Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE), finally opening to great fanfare on December 17, 2017, made it a reality. For the first time, downtown travellers can take the subway beyond the city limits – and vice versa. Significant reductions in travel time are being touted by the TTC for their beneficial long-term impacts. Asked for her comments as to what these longer-term impacts of the TYSSE may be on music and other kinds of performances at the Keele campus, York University media relations spokesperson Janice Walls put a positive, if fairly obvious, spin on things in an email: “Now that the subway stops at York University, it makes it much easier for people to access the many music and theatre performances available on campus.”

Equally obvious, perhaps, but perhaps less spin-worthy, York students can now also take the subway to an evening concert at a downtown venue and then get back home at a reasonable time!

The Advantages of New Frontiers

Already evident during its foundational 1970s decade, among the York Music Department’s strong suits were its world music ensembles. In 1970, the first year they were offered at York, I took the Carnatic, Hindustani and kulintang ensemble classes. But what exactly are the roots of this kind of ensemble?

The concept of the world music ensemble can be traced back to the late 1950s at UCLA, when it entered the discipline of ethnomusicology partly being developed there. It was introduced by American ethnomusicologist Mantle Hood (1918-2005), a specialist in Indonesian music, who took on the mission of bringing the fieldwork and academic study of ethnomusicology into the realm of practical musical experience and eventually performance. (I well recall a visit by the dramatic, black cape-wearing Hood to my undergraduate York music class circa 1970, the visit arranged by Sterling Beckwith, the Music Department’s first chair.)

The world music ensemble was one way in which Hood’s notion of bi-musicality, a term he coined in a 1959 paper, could be acquired within an educational institution. His approach encouraged the researcher to learn about music “from the inside,” and thereby experience its technical, conceptual and aesthetic challenges. Another of its aims was to enable the learner to better connect socially with the community being studied and have increased access to that community’s performances and musical practices. Many institutions all over North America have since incorporated a myriad of world music ensembles, presenting many music genres, into their course offerings.

York’s Music Department was among the world music ensemble’s very early Canadian adopters, in part perhaps because of its need to make an adventurous virtue of its isolation from the well-established downtown musical mainstream. Its world music courses have continued to grow in number and variety over the decades. I’m a first-person witness to that evolution as a member of the first Music Department undergrad class, and then later establishing its first Javanese gamelan music performance course there in 1999.

Perhaps what is most significant, however, is not so much the individual careers of professors or their courses, but that collectively they and thousands of their students have in many ways fed the interest and appetite for world music discovery, creation, appreciation, making and public performance in our community. In this way, York’s world music ensembles have served as a sort of R&D studio. They have made a substantial contribution to establishing the Toronto region as one of the most welcoming and productive hybrid music-friendly places on the globe – a real music city!

York University Music Department’s World Music Festival

Every year the Music Department holds a series of late winter concerts celebrating its near five decades of introducing yet another cohort of students to learning musics new to them. It also affords audiences – potentially coming from across the region care of the shiny new TYSSE – to explore musics they may never have heard live in student performances. Bonus: it’s all free.

This year the World Music Festival includes ten concerts representing many music traditions at halls located in York’s Accolade East Building, just south of the new giant white boomerang-shaped subway station.

(Please refer to the WholeNote listings for exact concert times. But here’s an appetizer.)

March 15 promises to be a long world music-rich day at York. Audiences can take in six concerts, starting at 11am with the Cuban Ensemble, directed by Latin music scene veteran Rick Lazar and Anthony Michelli at the Tribute Communities Recital Hall. It’s followed by guitarist and dedicated klezmer expert Brian Katz’s Klezmer Ensemble, upstairs in the Martin Family Lounge. All the remaining concerts also alternate between these two venues

After lunch, master Ghanaian drummer and longtime gifted instructor Kwasi Dunyo directs the “West African Drumming: Ghana” concert, then the Escola de Samba takes the stage, directed by the multitalented Rick Lazar.

At 4pm the West African Mande Ensemble performs, directed by Anna Melnikoff. The day closes with Lindy Burgess’ Caribbean Music Ensemble in the Tribute Communities Recital Hall.

York’s World Music Festival continues the next day, at noon on March 16, with the Korean Drum Ensemble directed by Charles Hong at the Tribute Communities Recital Hall. Sherry Johnson then directs the Celtic Ensemble, followed by the Chinese Classical Orchestra directed by Kim Chow-Morris. The festival wraps at 7:30pm with a performance of ethnomusicologist Irene Markoff’s Balkan Music Ensemble.

Master drummer Kwasi Dunyo leads ensembles in both festivals.

World Music Ensembles: Spring Festival, University of Toronto

Now just a 13-stop, single-line subway ride south from York U to Museum Station, U of T’s Faculty of Music also has a rich history of offering world music classes and engaging Toronto audiences in their performances. I attended world music ensemble concerts at Walter Hall in the 1980s and in following decades. I always encountered new and ear-opening music that enriched my multicultural palette.

The Faculty of Music’s World Music Ensembles website states that the “program at the University of Toronto has for many years enriched the musical lives of our students and has provided alternative perspectives on learning and making music by offering training in various world traditions. The ensembles vary from year to year. We have also been able to take advantage of an ensemble led by our annual visitor in the World Music artist-in-residence program [between 2007 and 2016].”

So we continue our “world music goes to college” theme back downtown, with a concert March 23 at 12 noon featuring the popular, long-running African Drumming and Dancing Ensemble. Under the dynamic direction of the Toronto-based master drummer Kwasi Dunyo, the event takes place at Walter Hall in the Edward Johnson Building.

A couple of weeks later, on April 7 at 2:30pm, other World Music Ensembles take the Walter Hall stage in the Faculty of Music’s annual spring concert. The Latin American Music Ensemble, directed by veteran percussionist and composer Mark Duggan, and Steel Pan Ensemble, directed by pan music educator, percussionist and arranger Joe Cullen, have been confirmed.

It’s far too soon to tell what the impacts of the TYSSE will be, positive and negative, on the health of nodes of local culture within the region.

But for sure I’ll be taking the subway more often in search of music. In both directions. clip_image001.png

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

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