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

I may not be alone in feeling that this liminal seasonal period bridging late summer and early fall is a time fraught with angst. This season in-between is tinged with regret at the passing of a too-brief and perhaps not-idle-enough summer. All too soon brisk fall days blow responsibility down our necks. The feeling is felt even by those much too old to clearly recall the bittersweet frisson of returning to school the first week of September.

world viewWelcome back to our coverage of world music in The WholeNote. Welcome also to the ever-evolving notions of what performers and concert producers present as world music, to those who contest its very existence and to my current thoughts on such concerts in Southern Ontario neighbourhoods. Add to that list another element integral to the category’s success: its audience reception and fan support. Given, however, that I write here about concerts to come, you’ll have to read about it in The WholeNote blog reviews.

Some writers, dissatisfied with the existing term for the present state of music beyond worldbeat fusions, have offered to tweak, if not entirely to rebrand it. “World Music 2.0” is one such proposed tag. Noise Next Door, a documentary film to be released in 2014, explores the present unease with world music as a marketing term and genre by examining the artists’ music, ideas, influences, the collaboration process and the technology used to “inspire the new world music generation of creators.”

One group that has contested the world music tag as patently Eurocentric (the commercial term’s actual geographic origin), with a distinct tendency to relegate those within the category as “the other,” is the exciting Ottawa-based aboriginal DJ and video “powwow step” group A Tribe Called Red. They will be appearing in The Music Gallery’s “X Avant Festival” in October 2013. I’ll be writing more about them in the next issue.

Information for the next two events arrived too late to be included in our listings: September 6, Jayme Stone, whom The Globe and Mail dubbed “the Yo-Yo Ma of the banjo,” presents a concert supporting his new album at the Music Gallery. Stone is one musician who just may be comfortable with the world music label. The two-time JUNO Award-winning banjoist and composer clearly relishes the global threads which inspire many tracks on his albums. His new CD, for example [reviewed in the current DISCoveries' Editor's Corner], is a sonic travelogue of imaginary geographies traversing what has been called the “cinnamon route through Persia and India,” and Stone elsewhere re-arranges melodies he collected in West Africa. His Music Gallery concert also includes a concerto for banjo and chamber symphony written for him by Andrew Downing, the group’s cellist. Stone’s versatile group is rounded out by top Toronto musicians and by guest vocalist Miranda Mullholland. And on September 28, the Toronto taiko group, Nagata Shachu, drives down the Gardiner Expressway to set the hearts of Hamilton audiences pounding at their concert presented by the Matapa Music and Arts Organization. Their physically demanding music will resound at the Molson Canadian Studio, Hamilton Place.

September 30 at 12:15, Music Mondays presents “From Ragas to Rhythm” performed by Autorickshaw, another Toronto world music fixture, at the Church of the Holy Trinity. The Autorickshaw trio of Dylan Bell, Ed Hanley and Suba Sankaran will be joined by sitarist, guitarist and vocalist Chris Hale, performing arrangements of North and South Indian classical songs plus their special brand of Indo-fusion.

Small World Music Festival: September 26 to October 6

With world music as part of its name, the Small World Music Society has long been the most active presenter of live international-flavoured music concerts in the GTA. In its own words, SWMS gives a “platform to dozens of developing Canadian artists of diverse backgrounds, providing a space for cross-cultural bridge-building, education and understanding.” Small World estimates it has presented roughly 400 events since 1997, an impressive figure by any standard.

In a late August telephone interview Small World executive director and curator Alan Davis enthused about the company’s nascent community presentation space, projected to open next year (more of that later). He was also eager to get the word out about the 12th annual Small World Music Festival. Running from September 26 until October 6 in multiple downtown Toronto venues, this is its signature festival. In his festival press release Davis fingered one problem with the way our city’s vaunted multiculturalism plays out in world music presentations. “Let’s face it” he began, “as we get comfortable in our respective neighbourhoods, most of us need a little help — and perhaps a nudge — to enjoy new aspects of our famed diversity.” Contentment and even complacency with one or two musical genres to the exclusion of all the others is an aspect of human nature familiar to most world music presenters who take on the daunting job of catering to multiple and shifting audiences.

Small World’s gentle nudge to local audiences begins September 26 at the Lula Lounge with a Festival Opening Party. It features Tal National, reputedly the most popular group in Niger, West Africa. Drawing on regional musical genres of highlife, Afrobeat, soukous and “desert blues,” generously infused with transnational rock, they sing in Niger’s main languages of Zarma and Hausa, as well as in French, the colonial language. At home Tal National’s shows last until daybreak; when will their last set wrap at Lula?

Free one-day concert series, September 28: Beginning at 1pm, the festival presents a series of free concerts at Yonge-Dundas Square called “Small World in the Square” lasting the entire day to 11pm. There are seven internationally celebrated acts booked. Unable to do justice to all of them here I’m providing a sketch of a few picks. Headlining is the reggae supergroup Third World marking 40 years on stage, in the studio and on the road. Spreading the message of peace, love and unity through music, these “reggae ambassadors” are the recipients of the 1986 United Nations Peace Medal, two Jamaica Music Industry awards for Best Show Band, and no less than ten Grammy nominations. In 22 albums, Third World proudly combines a veritable catalogue of musical influences including Jamaican reggae of course, but also older rural Jamaican, African roots, American pop, R&B, funk, rap and Euro classical music.

Also taking the stage is the Lahore group Noori (Light) widely considered pioneers of the relatively young Pakistani rock music scene. The band plays a fusion of pop and rock and on occasion colours their songs with traditional South Asian instruments, as in their Season 3 session in the TV show Coke Studio Pakistan (view it on YouTube). While their instruments and musical idiom may be a reflection of the West, their lyrics reflect more homegrown verities. Noori’s songs mirror the dreams and realities of urban Pakistani youth, urging them to change their world for the better and professing women’s empowerment. I’m curious to see their Canadian fans and how they interact with these stars.

Audiences in the square will also be taking a journey down Colombia’s Caribbean coast escorted by Colombian-born composer and guitarist Roberto López and his band. The Montreal-based López takes us on a multi-level musical encounter starting with the inspiration of wind bands of Colombia’s Caribbean coast grooving to the regional rhythms of cumbia, paseo, mapalé, chandé, champeta and porro, interpreted via North-American jazz band instrumentation.

Then “Global Bollywood” gets a local interpretation from Toronto’s Bageshree Vaze and Ensemble. The group celebrates Indian film music arranged for an ensemble of some of Toronto’s finest musicians grounded by the master grooves of Vineet Vyas on tabla. MTV India “rising star” Vaze is a triple threat. She’s not only the vocalist and band leader but also an accomplished kathak dancer, a North Indian dance style closely associated with its traditional music.

My remaining word count allows me a preview of only the closing show of the festival: DakhaBrakha on October 6 at the Revival Bar. The Kyiv-based quartet, whose name means “give and take” in old Ukrainian, has invented a surprising and refreshing stream of world music, infusing their theatrical take on Ukrainian village music with a metal-like rock sensibility. Their core instrumentation of closely miked cello, floor tom, darabuka, djembe and occasional keyboard synth, harmonica and Jew’s harp support the group’s soaring vocal solos and powerful close harmony refrains.

I heard their North American debut at Luminato 2013 where their set was in turns emotionally and powerfully intense and then chilled out, the latter in what sounded like an odd-ball R&B cover. Even those, like me, who don’t understand DakhaBrakha’s Ukrainian lyrics, nevertheless have come alongside their brand of transnational music making. The group tags its style “ethno-chaos,” but whatever the label, the sheer emotional and quirky power embedded in the music marks it as one, however idiosyncratic, map of a way forward for the genre. 

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

June in toronto used to signal the beginning of a slow hot musical slide into picnic season. With concert activity winding down, many performers and audiences alike left town to relax at rural lakeside cottages. Not so these days. Now a plethora of curated festivals and single musical events fills the summer urban days and evenings for those who stay in the city. I have space to explore just a few. Therefore please excuse me if your favourite artist or musical genre is not mentioned.

worldview long shen dao  3 Luminato Festival: Luminato is perhaps the signature festival opening the door to the open-air concert season. Luminato’s ten-day “festival of creativity” runs from June 14 to 23. Its music components’ buzzwords are “diversity,” “collaboration” and the notion of seduction that goes on between artistic disciplines, programming principles articulated by festival artistic director Jorn Weisbrodt at the unveiling event in April.

Perhaps no other Luminato feature more enthusiastically embraces such a broad artistic mandate of collaboration — in this case imbued with a distinctively international music palette — as the chamber opera Feng Yi Ting. Running June 20, 21 and 22 at U of T’s MacMillan Theatre, it was created by the respected Chinese contemporary composer Guo Wenjing. His 2004 score expertly blends Chinese and Western musical vocabulary, instrumentation and textural and harmonic worlds. The composer furthermore draws on two contrasting regional Chinese operatic styles of personal interest: Beijing opera, with its contained and polished singing, and the exuberant and highly ornamented vocalism of Sichuan opera. These disparate musical elements are effectively superimposed and fluidly recombined in Feng Yi Ting.

Adding measurably to the opera’s allure was the production directed by the celebrated Toronto film and theatre director Atom Egoyan [also directing the Luminato performances] whose contribution “proved a significant part of its attraction, not least because, like the score, it offers a ... blend of ancient Chinese and modern Western theatre technologies.” This fascinating production can be viewed through multiple facets of cultural globalization: as an explorative presentation of elitist art cross-pollination and mash-up; and also as the transition of traditions. I’ll be there in the audience to experience it firsthand.

In addition to Feng Yi Ting, I count some 11 other acts handpicked by veteran curator Derek Andrews that fill out Luminato’s world music offerings. While each is worthy of our attention I only have room for a few picks. It’s also worth noting that as in previous years many performances are free. Please check the Luminato website, print media and of course The WholeNote listings for pertinent details.

The Festival Hub at the David Pecaut Square is Luminato’s outdoor stage, welcoming audiences with a sharp focus on world music. On Saturday, June 15 the “Reggae Around the World” concert includes the six-member pioneering Beijing group Long Shen Dao making their North American debut. Their name — a clumsy English translation is “The Way [Tao] of the Dragon God” — reflects the group’s statement that while they are “not Rastafarians, reggae music, like a warm breeze, is accessible to people no matter where in the world they come from.” Musically, the band combines rock, ska, reggae, hip hop and other popular music genres along with Chinese instruments like the zheng (plucked zither). “One World,” indeed.

The next day, June 16, two outstanding performers energize the Hub stage. The Tuareg guitarist Omara “Bombino” Moctar of Niger has garnered international acclaim for performances of his songs, whose lyrics often carry a message dedicated to peaceful coexistence in his war-torn homeland. Musically, Bombino marries rock — he’s a big Hendrix fan — and the tende music of the Nigerian nomads. Amadou and Mariam follow on stage. The couple’s infectious blend of Malian songs has since the 1990s added intercultural instrumentation to create a style dubbed “Afro-blues.”

That same evening the stage will be set for DakhaBrakha. Meaning “give and take” in old Ukrainian, the Kyiv-based quartet has invented a surprising genre of world music. While perhaps only indirectly linked to the Toronto-Ukrainian urban folk revivalist scene I explored in my May 2013 column, it certainly shares the same spirit. Founded in 2004 by avant-garde theatre director Vladyslav Troitskyi, DakhaBrakha began singing old Ukrainian village music but then added Russian, African, Indian, Arabic and Australian instrumentation to the mix. Calling the result “ethno-chaos,” their exciting transnational sound makes its North American debut at Luminato. In a bit of inspired programming, since the two have so many interesting points of intersection as well as divergence, DakhaBrakha opens for the “queen of performance art music” Laurie Anderson. I have a personal sweet spot for Anderson’s work: in the mid-70s I was hired to play bassoon in her band at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

June 20, the a cappella quintet H’Sao entertains the Hub audience. Originally from Chad, the five-voice group moved to Montreal in 2001. From that home base they continue to develop and internationally tour their taut, richly textured and rhythmically vibrant choral sound.

June 23 at 2pm, Luminato-goers are in for a rare treat: garifuna music indigenous to the tiny Central American nation of Belize performed by the eight members of the Garifuna Collective. Ivan Duran leads his group singing and playing a style of vivid drum, shaker and guitar-based Afro-Amerindian dance music making its Canadian debut at the festival. The Kitchener native singer-songwriter Danny Michel joins the Garifuna Collective in the next set. Together they perform songs from his 11-album career.

Harbourfront Centre Festivals: Long before Luminato lit up outdoor Toronto venues, the Harbourfront Centre’s summer music-centric festivals animated the waterfront. Under the banner “The World in One Place,” each summer audiences by the thousands witness emerging as well as leading world music acts with a different ethnic or national theme each weekend. Harbourfront Centre’s world music programming is divided among two locations: the main 10-acre multiple-venue site and the Toronto Music Garden further to the west along Queens Quay.

Toronto Music Garden: The Music Garden presents a series of free concerts most Thursdays and Sundays all summer long called Summer Music in the Garden. My first pick, on July 21, is titled “Send Me a Rose,” featuring music from China, the Middle East and Europe performed by the Lute Legends Ensemble. Three international representatives of the lute comprise the ensemble: lutenist Lucas Harris, Wen Zhao on pipa and oud master Bassam Bishara.

July 25, make a date for “Evening Ragas by the Water.” Sarangi maestra Aruna Narayan is joined by Vineet Viyas on tabla and Akshay Kalle, tanpura. The sarangi, a North Indian bowed many-string instrument, is renowned for its ability to represent the nuances of the human singing voice. In Narayan’s masterful hands we will hear it sing with emotional depth and virtuosity.

August 8 visit “A Taiko Tale of Two Cities” performed by the Nagata Shachu ensemble, one of Toronto’s favourite Japanese drumming and flute groups. Montreal’s Constantinople Ensemble performs music with a transcontinental scope — from the African Mandingo kingdom to the Persian court — on strings and voices August 11. And deep in the heart of August (on the 18th), Swamperella, Toronto’s preeminent Franco-American hybrid Cajun music tribute band turns the Music Garden into “Cajun in the Cattails.”

Harbourfront Centre: There’s a themed Harbourfront festival every summer weekend. I only have space for a few selected picks, so again best refer to the listings.

July 1, the summer at the always-crowded (in a good way) Harbourfront Centre kicks off with the “Canada Day Weekend Celebrations.” As usual, world music is represented. This year the multiple award-winning Cuban-Canadian singer-songwriter Alex Cuba, with his fusion of funk, jazz and Latin pop, is among the WestJet Stage headliners.

July 5, the Lula All Stars presents a concert of salsa, followed by Chico Trujillo with his trademark cumbia punk music. July 6, the hot Latin Grammy award-winning Mexican group 3Ball MTY performs songs in musical genres variously labelled Latin house, tribal-guarachero and electronic cumbia.

July 19, 20 and 21, the three-day Tirgan Festival celebrates Toronto’s increasing connection to the visual arts, food, crafts, dance and music of Iran. The recently formed London, England-based group Ajam is the weekend’s featured musical ensemble, describing its style as “Iranian Roots Music.”

worldview jaipur-kawa-brass-bandJuly 26 and 27, the auspicious sounds of the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band from Rajasthan, performing music from Bollywood and regional folk traditions, will resound at the WestJet Stage.

A must-have at regional weddings, they’re a must-see for Harbourfront visitors.

Afrofest at 25: Afrofest, Toronto’s biggest African festival, is celebrating a significant anniversary: its 25th. On June 12 the festival launches at the Gladstone Hotel ballroom co-presented by Music Africa and NXNE. Outstanding bands including Njacko Backo (Cameroon), Madagascar Slim (Madagascar), Tich Maredza Band (Zimbabwe), Foly Asiko (Nigeria) and Midnight Trinity (Botswana) will perform. Then on July 6 and 7 various music and dance groups and their respective African communities will be out in force in the green surroundings of Woodbine Park. There the real outdoor musical magic takes place in its appropriate milieu, among the food and craft stalls and the arts of Africa.

City Hall Square Concert Series:
Some Quick Picks

The City of Toronto presents a concert series Thursdays during July and August at Nathan Phillips Square starting at 12:30pm. Called “Tasty Thursdays,” in homage to the international dishes for sale, the series delivers on its motto “celebrating the world in Toronto” by presenting concerts with a global musical flavour.

July 11, the NYC band Matuto steps onto the stage with its startling mix of Brazilian forró and Appalachian bluegrass. Montreal’s Bombolessé merges Portuguese, French and Spanish lyrics with an equally syncretic selection of musical genres into a festive dance-forward performance on July 25. On paper the group reads much like urban Canada sounds these days.

August 15, the Ghanaian-Canadian urban folk, pop, rap and soul maestro Kae Sun will touch the assembled with his poetic observations of the human condition. Finally, on August 22, the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, Toronto’s often zany tribute to Ukrainian, Balkan, gypsy party and klezmer music, rocks the City Hall square.

Signing off for the summer, I wish all readers a relaxing and re-energizing summer full of music. Thanks for reading and listening. 

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

1808-worldThe high park sakura trees are finally in full bud — soon to be in glorious bloom–and spring is in the Toronto air. For Orthodox Christians this time marks Easter Sunday celebrated this year on May 5. And there is a springtide connection here with a new folk music scene with a distinctive pan-Slavic flavour that has been emerging among local young adults in the last few years. It’s attracting those of Eastern European, especially Ukrainian, descent but also folks from other ethnicities.

Whether called third wave folk revival, urban folk, or post-folk music, such descriptions are eventually bound to fail, relying as they do on older, shaky, stereotypes. A secure definition eludes even the wiliest ethnomusicologist. One thing is certain though, trained and amateur musicians and OCADU artist grads alike are gathering in private and public spaces in groups such as the Kosa Kolektiv, Lemon Bucket Orkestra and the Fedora Upside-Down, the latter“an urban folk movement, with 11 bands, four art collectives and two performance collectives.” As that self-representation illustrates, this scene includes the plastic movement and the often-neglected communal arts, as well as the purely sonic.

The women’s Kosa Kolektiv, barely three years old, expands that scope even further, aiming to revitalize and reinterpret the entire web of peasant folklore in an urban context. “We do this by singing songs, sewing, cooking, planting, crafting, putting on workshops and sharing ideas over tea and good food. There’s something to be said for the simpler pleasures in life, and Kosa Kolektiv embraces them.” Kosa means braid in Ukrainian. Young women traditionally wore long braids, or kosy, before marriage and this group uses it as an effective central image of cultural fusion, the braiding of old and new. “We seek to re-learn forgotten songs, rituals and stories, and to bring them to life in a relevant way within our urban communities,” they write on their website.

For the past two years the Kosa Kolektiv has hosted a string of choral folk song workshops focused on Slavic village music.The latest one titled “Vesnianky — Songs of Spring” taught Ukrainian spring ritual songs, as well as the hailky, a group activity which includes songs (haivky)performed while dancing and playing traditional games at (Orthodox) Easter.

You can take part along with the Kosa Kolektiv in the St. Nicholas Church community hailky on Easter Sunday May 5 at 4pm in Trinity Bellwoods Park. They will be joined by the members of the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, collectively leading village-style singing and community dancing. Not to worry if your Ukrainian is rusty, the dances will also be called in English. And one more thing: you’re invited to bring a blanket, your Easter baskets and nibbles to liven up the communal picnic. How fitting that the town where Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase is host to an exemplar of the global village.

Musideum around the world: Elsewhere downtown, the cozy venue Musideum continues its multi-genre music programming. This month alone I count at least seven concerts with world and/or folk music credentials. Here are just a few:

May 6 Toronto’s Debbie Danbrook performs on shakuhachi with Ottawa’s sound shaman Mark Daniel on crystal bowls in a program titled “Healing Music Mediation.” This concert reminds us of music’s other side: its calming gifts. Danbrook, the first professional female shakuhachi (Japanese end-blown bamboo flute) player to specialize in the healing- and meditation-aiding abilities of her instrument, has recorded 14 CDs specifically for that purpose. Her music, embraced by healers and spiritual practitioners, aims to bring its audience into a calming, peaceful and meditative state. Many of us could benefit from a deep relaxation of the body and mind allowing us, even for the duration of a concert, to let go.

The sitarist Partha Bose performs twice at Musideum, May 26 and June 2, the second time with Indranil Mallick on tabla, a leading student of the renowned Swapan Chaudhuri. Bose represents the newest generation of concert sitar players of the Maihar gharana (school or lineage) of Hindustani music which was propelled onto the international stage and record market by two musical giants, the late Ravi Shankar and his brother-in-law, Ali Akbar Khan.

May 30 local folk fiddle stalwart Anne Lederman leads a fiddle trio with Emilyn Stam and James Stephens called “Eh?!” Acknowledged at the 2011 Canadian Folk Music Awards, Eh?! mashes established fiddle traditions with composed and improvised music. They perform not only with three five-string violins, but also with piano, mandolins, accordion, guitars, kalimba and their voices. As their name suggests, Canadian fiddle music from Newfoundland, Quebec and Manitoba forms the group’s musical backbone–but with a twist: frequent detours to incorporate European and African models too.

Asian Heritage Month picks: In 2002 the Canadian government designated May as Asian Heritage Month and Small World Music was quick out of the blocks to mark the occasion. Its 11th Annual Asian Music Series continues May 4 with a concert featuring Rajeev Taranath on sarod (also spelled sarode, an Indian fretless lute) at the Maja Prentice Theatre in Mississauga. Taranath displays a brilliant technique, a wide emotional range and a disciplined strategy in developing a series of raags, the melodic types at the core of classical Hindustani music.

May 12 is Mother’s Day and Small World is commemorating it with Ramneek Singh’s vocal performances of Indian classical vocals in various genres, khayal, thumri, shabad-kirtan, sufiana and folk, also at the Maja Prentice Theatre. It’s a rare treat to have a concert with five such genres represented by a single vocalist who is among the GTA’s most accomplished Hindustani classical singers, a representative of the Indore Gharana.

Palmerston Library Community Asian Arts Fusion Festival:
To celebrate Asian Heritage Month, the Toronto Public Library is offering a wealth of live programs at various branches of which the Palmerston Community Asian Arts Fusion Festival on Saturday May 11 at the Palmerston branch just north of Bloor St. is perhaps the largest. It all starts at 11am with a street procession led by SamulNori Canada performing traditional Korean drumming in and in front of the library, animating the Koreatown neighbourhood. Tsugaru shamisen music follows played by Gerry McGoldrick a Canadian expert of this Japanese folk tradition. Choral music from the Republic of Georgia takes the stage at 1:30pm sung by the Darbazi choir representing music from the crossroads of Europe and Asia. They’re directed by the tenor Shalva Makharashvili who passes on a deep understanding and passion for the music of his Georgian motherland.

One of the centerpieces of the festival is the 11:40am performance of the 15-member Toronto group Gamelan Kayonan performing Balinese dance accompanied by live gamelan music co-led by the dancer Keiko Ninomiya and John Carnes. It’s followed by Javanese masked dancer Wiryawan Padmonojati, while his young son Rafifkana Dhafathi Padmonojati reinterprets the ancient art of Central Javanese shadow puppet theatre for Canadians. The Global Trio follows, serving up world music Toronto style, with a fusion of Persian, North Indian and Indonesian instrumental styles. And to cap off this Asian fusion afternoon Isshin Daiko (One Heart) of the Toronto Buddhist Temple sounds its thundering drums at 3pm to dispel all malevolent thoughts. Visit the Toronto Public Library’s website for more details on this and other Asian Heritage Month concerts, activities and reading suggestions.

Other picks: Those wishing to extend their May 11 world music immersion should visit the “World Music Collaborations Concert” at 3pm, presented at SING! The Toronto Vocal Arts Festival at Harbourfront Centre. Suba Sankaran, who among several other roles is the singer with Autorickshaw, is acting as music director for the concert. She’s teaching a selection of South Indian-focused vocal music to be interpreted by an eclectic group of participants including the Georgian trio Zari, Judeo-Spanish soloist Aviva Chernick, Tuvan throat singer Scott Peterson and Lizzy Mahashe, a South African singer and gumboot dancer. For the finale Sankaran is preparing an arrangement that draws on the strengths of each of these diverse singers. An insider informs me the new work’s provisional title is WorldsKaleid.

On a personal note I am excited to be performing in concerts with one of Toronto’s senior world music groups, the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan (ECCG), at Arraymusic’s bright new studio on Walnut Street. The concerts on May 18 and 19 are titled “In the Cage,” celebrating the group’s 26-year-old connection with American iconoclast composer John Cage secured by the group’s commission of his Haikai (1986). The concerts also feature Cage student James Tenney’s Road to Ubud (1986) for prepared piano and gamelan degung, as well as Gamelan Klavier (2009) for the same instrumentation by this year’s Governor General’s Award recipient Gordon Monahan. Emerging Toronto composer Elisha Denburg’s new work scored for the percussion ensemble TorQ and the ECCG receives its world premiere on May 19. 

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

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