The Chinese New Year (CNY for short) is celebrated all over the world. Based on the lunar calendar, this year the auspicious date falls on January 31. Overseas Chinese communities celebrate CNY in various ways and several are represented in the Greater Toronto Area. There are however a few ritual common denominators among these groups. The first thing which might catch your eye is all the red and gold. Chinese households and businesses post as many red and gold paper decorations up around CNY as possible and each of these has a specific meaning. The essential notions embodied in them include the desirability of such universals as prosperity, luck and happiness throughout the New Year. You might see also intensely coloured depictions of the horse, 2014’s animal of the year.

Another recognised symbol of CNY are the red or gold envelopes – known as lai see in Cantonese or hongbao in Mandarin – which are typically given by married couples to single people, and especially to children, wishing them the universals described above. Tucked inside: nothing but crisp cash. To many, celebrating CNY is synonymous with special food shared with friends and family. In the GTA we’re spoiled with dozens of restaurants that cater to celebrants with special menus, often serving parties of ten or more. One authority advised me strongly to order a fish dish, as the Chinese word for it is “a homonym for abundance.”

bbb - world viewNow to the main course of this column: music and other related forms of entertainment. These too have a place in CNY festivities. The lion dance, internationally emblematic of public Chinese festive events with its idiosyncratic loud musical accompaniment designed to animate public space, is a must-have CNY fixture with an ancient pedigree. Stirring both in sound and in the animated movements of the “lion/dragon,” its performance is meant to bring good fortune as patrons and audiences usher in the New Year. It is accompanied by drumming, cymbals and hopefully the bracing, awakening and auspicious sounds of a shawm. Martial arts and qigong demonstrations channelling good energy, as well as Chinese astrology auguring (hopefully) much more of the same also have a place in public events marking the CNY.

Downtown Chinatown may be the best venue to partake of the fun, after of course putting up some glittering decorations, giving or receiving red envelopes, pocketing the cash and enjoying a sumptuous feast. February 1 the Toronto Chinatown Business Improvement Association presents a free public festival launching at noon at the Chinatown Centre, 222 Spadina Ave. and continuing until 5pm. The action then begins up the street at the aptly named Dragon City Mall, 280 Spadina Ave. at 1pm. The lion dance performers will be there as will martial artists, Chinese theatrical dancers and selections from the several regional Chinese operatic styles. In addition the Toronto Zoo will show off their prized panda, one of China’s most celebrated and internationally recognised icons.

The Chinatown BIA evidently wants you to tarry at the festival, enticing visitors with a Wishing Tree, demonstrations of qigong and booths offering numerous fun CNY-themed all-ages activities. I need as much good luck this year as possible so I’ll likely visit the “dart playing to bring good luck” booth. In case you need an extra day to digest your Chinese feast the same two venues present the full program at both locations from noon until 5pm the next day, Sunday, February 2.

At the Library: Musically Celebrating Black History Month:  As I have noted in my columns in previous years February marks Black History Month. This year the Toronto Public Library is celebrating BHM by hosting an ambitious program of well over a dozen separate free music-centric workshops and concerts by mostly local musicians in branches all over the city. Most of the events are kid-friendly and are scheduled for 45 to 60 minutes, so my advice is to arrive a little early. For full details and locations please visit the TPL’s informative website, but I’ll highlight a few here to give a flavour of the programming.

The series kicks off Saturday, February 1 at 2pm with “Drumming with Amma Ofori” at the York Woods branch. Ofori and her troop of young percussionists will in TPL’s words, “rock the library with traditional African beats.” February 3 at 7pm audiences can join in “Hands-on Drumming with African Drums for Youth” at Don Mills branch’s auditorium. The Mystic Drumz youth workshop will feature demonstrations on African instruments including djembe (the very popular hourglass-shaped hand drum of West African origin), “talking drums” (smaller drums with adjustable pitch that can imitate vocal inflections), agogo (bells played with a stick) and other percussion. After the demonstrations, why not stay to learn to play one of the instruments and then perform an entire piece together? Space is limited, so best call the branch to register.

February 4 at 10:30am younger children will have a chance to enjoy a “Steel Pan Experience with Joy Lapps-Lewis” at the York Woods branch. Billed as the “Princess of Pan” – pan is a kind of tuned metal instrument born last mid-century in Trinidad – Joy Lapps-Lewis will take the audience “on a musical journey to explore the history and evolution of steel pan” music. Again, please call or visit the branch to register. On February 11, 6:30pm is the time for a “Calypso Party!” at the Annette Street branch. The TPL site’s description can’t be beat: “Jump up and join the fun in the Junction with Roger Gibbs and Shak-Shak. How low can you limbo?”

February 12 at 1:30pm the Humberwood branch hosts “Caribbean Folk Songs & Calypso.” Roger Gibbs will through music and stories trace the “Caribbean folk roots of calypso and how the music spread to the world.” February 15 at 2pm the award-winning kalimba (a.k.a. “thumb piano”) virtuoso, bandleader and storyteller Njacko Backo animates the Maria A. Shchuka branch. Njacko Backo performs the music, dances and stories of Cameroon, his West African homeland.

February 25 at 2pm the Tsingory Dance Company performs the dances and music of the island nation of Madagascar at the North York Central Library auditorium. Tsingory Dance leads the audience on the tour of the island, “showcasing the changes in Madagascar’s varying cultures and traditions.” Saturday, March 1 at 2pm, also at the North York Central Library auditorium, Frederic Sibomana performs stories and music of Rwanda and region. Titled “Contes et musique d’Afrique/Stories and Music of Africa,” Sibomana’s concert brings to a close TPL’s Black History Month celebrations.

Other picks: On February 1, the Royal Conservatory, Small World Music and Batuki Music co-present “Fatoumata Diawara with Bassekou Kouyate” at Koerner Hall purveying an exciting hybrid music dubbed “Malian blues.” The headliner is the hot Malian diva Fatoumata Diawara. She shares the stage with Mali’s Bassekou Kouyate, the jeli ngoni (a kind of plucked lute) master whose music has been compared to Ali Farka Touré and Tinariwen’s “electric desert blues.”

Musideum continues its intimate eclectic concert series on February 4 with “Lehera II: Anita Katakkar and George Koller” with a recital centred on the lehera, a concept in North Indian music in which a melody in a particular raga outlines the framework of the tala (time cycle here articulated by the tabla). In “Rakkatak,” her latest fusion project, Toronto tabla player Katakkar layers tabla rhythms with instrumental melodies and electronic soundscapes. The lehera itself is played by the veteran Toronto bassist and multi-instrumentalist Koller on the dilruba, a Hindustani multi-string bowed instrument of which he is perhaps the foremost Canadian exponent.

On February 21 at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts the Soweto Gospel Choir offers its own tribute to Black History Month. Celebrating its tenth anniversary with an international tour and a new CD, Divine Decade, the award-winning, 52-voice South African Soweto Gospel Choir is renowned for its passionate gospel sound. The choir is also noted for its choral fundraising efforts in support of HIV/AIDS orphans, a cause in which it had an ally in the late Nelson Mandela.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at

1904 worldYes, ’tis the season, though it’s sometimes a cold one for world music lovers. I’ll put my cards on the table for you, dear reader. It doesn’t take much 6/8 time early music to put me into the Christmas spirit, and just a few bars of a polished Salvation Army brass band to warm my chilled Noël heart. I’m a sucker for Yuletide carols, period instrument performances of baroque staples by Bach, et al, grand chorales and church organ music. I may join the tenor section of a sing-along Messiah yet once more this year, the one with Ivars Taurins conducting, re-enacting moody “Herr Handel” warts, waistcoat and all. It’s an interactive event which combines several of those seasonal pleasures I don’t feel obliged to feel guilty about at all.

I wish I could say that about the Timar family holiday tradition. For decades we’ve feasted and then decorated the dessert table with super-rich confections. Make no mistake though; these are serious symbols of conspicuous abundance. Other kids had Christmas lights twinkling publicly on frosty front porches; we had tortes, truffles, candies and pastries shared in the warmth of family. Imagine homemade all-nut tortes garnished with spiked whipped cream and flavoured buttercream in thick layers. And heaping plates of all-butter shortbreads, artisanal boozy mascarpone truffles and raspberry Linzer squares, all toasted with Tokay and bubbly — but I digress from my main musical point...

My problem: none of the music performance sites I mentioned are generally considered or marketed as “world music,” my beat at The WholeNote. Thus I can’t discuss that sort of musicking here. What I do feel free to discuss however is the wealth of music originating from the second, third and hybrid worlds being performed in our midst, some of it even tied thematically to the season.

World cultures for millennia have marked the frighteningly long darkest night and looked forward to any sign of the return of the light. Lux Aeterna is a theme not only in the Latin liturgy and its music but in rituals around the world. As I write this, late fall’s first white flakes swirl from above in shifting clouds, magically dusting our world with lacy crystals of water. It puts me in the mood to engage in haiku, another season-specific activity. This Japanese poetic form, like world music itself is an imported notion, an admirable platform from which to succinctly reflect on this liminal season:

Longest night, coldest

day; Solstice sings fa-la-la —

winter pine boughs cheer.

Picks: December 3 the Nathaniel Dett Chorale presents a concert deftly merging European, African American and Caribbean hybrid musical worlds thematically evoking the season. “An Indigo Christmas: Songs to the Black Virgin” at St. Timothy’s Anglican Church, promises Christmas music with a “distinct Afrocentric vibe.” The Chorale has presented this program before and released a stirring CD titled An Indigo Christmas – Live! in 2004. The notes admirably sum up the music as an “age-old story of expectation, hope, redemption and freedom wrapped up in the promise of a newborn child.” The concert offers arrangements of spirituals and carols, “some with an African shout, a Caribbean twist, a jazz treatment, or a gospel blast of hope and joy.”

Two days earlier, on December 1 at Koerner Hall, the 2012 Canadian Folk Music Award-winning Sultans of String release their new CD, Symphony! in a concert presented by Royal Conservatory and Small World Music. The album was recorded with the Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra conducted by Norman Reintamm. Toronto’s Sultans of String was co-founded in 2004 by the well-known six-string violinist Chris McKhool and flamenco guitarist Kevin Laliberté. They are joined by Eddie Paton, guitar, bassist Drew Birston, Roger Travassos on percussion and the Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra. Expect a fast-paced instrumental concert mashing up elements of Arabic folk, Spanish flamenco, French Manouche Gypsy jazz, Cuban rhythms, all supported by lush pops orchestral arrangements.

In the last issue of The WholeNote my colleague Wendalyn Bartley wrote about the December 4 and 5 Continuum Contemporary Music production of Nuyamł-ił Kulhulmx/Singing the Earth at the Wychwood Theatre. Is this world music? My excuse for revisiting it here is that the composer of the work, Bella Coola-native Anna Höstman (winner of the 2013 Toronto Emerging Composer Award), incorporates multi-ethnic human texts and musical materials as well as the natural soundscape of the B.C. geography into this fascinating interdisciplinary performance. It weaves into the score not only human stories — a mixture of the indigenous Nuxalk Nation, descendants of Norwegian and Japanese settlers — but also the ever-present sonic backdrop of the place: the river and the forest. The Continuum Ensemble’s skilled septet, conducted by Gregory Oh, is joined by mezzo Marion Newman.

December 5 the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, presents its regular bi-annual “World Music Ensembles Concert” at 7:30pm in Walter Hall. This particular concert includes the (Balinese Semar Pegulingan) Gamelan Ensemble directed by Annette Sanger. They’re joined by Brian Katz’s Klezmer Ensemble; the Japanese Taiko Ensemble directed by Kiyoshi Nagata rounds out the early evening.

Women take stage centre: Rounding out the first week of the month on December 7 the Batuki Music Society showcases “Songs of My Mother: A Celebration of African Women” at the Ada Slaight Hall, Daniels Spectrum. The Batuku Music press release notes that in traditional African music male voices are often privileged while the female voice “is not given [the] prominent role that it deserves” even though it is ever present. Moreover “women are often ... discouraged from assuming leading roles especially as bandleaders. Toronto has a good number of African female singers: some of them lead their own bands and others are vocalists in various groups.” This concert seeks to redress an evident gender inequality and to shine “a light on the rich talent and the diversity of music that these women possess.” The featured singers are: Tapa Diarra, Evelyn Mukwedeya, Memory Makuri, Blandine Mbiya and Ruth Mathiang. They are supported by five (male) musicians and the choreographer/dancer Mabinty Sylla.

December 7 and 8 another concert examines the female diasporic experience, this time from an Asian perspective. The Raging Asian Women Taiko Drummers, aka RAW performs “From Rage Comes” on the spacious stage of the Betty Oliphant Theatre. RAW promises this concert “will not be your typical percussion event.” Toronto’s self-described “well-loved ensemble of Asian women activist drummers” has collectively created an evening-length work which aims to tell their stories as diasporic Asian-Canadian women in the 21st century through music, movement and storytelling. They mine personal experiences which “explore the theme of rage ... and what comes from it. When it is unleashed ... when it is muted ... when it must be swallowed ... and when it empowers women to transcend.” The core taiko drumming practice of RAW, as it has evolved in North America, is a jumping off point “for an artistic journey to explore racial, sexual and cultural identities ... with a special focus on social activism, education and community building.” They’re well worth seeing.

The same night, December 8, the Echo Women’s Choir raises its 80 strong voices at the Church of the Holy Trinity with a social activist, community and world music focus in a program titled “Rise.” The Echo performs Appalachian, Croatian klapa  — a form of traditional a cappella singing from Dalmatia, gospel, South African songs, as well as compositions by several composers. The choir is joined by guest guitarist and fiddler Annabelle Chvostek. Becca Whitla and Alan Gasser conduct.

More picks: December 14 the African Catholic Community Choir presents songs from a variety of African traditions, plus works in English and French. Conducted by Serge Tshiunza, the concert is at the Holy Name Catholic Church.

We skip more than a month, and into a new year, to January 18, 2014. “Send me a Rose” is the concert by the Lute Legends Ensemble at the Glenn Gould Studio. Bassam Bishara, oud (‘ud), Lucas Harris, lute, and Wen Zhao, pipa, present music for three prominent instruments of the venerable and widespread lute family. Some scholars trace the lineages of the modern Near-Eastern ‘ud and Chinese pipa to a common ancestor about 1,100 years ago. The European lute and the ‘ud are also related. Both appear to have descended from a common forbear via diverging evolutionary paths. The Lute Legends trio aims to bend the direction of these divergent geographic paths back toward the unified goal of making music together on the cozy stage of the Glenn Gould Studio. Their program includes music from Turkey, Italy, Iraq, China and Scotland. Sweetening the Can-con, the Canadian composer Andrew Donaldson has written a work for them too.

January 18 Amanda Martinez, no stranger to our column, brings her signature eclectic Latin-centred music to our 905 neighbours in Markham. Martinez and her band will offer a generous mix of Afro-Cuban beats, bossa nova, flamenco and Mexican folk music at the Flato Markham Theatre.

Already into the second month of the New Year, on February 1, Fatoumata Diawara and Bassekou Kouyate perform the exciting hybrid music of Malian blues at Koerner Hall. Co-presented by the Royal Conservatory, Small World Music and Batuki Music, Malian singer Diawara was singled out by Time magazine in 2012 as a singer to watch. “Her well-crafted songs are often light and breezy, but her soulful voice brings a bluesy depth and potency ...” Sharing the stage is Mali’s Kouyate, the jeli ngoni virtuoso, whose music has been compared to the “electric desert blues” of Tinariwen and Ali Farka Touré.

I look forward to continuing my personal observations of the GTA world music scene in these pages next year. May you have a banner 2014. 

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at

world view - on living with dying 1El Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) has been celebrated by Mexicans for centuries as a time for families to remember and honour the departed. It’s a pre-Columbian custom grafted onto the Christian triduum consisting of All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween to the secular world), All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Many Mexicans believe that the spirits of the dead dutifully visit their descendants on October 31, returning to their accustomed resting places on November 2. To properly receive their spectral relatives, families make altars and place ofrendas (offerings) of food such as pan de muertos (bread of the dead) baked in shapes of skulls and figures, yellow marigolds known as cempazuchitl, photos, candles, and incense.

This practice may sound a touch morbid to some Canadians but to Mexicans death is approached with joy, celebration and playfulness, as well as with mourning. It’s not uncommon for Mexican children to play “funeral” with toys representing coffins and undertakers. The fear of death is transformed through mocking it, as well as by living alongside it, accepting it as a fact of everyday life.

Larry Lake: Day of the Dead rituals have slowly been seeping into our secular Toronto collective consciousness over the past decade or so — see my mention of the Harbourfront events further on in this column. What better time to celebrate influential musicians among us who have recently passed? Larry Lake, the influential Toronto composer, radio broadcaster and record producer, died in September of this year (and was remembered in the October WholeNote by David Jaeger). As he was a friend I’ll call him Larry here, and this is my written mini-ofrenda.

As a composer Larry was best known for his electronic music. Much less well known however is Larry’s support of the early career of the Toronto world music group, Evergreen Club Gamelan (of which I am a member). ECG is Canada’s first performing gamelan group and this season we are marking our 30th anniversary. Larry was an “early adaptor” of the gamelan as a brand new medium for expression among established Canadian composers. “Larry’s support was critical to the fledgling group,” notes Jon Siddall, ECG’s founding artistic director. In the mid-1980s when Siddall commissioned Larry to compose a new work for ECG, the notion of a set of Indonesian gamelan instruments performing contemporary music written and played by Canadians was a brand new — even a radical — proposition. The gamelan ensemble and its music was barely known in the True North. Larry’s open ears, open mind and generous spirit helped the fledgling ECG, among Canada’s first wave of world music groups, to go from strength to strength. In the space of a few years it went on to commission John Cage, as well as dozens of Canadian composers, and to tour internationally.

Larry completed composing his Three Bagatelles for ECG in 1986. Its recording was released on the LP/cassette (later CD) North of Java on the Arjuna label in 1987, the first commercial recording of Canadian gamelan music. I re-auditioned Three Bagatelles recently. I heard a charming three-movement work effectively layering the brash sounds of 1980s electronic music synthesis with the eight-musician acoustic gamelan degung sounds of the ECG. It was in turn declamatory, lyrical and incisively percussive.

Larry’s geniality was often tinged with an endearingly gentle wry sense of humour. When I met him for the first read-through of my suling (bamboo ring flute) part for “Andrew’s Song,” movement two of his Three Bagatelles, I was discouraged by the primitive dot-matrix staff notation printout he presented. I made a comment disparaging what to me seemed an overly simplistic, unchallenging score. Unfazed, Larry gave me some memorable advice: “Treat the notation only as a guide ... go ahead and ‘Eastern it up!’” In other words, play it expressively, where appropriate using idiomatic suling ornaments, articulation, phrasing and dynamic shadings.

From then on whenever I am challenged by a score which appears musically too “square” for its own good I smilingly recall Larry’s challenge to “Eastern it up.” You can hear me heeding Larry’s advice some 27 years ago in the recording of Andrew’s Song, streaming on ECG’s website. When time came to produce a CD from the original LP tracks of North of Java, ECG called Larry. Then in 1994 the group commissioned Larry for Sanft (Soft) another work for pre-recorded electronic sounds and gamelan degung. The collaboration continued with the CD Palace (Artifact Music: 1996) which he co-produced, also streaming on the ECG site.

Through his own compositions in which he dared new cultural mash-ups, his record producing, and his advocacy via his CBC radio music show Two New Hours, Larry did more than introduce generations of listeners to the latest trends in Canadian and international avant-garde concert music. He also introduced them, as I’ve begun to illustrate here, to world music voices which challenged received notions of cultural hierarchies and aesthetic boundaries.


Sicilian connection: Let’s start this chilly month off with warming southern sounds on November 2 at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall when two Toronto groups the Vesuvius Ensemble and the Sicilian Jazz Project collaborate. Led by Francesco Pellegrino the Vesuvius Ensemble’s mission is to preserve and stage the music of southern Italy. The Ensemble’s repertoire is anchored in the songs of the Neapolitan region. Moreover they perform on some of the instruments from the region including the tammorra (frame drum), chitarra battente and colascione (plucked lute), and the ciaramella, a shawm. Michael Occhipinti’s Sicilian Jazz Project takes Sicilian folk songs and rhythms and interprets them through the harmonic and improvisatory lens of contemporary North American urban jazz, world music, funk, blues and chamber music. Its stellar lineup starts with the eight-time JUNO Award-nominee Michael Occhipinti on guitar, and continues with seven other leading Toronto jazz musicians.

Harbourfront: As I hinted earlier, on November 9 and 10 Harbourfront Centre hosts what it calls “Toronto’s longest running Day of the Dead festival ... two days of family-friendly programming.” There will be public ofrendas both large and small, plus a wide range of films, mariachi music, songs, dance, food, storytelling, crafting and performances, all with a Dia de los Muertos theme. Some of the music events are listed in The WholeNote pages. For a complete listing of all scheduled events please check the Harbourfront Centre’s website.

York and U of T: York University and the University of Toronto have had world music studio programs running continuously since the early 1970s, I know because I dabbled at them in both places back in the day. Every fall both institutions showcase faculty, students and visiting scholars in public concerts that are well worth exploring. I’ve been invariably delighted by these events and they’re at a price every student can afford: gratis.

November 5 at 12:30pm the York University Department of Music presents a rare demonstration of Azerbaijani mugham by Jeffrey Werbock, a leading expert of this modal music, at the Accolade East Building. The same evening at 7:30 the University of Toronto Faculty of Music presents its “World Music Ensembles Concert” at Walter Hall featuring the Balinese gamelan ensemble, the Klezmer ensemble, and the Japanese taiko ensemble.

November 14 at 12:30 pm York’s Department of Music presents one of Toronto’s premier Korean drum and dance ensembles, the Jeng Yi Korean drum and dance ensemble, at the Accolade East Building.

Back downtown on November 25 at 7:30 in Walter Hall, the U of T Faculty of Music showcases the work of its current world music artists-in-residence, the distinguished Balinese-based performers and scholars Putu Evie Suyadnyani and Vaughan Hatch, and their students in its “World Music Visitor Concert.” The program stages Balinese gamelan and dance including repertoires from royal courts, rituals and entertainments performed on the U of T’s gamelan semar pegulingan (orchestra).

COC Bradshaw: The free noon hour “World Music Series” continues at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

world view - on living with dying 2The November 5 concert showcases the bass veena, a new addition to the Hindustani instrumentarium developed by Canadian musician Justin Gray and luthier Les Godfrey. “Monsoon:Synthesis” is the concert’s title evoking a merger of North Indian ragas and original Justin Gray compositions featuring the bass veena and the tabla wizardry of Ed Hanley, with additional percussion and Tibetan singing bowls by Derek Gray.

November 27 “Balinese Music and Dance: Temple, Court and Village Traditions” takes over Bradshaw Amphitheatre. The event is listed in the “Dance Series,” a fitting designation given that dance and music performance is intimately interrelated in Bali. The U of T’s 20-piece gamelan Dharma Santi alternates with Seka Rat Nadi the gendèr wayang (keyed metallophone quartet). The U of T world music artists-in-residence, Vaughan Hatch and Putu Evie Suyadnyani, are again featured performers.

The last event this month is on November 28. The Shargi Persian Percussion Ensemble performs Unbound. Naghmeh Farahmand, a rare female Iranian percussionist, now a Toronto resident, leads a very unusual all-female percussion group in a program of traditional music from Persia and the Middle East.

Gzowski’s Soldier: November 17 The Music Gallery presents “A Soldier’s Tale” an ambitious multidisciplinary theatre work with both aboriginal and world music elements. Composer, sound designer and musician John Gzowski can certainly be considered among Toronto world music stalwarts, having been active in groups like Maza Meze and Tasa. In this staging of “A Soldier’s Tale” he collaborates with Cree actor, artist, choreographer Michael Greyeyes, video artist Andy Moro and David Sait on guzheng. The work’s narrative explores the soldiering role of First Nations in World War II and Iraq using theatrical dance, enhanced by the contribution of other top Toronto world musicians.

Quick Picks

November 22 and 23 Nagata Shachu stages its “15th Anniversary Concert and CD Release” at the Enwave Theatre, Harbourfront Centre. This viscerally exciting Toronto group, regularly discussed in my column, goes from strength to strength and never disappoints musically.

November 23 at Koerner Hall, the Royal Conservatory and Small World Music present Anoushka Shankar. The star sitarist performs selections from her latest CD, Traces of You, produced by the very successful British Indian musician and composer Nitin Sawhney.

November 27, also at Koerner Hall, the Royal Conservatory, Batuki Music and Small World Music present “Rokia Traoré: Beautiful Africa.” Malian-born Rokia Traoré’s powerhouse voice is the ideal vehicle for her rendition of songs from her most recent album. 

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at

world viewFall has already made is chilly presence known in Southern Ontario and not just in terms of the weather. Sad news greeted me on September 17. My friend, the composer and veteran radio music broadcaster Larry Lake, passed away; more on his career elsewhere in this issue. Larry had a hidden side. He was an “early adapter” of world music in a few of his compositions, a little-known engagement I may write about in a future column.

As is almost always the case I’ve had to omit, with regret, a number of concerts on my short list. This column could easily have been twice as long.

12th annual Small
World Music Festival continues

Last issue I wrote about the 12th annual Small World Music Festival which began September 26, and continued October 2 at Lula Lounge with what was billed as a “one-of-a-kind musical mashup,” featuring the award-winning jazz and hip-hop Toronto trumpeter Brownman, playing with the Cuban rappers Ogguere and Telmary best known for their ground-breaking Cuban genre fusions of mambo, son, cha cha cha and rumba, underscored by hip-hop and reggaeton.

October 4 the group Mashrou’ Leila, Arabic for “an overnight project,” plays Lee’s Palace in their Toronto debut. Acclaimed as “the voice of Arabic youth” and “one of the most significant young bands in the Arab world,” the six-musician Lebanese group use politically charged lyrics and absurdist videos to ride the wave of youthful optimism generated around the Arab spring. Hamed Sinno, the group’s leader and main lyricist, addresses the current social revolution with positive social messages and art-school ironic detachment. Their instrumentation of violin, bass, two guitars, keyboard and drum set doesn’t betray the ethnic Middle Eastern origins of the band but rather serves to connect their audiences to the familiar transnational popular culture they feel part of.

October 6 DakhaBrakha closes the Small World Music Festival with a concert at the Revival Bar. The Kyiv quartet has invented a kind of world music which infuses their theatrical interpretative reworking of Ukrainian village music — folk costumes and all — with a rock- and even at times a trance-like sensibility. Their core instrumentation of closely miked cello, floor tom, djembe, darabuka, harmonica and Jew’s harp, along with occasional keyboard synth lines, support the group’s soaring village-inflected vocal solos and powerful close harmony refrains. I attended their 2012 North American debut concert at Luminato. Their songs were in turn emotionally intense, chilled out, but then delightfully stylistically odd-ball. Moreover you don’t have to understand DakhaBrakha’s Ukrainian lyrics to appreciate the sheer quirky emotive force of their music making.

More Picks

October 5, at the First Baptist Church in Barrie, at 2:30pm, the Colours of Music Festival showcases the music of banjo virtuoso Jayme Stone and his band in “The Incredible Banjo.” I have written admiringly of Stone’s music before in this column. I suspect therefore that many readers — and of course his fans — have a good feel for the vast range his music projects encompass, including Bach, Appalachian covers, a banjo concerto and explorations of the banjo’s Malian connections. Sidemen trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, cellist Andrew Downing, Joe Phillips on bass and drummer Nick Fraser provide the deliciously dexterous musical backing.

October 8 at noon “Sketches of Istanbul” performed by the Anahtar Project graces the Canadian Opera Company’s World Music Series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. For his Anahtar Project, award-winning composer and cellist Andrew Downing has booked percussionist Debashis Sinha and clarinettist Peter Lutek. The three Canadians are joined by the Turkish oud virtuoso and composer Güç Başar Gülle in a cross-cultural collaboration. Inspired by the mosaic of cultures and people of the ancient city of Istanbul, audiences can expect explorations fusing Turkish-Ottoman classical makam music with Western performance sensibilities and musical forms. Jazz procedures are also prominent. Here’s some tantalizing insider news: the group will be “playing challenging and beautiful compositions by Andrew Downing and Güç Başar Gülle.”

October 10 the COC’s World Music Series continues with “Hibiki! Echoes of Japan” performed by Toronto’s favourite daiko group Nagata Shachu at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Celebrating its 15th season, Nagata Shachu is one of our city’s musical treasures, hailed by the Toronto Star as “... one of the world’s most interesting Japanese taiko drumming ensembles.” Its music includes not only a wide range of heartbeat-quickening Japanese drums but also various bamboo flutes, stringed instruments and voices. I’ve seen the group, led by Canadian-born taiko master Kiyoshi Nagata, several times over its history and its performances are invariably filled with a high level of ensemble musicianship coupled with mental and corporeal discipline.

Uma Nota Festival of Tropical Expressions

Running from October 17 to 20, the third annual Uma Nota Festival of Tropical Expressions is the biggest yet. The festival features Afro-Brazilian, Caribbean, Latin, funk and soul music performed by both live acts and DJs from Brazil, U.K. and New York in addition to the cream of the local scene. Out of four days chock full of events, I have space here only to dip into its engaging family-friendly “Community Cultural Fair.” For the rest of the concerts check The WholeNote listings, or the festival’s website which offers detailed information.

Sunday, October 20 the Uma Nota Festival offers an ambitious daylong Community Cultural Fair at the Lula Lounge. It begins with live music performed by Toronto’s Tio Chorinho, a choro ensemble led by mandolin player Eric Stein. Choro, a melodically and harmonically adventurous instrumental genre from Brazil which came of age in Rio de Janeiro in the 1920s, has been described as “the New Orleans jazz of Brazil.” The highly regarded Brazilian “fingerstyle” guitar master Rick Udler, one of Brazil’s first-call guitarists, follows. If you had any doubt that the brass band form is making a comeback in jazz just listen to the Heavyweights Brass Band featuring five young Toronto musicians taking the stage next. This favourite among the Uma Nota and local jazz audiences plays New Orleans style jazz, but also funk, Latin, soul, and reggae favourites which are guaranteed to inspire impromptu dancing. The sets continue with Forrallstar, the Uma Nota Festival-produced “super band,” comprised of the city’s top Brazilian forró players led by singer/guitarist Carlos Cardoso. DJ Mogpaws closes the concert spinning recordings of Brazilian soul, funk, jazz, reggae and electronica from the studios, fairs and streets of Rio and São Paulo, plus the states of Bahia and Pernambuco.

At 2:30pm talks and workshops take the Lula floor. A few sessions of interest: son jarocho and other Mexican folk dances and music led by the Café Con Pan duo, and Coco de Roda, a Northeastern Brazilian dance/game led by Maracatu Mar Aberto and Professor Sapo of Capoeira Camara. BTW, while it may be a bit early in the day, I’m tempted to take in the Caipirinha-making workshop.

Two More Concerts

Back at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on November 5, the COC’s World Music Series presents “Meditations for Bass Veena” by the Toronto group Monsoon:Synthesis. The bass veena, a remarkable new instrument, was designed in 2010 by bassist Justin Gray along with Canadian luthier Les Godfrey. They adapted and extended the fretless electric bass making it into an instrument suitable not only for Hindustani classical but also for Indo-jazz music. Gray, the first musician to perform North Indian classical music on the electric and acoustic basses, leads Monsoon: Synthesis on bass veena. He is accompanied by Ed Hanley on tabla and Derek Gray on Tibetan bowls and percussion. The trio references both North Indian ragas and original compositions by Justin Gray, conjuring a sound world that promises to take the downtown audience on a sub-continental musical journey.

Wrapping up this issue, on November 7 the Ger Mandolin Orchestra, performs at the George Weston Recital Hall at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, produced by the Ashkenaz Foundation. It was a photograph of a pre-WWII Jewish mandolin orchestra in the Polish town of Gora Kalwaria (Ger in Yiddish) and the realization that most of its members perished in the Holocaust that originally inspired Israeli-American Avner Yonai to re-form just such an ensemble. The Ger Mandolin Orchestra, led by the Grammy Award-winning multi-instrumentalist Mike Marshall, is the result of Yonai`s unique memorial to his own family and the original orchestra members. This is an all-star international group of ten mandolinists recreating a musical form that in the first half of the 20th century was among the most popular forms of Jewish community music making both in Eastern Europe and in immigrant communities of North America. The group’s repertoire embraces klezmer and Yiddish music along with Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, Italian and classical selections. This concert would be one eminently fitting way to observe Remembrance Day (November 11) with music reborn. 

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at

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