I’ve weighed in on numerous occasions, in this column and in my WholeNote album reviews and blogs, about the vast scope of world music as a topic: its misty origins; the limits and problems associated with continued use of what was originally an academic idea, and then became a marketing term. It’s a notion that’s so hard to pin down with any precision, that some would argue not to bother.

Undaunted, I’ve endeavoured to chart its multifaceted presence at key regional venues and among presenters such as the Music Gallery, Small World Music, Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall and at the Lula Music and Arts Centre, as performed by its practitioners, and enjoyed – some might use the word consumed – by its myriad audiences. On a couple of occasions I have highlighted stories about its educational role at our regional institutions of higher learning. For instance, my column in the April 2014 issue of The WholeNote featured the flourishing Balinese Gamelan ensemble course offered at Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo.

For some mysterious reason, perhaps Freudian or Jungian, however, I have so far neglected to explore world music’s abiding 47-year presence at my alma mater, York University’s Music Department. Luckily this March arms me with several reasons to fill that lacuna: ten back-to-back upcoming concerts; two recent conversations; and the retirement of one of York’s key world music animators, Trichy Sankaran.

2106-World_1.pngThe first conversation: I turned first to world music's prime initiator at York, the man with the plan, York U. professor emeritus R. Sterling Beckwith. He’s the person I credit with introducing world music ensembles in Canadian universities as continuing credit courses. As York U. Music Department’s founding chair surely he could shed light on its fundamentals. He didn’t disappoint; his trenchant views and passion on the topic were as keen as ever.

“World music along with jazz has now been taken up by many American and Canadian universities; they have become fixtures there,” he began. “Long gone are the days when they considered it beneath their interest,” he added.

“Well before I arrived at York, I took [pioneering] ethnomusicologist Mantle Hood’s Javanese gamelan class at Harvard. I also spent time with the retired senior musicologist Charles Seeger. Among other things, he praised the American Carnatic singer and ethnomusicologist Jon Higgins whose bi-musical [a term coined by ethnomusicologist Mantle Hood] reputation preceded him.” Even though Higgins was still at the very start of a remarkable career, he had already concertized, broadcast and recorded a Carnatic music LP with renowned musicians in India. (Spoiler alert: Higgins became a teacher and a mentor of mine at York.)

There is a back story here which Beckwith helpfully sketched for me. Mantle Hood’s groundbreaking ethnomusicology program at UCLA, established in 1960, came complete with performing ensembles, and produced Robert Brown the person who in turn kick-started the World Music program at Wesleyan University. Through Brown, we can trace the teacher-student lineage to Higgins. Brown served as Higgins’ PhD thesis advisor at Wesleyan. “I consider other American university ethnomusicology programs such as those at Washington University also direct descendants of Hood’s groundbreaking efforts at UCLA,” Beckwith added.

“Yet another defining pre-York U. experience was the discussion I had with the late Ravi Shankar about introducing applied Indian music studies at York. He was intrigued and recommended his sitar disciple Shambhu Das, who as it turned out, was already living in Toronto. All of that was in my head when I arrived here in 1969.”

Beckwith continued, “I was determined to implement the paradigm-altering gamelan experiences I had with Hood and the inspiring conversations I had with Seeger, as well as doing what I could to bring Higgins to York. As events would have it, my last official act as Music Department chair was to be able to hire Jon Higgins, which made it possible in turn to hire the gifted percussionist Trichy Sankaran a little later.”

2106-World_2.pngTrichy Sankaran: One of Beckwith’s first world music hires, in 1971 – and significantly also one of the longest serving – was a mridangam and kanjira player with an international career, Trichy Sankaran. Sankaran passed a significant milestone last fall, retiring from York in September 2015 after an illustrious career spanning 44 years as a professor of music, researcher and textbook author. As well as serving as a co-founding director of its Indian music studies, one of Canada’s first university-based world music performance programs, he also developed hybrid Carnatic and Western pedagogical practices. Certainly one of Sankaran’s most significant contributions at York was his marked influence on a couple of generations of students, many of whom have gone on to become established musicians, composers and educators. His outstanding achievements as an educator were recognized with the OCUFA Award, given by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations for teaching excellence.

Along with Beckwith, I and many other Sankaran friends, colleagues and students were present at York’s Tribute Communities Recital Hall last September. Few there doubted that the event marked the closing of a long and important first chapter in the music department’s grand – and continuing – adventure in world music education.

The occasion was celebrated in style with a formal concert in which Sankaran was joined on stage by his vocalist daughter Suba Sankaran, leader of the JUNO-nominated Indo-jazz-funk fusion ensemble Autorickshaw, and her bandmates, bass guitarist and singer Dylan Bell, and tabla player Ed Hanley. The musicians gave authoritative performances of solo and ensemble works, the repertoire including original compositions by the senior Sankaran. As well as signalling the passing on of an intergenerational musical torch, it additionally asserted (at least my awareness of) the emergence of a specific family-centered kind of Indo-Canadian hybrid music-making, echoing the venerable Indian tradition of guru-shishya parampara. As for the continuity of Carnatic music education at York pioneered by Sankaran, that subject appears to be moot.

The second conversation: Throughout its first three decades, York’s world music ensemble courses remained relatively constant and few. It was only around the very early 2000s that I became aware of a dramatic increase in the number of world music ensembles. The trend only crossed my personal radar after, in 1999, I was hired, by Michael Coughlan, the incoming Music Department chair, as the founding course director of the Javanese Gamelan (ensemble) course. During the years I taught the course, the number and range of music ensembles seemed to grow almost exponentially, and the students attracted to them likewise swelled.

What’s the current state of the university’s world music ensemble program? I spoke to the ethnomusicologist, singer and instrumentalist Irene Markoff, whose research and performing activities centre on the musical traditions of Bulgaria, Turkey and the Balkans. “I began to teach there in 2001,” she told me. “At one point I taught global musicianship to music majors. Placed in the context of performance rather than listening to recorded musical examples, my approach was well received by the students.” Her ensemble courses however also include non-music major students. Markoff gave an example, “I currently have a number of students of Chinese heritage in my ensemble who can sing complex metrical parts, despite being non-music majors. They sometimes outstrip music majors in mastering some of these [perceived difficult] performing skills.”

While generally bullish on York’s music course offerings, she did express a wish: “That our music students would be required to take a world music ensemble.” Why? “For the simple reason that we live in a multicultural society and I believe such study will broaden students’ musical horizons. Also with musical hybridities [being a regular fact of musicians’ lives today], it’s important for learners to be exposed to the broad spectrum of metres, multi-part singing styles and tonal modes,” all benefits afforded by learning music outside of the Western mainstream.

I asked Markoff about the future of the world music ensembles. “I have proposed the production of ensemble music videos hosted on the department’s website as a means of attracting future students. As for their relevance, I believe these ensemble courses will continue to well serve music students, exposing them to ‘other’ musical practices and to increase their appreciation and understanding of peoples.”

In a nutshell, Markoff believes such educational ensembles, which allow students to experience the musical diversity of cultures, tend to “build bridges rather than erecting walls between cultures.”

York University’s World Music Festival runs March 17, 18 and 21 at various venues, all in the Accolade East Building.

Mar 17 the World Music Festival kicks off with the Cuban Ensemble conducted by Rick Lazar and Anthony Michell, followed by West African Drumming, Ghana, led by Kwasi Dunyo. That afternoon Lazar’s Escola de Samba rules the Sterling Beckwith Studio, followed by West African Mande, Anna Melnikoff, conductor.

Mar 18 Irene Markoff conducts the Balkan Music Ensemble at 7:30pm at the Tribute Communities Recital Hall. Earlier that day performances by the Celtic Ensemble conducted by Sherry Johnson, Chinese Classical Orchestra directed by Kim Chow-Morris, Caribbean Ensemble conducted by Lindy Burgess and Charles Hong’s Korean Drum Ensemble will echo in various Accolade East Building halls.

It’s a World Music Festival wrap Mar 21 with the World Music Chorus conducted by Judith Cohen, a course I greatly enjoyed a few years ago when I returned (yet again!) to my music studies at York. Please consult The WholeNote listings for times and venue details.

University of Toronto Faculty of Music: York University is certainly not the only world music game in town. Apr 7 the U of T Faculty of Music presents its World Music Ensembles in concert at Walter Hall. Featured are the African Drumming and Dancing Ensemble, Latin-American Percussion Ensemble and Steel Pan Ensemble. I’ve been attending these concerts since their inception and have never failed to be inspired by the enthusiasm and musical skill demonstrated.

Quick Picks

Mar 2 the COC’s noon-hour World Music Series presents Avataar. Directed by saxophonist and composer Sundar Viswanathan the all-star Toronto group often includes Michael Occhipinti (guitar), Justin Gray (bass), Felicity Williams (voice), Ravi Naimpally (tabla) and Giampaolo Scatozza (drum set). They’ll be playing selections from their recently released album Petal. Arrive early.

BRASH: It is just the sort of weather, however unseasonable, for “BRASH! A Badass Brass Festival,” presented by Lemon Bucket Orkestra (LBO) and Small World Music, on Mar 11 and 12 at the Opera House on Queen St. E. LBO with its high hipster street cred needs no further introduction in these pages. Ratcheting up the badass quotient a notch will be Toronto’s Rambunctious and Montreal’s Gypsy Kumbia Brass Band.

Mar 11, 12 and 13 at the Betty Oliphant Theatre the Raging Asian Women (RAW) Taiko Drummers perform an evening of stories from the drummers’ lives, in collaboration with Asian Canadian performers Teiya Kasahara (voice) and Heidi Chan (percussion and flute). "Crooked Lines: Stories in Between" involves video vignettes along with the taiko drummers' trademark ferocity and spirit.

Mar 26 the Small World Music Centre presents a smaller, more intimate and reflective musical experience, though in no way any less passionate: the Dilan Ensemble directed by Shahriyar Jamshidi, a kamancheh (bowed lute) player, composer and vocalist, now settled in Canada. "In the Shadow of the Fatherland" is a cross section of the repertoire the Iranian Kurdistan native has devoted his career to preserving and transmitting. Jamshidi is joined by local cellist Raphael Weinroth-Brown.

Apr 2 and 3 The Aga Khan Museum continues its impressively inclusive concert programming, partnering with the venerable presenter Raag-Mala Music Society of Toronto in two concerts titled Raags of the Gharana Tradition. Apr 2, Maihar gharana (musical school, lineage) sitarist Anupama Bhagwat and Agra gharana singer Waseem Ahmed Khan render a selected few of the vast set of Hindustani evening raags. Apr 3 at 3pm it’s time for a much rarer section of afternoon raags; many “classical” ragas/raags are associated with four three-hour timeframes and for maximum effect are performed at those prescribed times. Sarangi player Ramesh Mishra, a disciple of Ravi Shankar (of the Maihar gharana), shares the concert with the vocalist Devaki Pandit who has studied with gurus of both Jaipur and Agra gharanas.

Also on Apr 2 Nagata Shachu, with Kiyoshi Nagata as its music director, joins one of the city’s leading percussion ensembles TorQ in concert at the Brigantine Room, Harbourfront Centre. Expect an engaging, polished Japanese, Western and world percussion music mix. 

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

2105-World.jpgIt’s February. It’s still dark before you arise, and cold, with nary a sign of green outside. February is also Black History Month and all over Toronto politicians, schools and cultural organizations are marking it in various ways.

On its events page, the Music Gallery’s David Dacks writes that from its earliest days the MG “has welcomed adventurous Afro-diasporic sounds [such] as free jazz, the science fact/fiction of Sun Ra’s Arkestra and the advanced musical theories of George Lewis. This commitment has intensified over the past several years with events with saxophone titan Matana Roberts, jazz elder Henry Grimes, mbira innovator Evelyn Mukwedeya, and ‘world music 2.0’ theorist DJ/rupture.”

For Black History Month 2016, the MG presents a two-part event which pushes these explorations further.

Val-Inc: body and spirit: the first of these starts at 5pm Saturday, February 20, with a free panel discussion called “The New Black: Challenging Musical Tropes” with Val-Inc and Witch Prophet, two “Black artists who create stereotype-challenging music” on the panel, along with  moderator Alanna Stuart (Bonjay, CBC), Garvia Bailey (JazzFM) and Amanda Parris (CBC). They plan to delve into ways in which awareness can be raised around “under-represented facets of Afro-diasporic cultural expression, specifically within Black Canadian culture.”

Putting these concerns to the musical test that same evening at 8pm, will be a concert titled “Val-Inc + Witch Prophet.” Val-Inc is Val Jeanty, once a member of Norah Jones’ band. Her music was described by the New York Times as blending “traditional-sounding music from Haiti with synthesized sounds and instruments to develop a genre she calls ‘Afro-Electronica.’” Her audiovisual installations have been showcased at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art and in European galleries.

Val-Inc’s own characterization of her music is more inclusive; she describes it as evoking “the musical esoteric realms of the creative subconscious by incorporating African Haitian musical traditions into the present and beyond, combining acoustics with electronics and the archaic with the postmodern.”

Just how does she do that? I called her in New York City to find out.

I asked first about the accuracy of a media depiction I had read of her music as “Big Apple Vodou.” “I grew up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti,” she responded, “attending Catholic schools as well as practising Vodou within my family, learning to drum [in that context] when I was five years of age.”

So how does this joint spiritual and musical practice influence how she sees the relationship between sound, music and spirituality? “In Vodou there’s no separation between sound, sounds and prayers to the ancestors, as in the case of Guédé, in the spiritual realm,” she explains. [Fête Guédé, the Festival of the Dead, is celebrated on November 2, All Souls’ Day]. “It’s something that has to be experienced. I practise it to sustain life … not in order to produce a commercial music product.”

And her drumming practice since childhood and its echoes in her electronics? “There’s not a conscious connection between Vodou drum patterns and my electronics, but [rather a path I find] through improv. I trust the spirit to help me via the looper [digital looping station].”

In one track I listened to (“V-iPod #222” on Soundcloud) it’s hard to tell if the track features a machine or an acoustic tabla. “Whatever it is, it sounds convincing,” I say to her. “I played that on the Roland HandSonic HPD-20, a kind of drumpad, a digital hand percussion device. With practice (and understanding of hand drumming) you can transfer your personal energy into the machine. In the end such tools are just tools, carrying the spirit. Bypass skin colour, distance, language and what you’re left with is spirit,” she concludes.

“[The spiritual in music] … is speaking to the soul … feeding the soul … I’m not trying to connect the spirit to music – but rather it’s trying to do me – it’s doing the work! [Let’s not forget that] everyone around the world has a spirit.”

In our chat, Val-Inc’s all-embracing universalist vision came clearly into focus for me: spirit transcending perceived human distinctions such as skin colour, race, geographical origin, religious affiliation and other potentially divisive cultural factors. Makes sense to me.

Pura Fé highlights African-Native American music: Jim Merod, in his 1995 essay Jazz as a Cultural Archive, proposed that jazz is not only a reflection of North American culture but also serves as an archive of that culture. The work of singer, guitarist, songwriter, activist and teacher Pura Fé extends that notion to other vernacular music genres, presenting a rich fabric woven of many cultural strands and colours, so that it is near-impossible to unravel them all: namely the role of indigenous peoples in African-Native American contact, cohabitation, cultural sharing and performance practice.

It is something which occurred in multiple intimate and sometimes complicated and layered ways, arising from shared histories over several hundred years and reflected in various features of the music their descendants created and make today.

I spoke to Fé via Skype, one frigid January afternoon (she now makes Northern Saskatchewan her home), to discuss her upcoming Friday, February 26, concert at the Music Gallery. Long active in transcultural music making and touring in Europe, her album Follow Your Heart’s Desire won the 2006 l’Académie Charles-Cros Award for Best World Album.

During the course of our conversation Fé’s expansive knowledge and passion about indigenous influences on the blues, jazz, country, rock, gospel and other vernacular American musics was infectious. It’s an intensely personal subject for her. She traces the roots of her family and personal musical culture to indigenous North Carolina Tuscarora, Tutelo, as well as Corsican ancestors, the latter via Puerto Rico. (Her name given by her father means “Pure Faith” in Spanish.)

“On my mother’s side we’ve got eight generations of Tuscarora singers. While my mother was a gifted Wagnerian soprano it was difficult to make a career as a woman of colour in classical music in her generation. She also performed in several of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts and my grandmother sang gospel.” Growing up in New York City, sampling her parents’ Native music record collection and participation in Pow Wows gave her the sense of identity she sought as a teen. “I found myself the day I was able to reconnect with my indigenous roots.

“People generally aren’t very aware of it yet, but Native peoples have played a major role in the development of American music, whether it’s jazz, blues or rock ‘n’ roll,” observes . “This includes a typical blues rhythm, the shuffle, a rhythmic feel which is much like certain Native drumming.”

In Fé’s own intense bluesy and other times jazzy singing, she makes an eloquent case for the close and productive relationship between the African and indigenous people of the American South, a union that gave birth to a rich new culture blending religion, dance, food and music. “Many of their grandchildren became influential musicians,” she says, “like Charley Patton (Choctaw) and Scrapper Blackwell (Cherokee). We can continue the roll call with Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Don Cherry, Miles Davis, Jim Pepper and Don Pullen in jazz. Let’s add Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, Tina Turner, Link Wray and Jesse Ed Davis for good measure.”

Early in her career singing with rock bands in NYC, her role models - in addition to her mother and grandmother - were the leading female singers of the previous generation: Joni Mitchell, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Aretha Franklin. Fé was “drawn by their spirit and style.”

All this is the rich hybrid motherlode extensively mined by Fé. Aiming to explore the bluesy voice of Native Americans as well as their self-determination, in 1987 she formed the singing trio Ulali with Soni Moreno and Jennifer Kreisberg, a project which continues as a quartet. Seven albums followed. Her latest, Sacred Seed (2015) for Nueva Onda Records, captures those multi-faceted influences, featuring her multi-tracked voice with a backup studio band consisting of guitar, banjo, piano, percussion and cello. The tracks resound with references to the Tuscarora Nation whose musical traditions she carries with indelible ardour.

At her February 26 Music Gallery concert, however, Fé will present her music more intimately with just her voice, accompanying herself “with guitar, drum and a loop station which gives me the choral background I crave.” Her repertoire will focus on her Sacred Seed set list: her own songs like “Idle No More,” plus jazz classics like Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood.” Roots blues legend Taj Mahal glowingly summed up Fé’s music: “With her voice soaring, foot stomping, this beautiful songbird transcends time and brings the message of our Ancestors who have sown this beautiful seed [through her] powerful music.” 

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

 

World Music 1Here, patrolling The WholeNote world music beat, most months bring a consistent flow of concerts to preview. There’s always too much going on in the GTA to include more than just a sampling in this column for my trusting WholeNote readers. In the extent of its exclusions, this December-January column is no exception.

However, as my deadline rushed ever closer, it initially seemed that something unusual was taking place, namely a large hole in the January World View concert listings. Just as I thought I would have to leave out the first month of 2016 entirely, an announcement surfaced for a late January concert of newly discovered Yiddish music from WWII – with a most intriguing backstory. While that concert is well into 2016 (Happy Lunar New Year, dear reader?!), it is as good a place to start as any.

Lost Yiddish Songs of the USSR: January 27, Svetlana Dvoretsky/Show One Productions present “Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of Life and Fate” at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. A mixed ensemble of outstanding Russian, Jewish and Canadian musicians premiere Yiddish songs discovered in Ukraine. Their creation, collection, banning and recent discovery tell a story of resistance and reclamation, describing a wide historical and musicological sweep.

Our compelling story begins during the turbulent late days of World War II when leading Soviet linguists and ethnomusicologists including the eminent Moisei Beregovsky collected and notated the songs of Jewish refugees, Jewish soldiers in the Red Army and Holocaust survivors in Ukraine. Their extensive collection documented these survivors’ defiance of the Third Reich in song. Our narrative takes a dark turn when in 1949 the Soviet government arrested Beregovsky and his colleagues, confiscating and hiding the documents. Researchers had long considered them lost.

We pick up the story a few years ago, in the holdings of the Ukrainian National Library in Kiev. Enter Anna Shternshis, associate professor of Yiddish and Diaspora Studies at the University of Toronto. When she opened the sealed boxes she found a trove of thousands of hand-notated Yiddish songs which had lain unheard for nearly 70 years, until now.

Shternshis worked closely with Psoy Korolenko, the Russian poet, philologist, “avant-bard” singer/songwriter and renowned klezmer performer, to produce performing versions of these songs. Selections will receive their world premiere in “Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of Life and Fate” performed by Korolenko, the virtuoso Russian trio Loyko, plus Canadian vocalists including the JUNO Award-winning singer Sophie Milman. Accordionist extraordinaire Alexander Sevastian, award-winning trumpeter David Buchbinder and clarinetist/conductor Shalom Bard round out the international cast. A recording of this music is being produced by Shternshis and Dan Rosenberg.

Going Home Star. February 5 and 6 another musically powered story of suffering, resistance and the ultimate reassertion of personal and cultural identity is being performed, this time at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. The critically acclaimed ballet Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation has a story by Joseph Boyden, score by Christos Hatzis and choreography by Mark Godden. It explores the all-Canadian story of loss, resistance and reconciliation: that of the Indian residential school system, its survivors and their families.

The ballet’s richly textured, cumulatively powerful music is not just the work of the Canadian veteran composer Hatzis, enthusiastically performed by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, but also enfolds important contributions of indigenous voices whose communities have been directly and profoundly affected by the Indian residential schools and their aftermath. They include Cree actor Tina Keeper, the boundary-breaking Inuk vocalist Tanya Tagaq, who won last year’s Polaris Prize, pow-wow stars Northern Cree Singers, as well as songs by Steve Wood (Mistikwaskihk Napesis).

I’ve had a chance to listen to the impressive, recently released 2-CD recording of Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation. It comes chockablock with Hatzis’ signature inclusions of music in multiple vernacular music genres, as well as acoustic and electronic soundscapes diffused from the studi0-produced digital audio track, in addition to the symphonic core. I found the contribution of North American indigenous voices, however, to be the key to the work’s ethical and aesthetic fabric. These voices are essential texts in the story centred on the suffering imposed on children in Canada’s infamous Indian residential schools. While the narrative contains much pain, loss and suffering, the ballet ends with the possibility of personal and intercultural redemption and reconciliation. It’s an important story for all of us to understand. Witnessing this production is, in my estimation, a fitting way to start a new year.

Quick Picks

 Dec 1 Tanya Tagaq and her band share the stage with Owen Pallett and the guided improvising Element Choir directed by Christine Duncan, at Massey Hall.

 Dec 1 The Toronto-based group Ventanas, featuring Tamar Ilana (vocals, dance) and guest Justin Gray (double bass, bass veena), presents an evening with flamenco, Balkan and Sephardic music at Lula Lounge.

 Dec 2 “Roots of India, Grown in Canada” performed by the all-Canadian pop, folk and Indo-fusion group Autorickshaw at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

 Dec 3 University of Toronto Faculty of Music presents its World Music Ensembles including the Klezmer Ensemble, Japanese Drumming Ensemble and world music artist-in-residence Pedram Khavarzamini at Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building.

 Dec 5 “Routes of Andalucia,” at Koerner Hall, features David Buchbinder, trumpet. He leads a group with divas Roula Said and Tamar Ilana plus their “crew of cross-cultural

musicians on a journey into the magic musical realm of ancient Andalucia … where Arabic, Jewish and Gypsy cultures connect.”

 Dec 5 The Aga Khan Museum presents the leading proponent of Indo-Afghan classical vocal music, Ustad Eltaf Hussain Sarahang.

 Dec 12 The Aga Khan Museum presents “Under the Sun,” a concert of “internationally-inflected” jazz performed by musicians from Palestine, Afghanistan and Toronto. Musicians include Jamey Haddad, percussion; Ali Amr, qanun; Salar Nader, tabla; Michael Ward-Bergeman, accordion and Billy Drewes, saxophone.

 Dec 11, 12, 13 The Toronto Consort performs “Christmas at the Monastery of Santa Cruz” at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre in a program of villancicos and Brazilian-influenced dances found in the Monastery’s archives. Žak Ozmo plays the lute and guest directs.

 Dec18 Flutist Ron Korb and Celtic harpist Sharlene Wallace perform a program of Celtic and Christmas favourites, capped by original globally inflected compositions at Pickering Village United Church, Ajax. December 19 they repeat the program at the Maple Grove United Church, Oakville.

 Dec 27 Gary Morgan and PanAmericana! take the Lula Lounge stage with a Latin jazz orchestra in a Christmas-themed concert. Musicians Hilario Duran, Mark Kelso, Paco Luviano, Rick Lazar and Juan Carlos Medrano are featured.

 Feb 5 West coast blues and raga guitarist, singer-songwriter Harry Manx appears in the “Folk Under the Clock” series at the Market Hall Performing Arts Centre in Peterborough.

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

In previous columns I’ve explored something I called hybridity in Toronto music -- transculturalism as it manifests itself musically, both in the disciplines of composition, improvisation and performance practice, and in the way audiences respond to music reflecting these hybridized values. This column connects the dots between a few Toronto concerts featuring hybrid sounds.

WorldPedram Khavarzamini is World Music Artist-in-Residence at the U. of T.’s Faculty of Music. Over the last decade or two the GTA has been the beneficiary of a wave of talented, primarily emerging career Iranian musicians. The tombak (principal Iranian goblet drum) virtuoso, teacher and composer, Pedram Khavarzamini, stands prominently among them. Moving to Toronto last year, this accomplished musician and scholar has steadfastly maintained the traditions of tombak technique and repertoire and introduced new audiences to them. He is also known for his innovations in cross-cultural collaboration and musical experimentation. Both the traditional and collaborative sides of Khavarzamini’s work were on ample display in his exciting May 16, 2015 Music Gallery concert, “East Meets Further East,” which he shared with Montréal tabla soloist Shawn Mativetsky. Their drum duo at the end of the night was a memorable marvel of musical respect and communication. It reminded the audience that transcultural challenges can be met and honoured at the highest level.

A pioneer in another – and more hybrid - arena too, Khavarzamini also composes for Persian-centric percussion ensembles. His main outlet is Varashan, a group he directs and composes for. Its performance was yet another musically satisfying feature of the May 2015 Music Gallery concert I attended.

In addition to his eloquent performances set in international halls with leading Persian and international musicians, Khavarzamini has also taken tombak teaching onto the global stage. Offering conducting workshops and individual instruction to scores of students in Iran, Europe and North America, live and via Skype, he has become a leading instructor on his chosen drum and its indigenous musical idioms.

Khavarzamini’s activities as a virtuoso percussionist, composer, teacher and group leader have already attracted the attention of learning centres. His appointment this fall at U of T’s Faculty of Music provides proof of this. Searching for insights into this development in his career, I exchanged several emails and Facebook chats with Khavarzamini in the penultimate weekend of October. He confirmed that his Artist-in-Residence duties will, among others, include “leading masterclasses and the newly formed U. of T. Iranian Music Ensemble,” activities which will involve several dozen music students.

An excellent opportunity to witness the impressive breadth and depth of Khavarzamini’s work can be had at a November 17 free concert at University of Toronto’s Walter Hall, where he will lead the Iranian Music Ensemble and members of Varashan. The Persian instrumentation will include multiple tombaks, the dayereh (medium-sized frame drum with jingles), santoor (hammered dulcimer), kamancheh (bowed lute), tar (plucked lute) and perhaps a vocalist. Then on December 3 the Iranian Music Ensemble directed by Khavarzamini takes part in a World Music Ensembles concert at Walter Hall alongside the Klezmer Ensemble and the Japanese Taiko Ensemble. These biannual public concerts, along with their York University counterparts, have for decades subtly influenced the general Toronto reception of non-mainstream European- and American-centred musics, perhaps even laying the groundwork for the kind of hybrid creations increasingly appearing in a whole range of venues.

David Virelles: Gnosis featuring Román Díaz at the Music Gallery. David Dacks, the Music Gallery’s artistic director, has certainly not shied away from engaging in musical hybridity, as he made clear in an X Avant festival story in The WholeNote last year.

However he remains very aware of the inherent complications of mixing and matching musical genres, especially the ever-prickly notion of authenticity. “If one is attempting to join culture A to culture B in a coherent musical statement, one must be really attuned to power relationships, comparative structures/forms/tuning/language, your own personal experience and other points of connection or difference between musical ingredients one is working with.” He gives a down-home example: “randomly sampled African chants over breakbeats just won’t fly anymore.”

Fortunately we’re mostly in good hands, Dacks adds. “In crazy, diverse Toronto, many musicians are cognizant of these factors, not just academically, but internally. The resulting hybrid musical creations are way more than pastiches, they are declarations of one’s transcultural (going back to last year’s term) life experiences.”

For Dacks the November 27 and 28 concerts, “David Virelles: Gnosis featuring Román Díaz,” at the Music Gallery, co-presented by the Music Gallery, Arraymusic and Lula Music & Arts, are a case in point. For those unfamiliar with Virelles’ music, the billing “futuristic Afro-Cuban chamber music” gives a taste of what one might expect.

Immigrating to Canada from Cuba at 18, pianist and composer Virelles began his musical studies at Toronto’s Humber College and continued them at the University of Toronto. He came under the mentorship of saxophonist Jane Bunnett, long celebrated for her support of both Cuban music and musicians. Virelles has since developed into a cutting-edge jazz innovator. Achieving career success along the way, last year he released his first ECM recording Mboko, in the words of Dacks, “taking Cuban music places it’s never been.”

The 32-year-old Virelles is “capable of tropically intense polyrhythms and irregular but internally logical phrasing, which befits an artist who came to jazz through Thelonious Monk, Andrew Hill, and Bud Powell.” About five years ago Virelles moved to New York to further his career and has since worked with jazz leaders like Henry Threadgill, Andrew Cyrille and many more. Earlier this year he scooped the Downbeat Rising Star – Piano award.

The Music Gallery partnership with both Arraymusic and Lula Music & Arts in presenting Gnosis is part of the story. As Dacks explains: “Gnosis, is a big project (hence a rare two-night stand at The Music Gallery). It’s a chamber piece, requiring some 12 musicians. Rick Sacks … [has committed members] of the Array Ensemble to the group, plus most of the rehearsals will be at their Arrayspace. It’s turned into a big part of their season too.” As for Lula Music & Arts, they’re “a natural promotion partner in this project. Virelles played there frequently [when he was a Toronto resident] and it’s the nerve centre for so much Latin music in Toronto.”

Another significant element in the work is the inclusion of Abakuá drums by Cuban master drummer Román Díaz with four other Cuban drummers. Hermetic and little known even within Cuba, Abakuá is an Afro-Cuban men’s initiatory fraternity, a secret society, with roots extending back to Nigeria and Cameroon. Despite its secret nature, the percussion and vocal dance music of the Abakuá, as well as other music of West African origin, have been found by researchers to have collectively infused and influenced virtually all genres of Cuban vernacular music, including rumba and son.

Dacks notes that Díaz “has been playing with Virelles for quite a while now” drawing on Cuba’s deep African musical heritage as an essential element of the performance. Rather than using Abakuá songs and drumming as a superficial pinch of ethnic spice in a jazz score, they have instead chosen to perform it as it occurs in Afro-Cuban ritual practice (echoing Dacks’ earlier comments about authenticity). “Abakuá drums have never been in a concert hall setting, so this is absolutely a new form of music that Virelles is exploring.”

For Dacks, it’s not “just a ‘local guy makes good’ show, it’s bigger than that. Virelles is already the most experimental pianist of Cuban origin I’ve ever heard, and he has become a major creative force. As such, this is a unique opportunity for the Music Gallery and our partners to help him take the next, ambitious step.”

Quick Picks

Continuing with this month’s theme of musical hybridity, the Aga Khan Museum presents two concerts which can easily be included in that portfolio.

November 28 the Kinan Azmeh City Band mounts the AKM’s auditorium stage with a concert blending jazz, Western classical and Syrian music. Kinan Azmeh, clarinet, Kyle Sanna, guitar, John Hadfield, percussion, and Petros Klampanis, double bass, perform works from their album Elastic City.

December 5 the spotlight shifts to the Indo-Afghan music of the veteran singer Ustad Eltaf Hussain Sarahang. Starting his career as a young court musician – appointed as Royal Musician to the Court of King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan (reigned 1933–73) – Sarahang has enjoyed a career spanning decades as a leading exponent of the hybrid traditions of Indo-Afghan music. 

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

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