World ViewEvery issue, I wade through The WholeNote concert listings, picking out events that highlight aspects of “world music”including its often conflicted identity, performance practice, instrumentation, genrefication, commercialization and reception. Some are easier to identify than others!

A concert self-labelled as flamenco, as is Jorge Miguel’s concert on April 17 at Lula Lounge, seems fairly straightforward, for example. Likewise any concert tagged with a recognizable geographic location outside of the Euro-American mainstream or an established music genre with non-Western or hybrid origins — like samba. But hold on, is the “West” not part of the world? And what about mixed musical marriages, as exemplified by the April 28 concert by the Hungarian group Meszecsinka also at Lula Lounge? They also accurately reflect the real world we travel through and listen to and serve to remind us of the engines of transformation working within every healthy culture to knock down the genres we so lovingly construct.

Instrumentation, once a dead giveaway, can also be problematic as a world music marker. For instance the name of the Burmese instrument called the sandaya says more about the modal performance practices of Burmese music than the instrument, which is in fact a standard Western piano — or even these days perhaps an electronic keyboard. The Carnatic “mandolin” playing South Indian classical music is another case of repurposed terminology. It is actually a small solid body electric guitar adapted in its string tuning and popularized by the virtuoso U. Srinivas (b.1969). Similarly, the Carnatic “violinist” A. Kanyakumari often plays an electric viola which is nevertheless called a violin in programs and albums. On April 19 Toronto audiences can witness one such piece of instrumental rebranding at work at the Trinity-St.Paul’s Centre concert by Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. He plays the mohan veena, an Indianized slide guitar, the manner of playing it some argue being partly introduced to India by Hawaiian musicians.

Another consideration is the context in which music is performed and mediated. Most events I cover here occur in concert halls large and small, in churches, or in clubs like Lula Lounge with a stage. In a feasting society like that of Georgia however food and drink are essential components of some kinds of traditional music performances. Before public concert halls were built the supra, a kind of elaborate well-appointed Georgian feast, was an excellent place to hear indigenous polyphonic singing. Georgian society has elevated feasting and toasting with wine to a consummate art form. You can experience a hint of this custom on April 6 at Toronto’s Heliconian Hall where a tasting of Georgian organic wines accompanies performances of Georgian and Russian songs.

Concerts world wide are often a vehicle for the expression of public grief and tribute. In the case of the concert on Sunday April 7 at Lula Lounge for the recently deceased Uganda-born lukeme (aka “thumb piano”) player Achilla Orru Apaa-Idomo, it will be the occasion of a celebration of a career. The concert features his bandmates African Guitar Summit, as well as Njacko Backo, Ann Lederman, Baana Afrique, Nhapitapi Mbira, Ruth Mathiang and Sani Abu of Ijovudu Dance. His “subway friends” join the party along with Kwame Stephens, Katenen ‘Cheka’ Dioubate, Lizzy Mahashe, and Kobena Aquaa-Harrison.

I, along with thousands of other commuters, heard Apaa-Idomo in passing at the Bloor St. subway station. His virtuoso amplified lukeme playing and textured singing bounced around the station foyer emanating from where he set up beside the concession kiosk. During the precious quiet moments in between trains it echoed down the subway platform. His sweet music inspired me to dream of collaborating with him musically, a possibility sadly now not to be.

That being said, the world’s music will continue to echo through the halls of our city this month, a sweet reminder of the global musical renewal constantly under way all around us.

April 6 is a good place to start, with at least three world music concerts listed. As mentioned last issue, Small World Music/Wine Dine Africa presents the veteran Oliver Mtukudzi and Black Spirits in “The Voice of Zimbabwe” at the Phoenix Concert Theatre. The same day Diana Iremashvili presents an “Evening of World Music” at Yorkville’s Heliconian Hall with Georgian and Russian urban romantic songs and “Russian gypsy” ballads. Featured are the mother and daughter vocal-guitar duet of Diana and Madona Iremashvili, with the added punch of Georgian song specialists Andrea Kuzmich (vocals and guitar), Bachi Makharashvili (vocals and panduri), singers Al Hakimov and Shalva Chxaidze, and Leonid Peisaxov on violin. If unusual repertoire smartly performed is not enough, insiders tell me that a rare multi-flight Georgian organic wine tasting rounds out the evening. It certainly sounds like a worthwhile occasion to revisit this warm-sounding 1875 carpenter’s gothic board-and-batten church once again.

Also on April 6 the Toronto group ten ten performs a concert and album release titled “Odori ni Ten” (odori refers to Japanese dance) at the Robert Gill Theatre. The group features composer Aki Takahashi (shamisen, taiko and voice) and Heidi Chan (fue, taiko and voice). Yoshi Yamano on sitar and the taiko group Nagata Shachu add their booming drums to this cross-cultural collaborative.

April 11 the prize-winning Argentinian quintet 34 Puñaladas, four guitarists and a vocalist, appear at Lula Lounge. Among the youngest generation of tango bands, they aim to reinterpret and untangle the dark roots of urban tango music from the 1920s and 1930s in genre-appropriate guitar arrangements and lyrics often revealing gritty themes of thieves, prostitutes, drugs and the bitter love of the marginalized Portenos, the natives of Buenos Aires.

As mentioned at the outset of the column, April 17 Jorge Miguel Flamenco takes over the Lula Lounge in a program called “Una Vez, Cada Mes.” Torontonian Miguel, a Spanish Canadian guitarist and composer, interprets the flamenco tradition through “the fingers, voice and feet” of an ensemble committed to the spirit of flamenco.

Also as mentioned, on April 19 Toronto’s Small World Music launches its 11th annual Asian Music Series with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt playing Indian slide guitar and Subhen Chatterjee accompanying on tabla at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

The Asian Music Series continues May 4 with award-winning Rajeev Taranath, sarod soloist, at the Maja Prentic Theatre in Mississauga. From the recently introduced slide guitar here we move to the sarod, an instrument which entered the Hindustani instrumentarium perhaps in the 19th century and was modernized in the 20th. Taranath is one of its leading exponents. Master-student lineage is important in this music. Taranath is a distinguished disciple of the late sarod master Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (1922–2009) whom I saw give memorable performances several times in Toronto.

The Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company’s concert premiere of their production of “Portales” on April 25 to 28 at the Fleck Dance Theatre highlights the multiple intimate relationships that often exist between social or theatrical dance and music. The performers include violinist Chris Church, guitarists Nicolás Hernández and Oscar Lago, singers Naike Ponce and Manuel Soto, and five dancers.

April 28, the extraordinary Hungarian group Meszecsinka appears at Lula Lounge. This Budapest band’s lead singer, Annamária Oláh, sings in six languages: Hungarian, Roma, Bulgarian, Finnish, English and Spanish. The band members are natives of Hungary, Bulgaria and Algeria. Together they have forged an exciting, as yet untaggable, musical fusion, rooted in the folk music of the Balkans and Central Europe, to which they have added Latin, funk, drone, psychedelic and 70s experimental jazz musical features.

The May 5 “Mouth Music” concert by the Echo Women’s Choir at the Church of the Holy Trinity, co-conducted by Becca Whitla and Alan Gasser, brings my Toronto picks to a close. Dance songs from Bulgaria, Macedonia and Georgia are featured in addition to other works. The guest vocalist, JUNO-nominated songwriter Maria Dunn who draws on the Anglo-Scottish-Irish folk tradition of storytelling through song, has been compared to Woody Guthrie for incorporating an engaged social awareness into her songs.

As always, taken as a whole, the results of this monthly amble through The WholeNote’s listings, even if described as world music, sound like Canada to me. 

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

By this time in late winter, I long for signs of lengthening days and gentle warm breezes. Snowy cold snaps alternating with warm thaws, the weather in the GTA has been a tease this season. Hoping for an early spring, I looked to the shadowy results of Groundhog Day, among our more lighthearted commercial calendric customs. The two celebrity rodent prognosticators on both sides of the border, Wiarton Willie in Bruce County, Ontario, and Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania, have forecast an early spring. Given that cold, slate-grey skies and frozen white ground continue to dominate our winter landscape, however, I remain unconvinced.

1806 world viewOne cheery and as yet un-commercialized signal of the promise of longer, warmer days is the striking sight of our resident northern cardinals. Often seen flittering in and out of protected backyard hedgerows and under dense parkland tangles, the imposing 22cm male birds brighten up our urban winter drabness with their crested crimson coats. But it’s the repeated brief whistling late winter call that has caught my attention today. Often transcribed as a high-pitched “whoit ... whoit,” the brief ascending glissando has about an octave range, twice sung per call. Later in the season cardinals add other melodic motifs (slow trills, chuffs, chirps and churrs) to their repertoire of 16 or more sounds. Both the cardinal male and the mixed olive-persimmon feathered female begin to call around Valentine’s Day, a clear signal of the approach of the vernal equinox, this year falling on March 20.

Read more: A World of Chuffs, Chirps and Churrs

February on toronto’s cultural and educational landscape has been for years associated with Black History Month (BHM). I don’t however recall commemorating it during my student years at Clinton St. Public School — which by the way is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year — so what’s the scoop here? I decided to snoop into the history of BHM to score some answers.

worldview  joel rubin  left  and uri caineThe seed for what is now widely known as BHM began in the USA in 1926 through the advocacy of the African-American historian, author and journalist Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), one of the first scholars to study African-American history. It was initially called “Negro History Week.” Designated for the second week in February, it was meant to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Woodson aimed to increase awareness and understanding of the African experience in school curricula, as well as to foster self-reliance and racial respect. By the 1960s communities, as well as various school boards, in the USA began to formally observe BHM, their primary goal being to present a more balanced and accurate history of Africans throughout history.

Toronto, far from being a place exclusively populated by Europeans, has had an African population from its earliest period as a settlement. One early record shows that in July 1843 Toronto Council refused to let a circus perform “without assurances that it would not sing songs or perform acts that would be insulting to ‘the gentlemen of colour’ of the city.” Toronto native William Hubbard (1842–1935), the city’s first elected official of African descent, cut through the raw prejudice of his day to fashion an admirable career of public service over 20 years. His official portrait hangs in the mayor’s office, a tribute to his personal courage and public achievement.

Through the efforts of many, including the Ontario Black History Society, in 1979 Toronto became the first municipality in Canada to proclaim BHM. The act recognized past and present contributions African Canadians made and make to the life of Toronto in many areas including education, medicine, human rights and business, politics, public service and the arts.

Public and private institutions here participate in observing BHM. The Toronto Public Library for example is programming ten such events this year. These include “Drumming with Muhtadi” on Tuesday February 5 at 10am at the York Woods branch where you can “hear the rhythms and learn the history of traditional Caribbean and African drums” in a live performance by the master drummer Muhtadi. The next day at the same branch you can “dance to the beat of your own drum! Make your ... drum to keep and participate in an interactive story” at 4:30pm. Fittingly, the TPL’s logo for Black History Month is a hand on a drum skin, illustrating just how closely the drum is associated with African culture. Keeping with that theme, on February 9 “the king of kalimba,” Toronto’s Njacko Backo, performs at the TPL’s Morningside Branch (no time posted).

The Gladstone Hotel is also marking Black History Month with four concerts; the last on February 22 featuring a significant milestone, the release of Njacko Backo’s tenth album. It includes Mohamad Diaby’s djembe, two different banjos played by Ken Whiteley, Jane Bunnett’s soprano sax, trumpet by Larry Cramer plus support from Kalimba Kalimba.

Perhaps Toronto’s main BHM course is Harbourfront Centre’s “Kuumba Festival.” Swahili for “creativity,” Kuumba has over the years showcased leading local, national and international artists of African heritage. This year for three days, February 1 to 3, the festival offers a smorgasbord of hair fashion, storytelling, oware games, film, dance, food, exhibitions, children’s activities, drum circles and, of course, music concerts. Here are a few picks.

The “10th Anniversary Celebration of The Trane Studio,” the first African-Canadian-owned jazz venue in Toronto for generations, takes place February 2. Owned and managed by writer and programmer Frank Francis, and named after legendary saxophonist John Coltrane, the Bathurst Street jazz club would have turned ten years in February. Sadly for musicians and live music fans it closed last summer; the Harbourfront lineup of local and international acts showcases performers who have supported The Trane Studio including the powerful spoken word artist Ursula Rucker, trumpet player Alexander Brown, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Waleed Abdulhamid and saxophonist Ernest Dawkins.

February 3 at 4pm one of the treasures of African-American music — gospel — will be featured at the “Kuumba Gospel Lounge.” Billed as “a gospel extravaganza,” the Mount Zion Fellowship Choir, a 30-voice choir with a four-piece band, will share the stage with smaller vocal ensembles and four soloists including singer Karen Jewels and Jermaine Shakespeare, a “recognized worship leader, songwriter and minister of the gospel.” At the same time, unfortunately, Kuumba has scheduled the interesting “Hiplife Showcase.” Kobè from Ghana and Canadian Radio Music Award winner Stevano UGO put faces and voices to hiplife music, the latter a West African fusion of highlife and hip-hop with touches of reggaeton, dancehall and reggae.

One of last year’s Kuumba highlights was Dr. Jay De Soca Prince DJing at Harbourfront’s ice skating rink, a novel Toronto combination of Trini and “skate culture.” Judging from the dense crowd on the rink last year, evidently I was not the only one who thought the idea fun, so Harbourfront is holding it again, on February 2, promising it will be “this winter’s hottest night on ice.” I won’t disagree.

And last on the BHM front, February 15 at the intimate Musideum, Kobe Aquaa-Harrison presents “The Golden Tale of Jungle Bouti,” a program of storytelling and music. Video evidence found on the internet shows Aquaa-Harrison to be a formidable Ghanaian dagaarti gyil (marimba) player; hopefully some of his tasty playing will be on the Musideum menu. All that the slim but enticing online notes say is that the seprewa, a Ghanaian guitar-harp, is featured. Clearly, venturing into the unknown is at the heart of the enterprise, reminding me of the apt subtitle of an 1980s world music cassette: “no risk no fun.”

Elsewhere on the cultural map: The Sony Centre for the Performing Arts re-stakes its claim as the go-to house for national and transnational culturally themed extravaganzas for yet another year. February 9 and 10 “Bharati: The Wonder That Is India” returns for its annual visit filling the hall with spectacle armed with its large cast of acrobats, dancers, musicians and singers, all in glittering costumes. The show has been touring since 2006 doing for the subcontinent what “Riverdance” did for Ireland (and several other shows did for their own nations), managing to reduce a richly varied and perhaps unwieldy cultural landscape down to a manageable masala feast for the ears and eyes. Affirming the mega concept, “Celtic Woman: 2013 North American Tour” graces the Sony Centre stage again on February 23 and 24. This year’s headliners are Chloe Agnew, Lisa Lambe, Susan McFadden and Máiréad Nesbitt. It’s an all-female Irish musical ensemble show conceived and assembled by Sharon Browne and David Downes, a former musical director of the successful Riverdancefranchise. “Celtic Woman”has proven very successful itself since 2004 spinning off 13 themed CDs and seven DVDs as well as continuous international touring. Their PBS HD television special concert taped in 2009 included a 27-member orchestra, the Discovery Gospel choir, 12-member Aontas Choir, ten-member Extreme Rhythm Drummers plus an 11-piece bagpipe ensemble, intimating that sometimes bigger may just be better.

On a much more modest scale Jorge Miguel Flamenco presents “Una Vez, Cada Mes” on February 20 at the Lula Arts Centre. Toronto- based, Spanish Canadian guitarist and composer Jorge Miguel stars in a program of traditional and contemporary flamenco instrumental and vocal music plus dance. Continuing the Latin theme, February 23 the Jubilate Singers choir collaborates with Proyecto Altiplano in a concert called “Vida, Amor y Muerte” at the Grace Church on-the-Hill. The repertoire from Latin America features Violeta Parra’s and Luis Advis’ “Canto Para Una Semilla” made famous via the 1972 album of that name by the renowned Chilean folk band Inti-Illimani, and other songs. Isabel Bernaus and Claudio Saldivia conduct.

February 28 the York University Department of Music presents a Korean program in their World at Noon series, with Jeng Yi, Korean percussion and dance, and Joo Jyumg Kim on kayagum, at theMartin Family Lounge, Accolade East Bldg.

Saturday March 2, the Music Gallery co-presents with the Ashkenaz Foundation a concert by Joel Rubin and Uri Caine dubbed an exploration of “Klezmer’s outer limits and inner space.” American clarinetist Joel Rubin has long been recognized as a leader among North American Jewish klezmorim, his playing hailed by klezmer great Dave Tarras, avant garde composer John Zorn and Nobel Laureate poet Roald Hoffmann. Pianist and composer Uri Caine has played jazz with the older generation masters, as well as gigging with a younger generation (Don Byron, John Zorn, Dave Douglas and Arto Lindsay), recording 22 CDs as a leader along the way. Their joint album “Azoy Tsu Tsveyt” (2011) evokes the sort of exciting fusion spirit that’s found in the best of jazz, as they journey through a repertoire of Old and New World sacred cantorial songs, nigunim and secular klezmer tunes. Combining Jewish musical eclecticism, sheer instrumental virtuosity and elements of improvised music, this concert is sure to appeal to several audiences.

Finally, on February 24, London, Ontario world music producer Sunfest presents Ladysmith Black Mambazo at the Aeolian Hall, London. The group has recorded 40 albums and sold over six million records since being internationally launched on Paul Simon’s Graceland recording in the mid 80s. Mambazo’s album Shaka Zulu (1987) won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album. They continue to inspire international audiences with their core message of peace and reconciliation through the power of song. 

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

No doubt about it, it’s a supremely busy time of year. It means not only attending to seasonal family rituals, as many of us are, but also for a returning grad student like me it means essays, seminars presentations, assignments and yet more papers to complete — but enough about me.

worldview labottinesourianteThe year end is not only about completion, but also about reflection. Leafing through my back pages it seems that the past year has been a thematically ambitious one in this column. Beginning with ruminations on what World Music can be and who its performers and concertgoers are, I went on to examine the many ways Torontonians celebrate Black History Month. In turn the spotlight rested on the World Music recorded music category at the Juno awards, on the annual celebration in honour of South India’s greatest composer St. Tyagaraja, and on the Lula Lounge’s 10th anniversary shows. Billy Bryans’ untimely death led me to re-consider Toronto’s pioneer generation of world music performers, producers, venues and audiences, while the wealth of programing at Luminato and Harbourfront Centre stole the limelight in the summer issues. Fall colours ushered in a meditation on John Cage’s Toronto composition for a veteran actor on this city’s concert and world music scenes: the Evergreen Club Gamelan. In the last issue I horned in on the edgy electronic-centric “avant world” universe covered by the Music Gallery’s X Avant Festival. It’s been a musically packed, theme-filled year here.

As for my picks for this season’s concerts, December for me usually means re-dipping into the history, mystery and magic of Christmas rituals. The Canadian “high energy Celtic World Beat quartet” Rant Maggie Rantputs their fans into the holiday mood with their programtitled “Frost & Fire — A Celtic Christmas Celebration” staged at numerous southern Ontario halls. Best check the WholeNote listings for details. Also, the high-energy La Bottine Souriante, Quebec’s purveyor of French-Canadian music with pronounced salsa, jazz and folk influences, plays Koerner Hall on December 8.

If saudade puts you in the mood however, then perhaps Jessie Lloyd and Louis Simao’s show “Fado, the Soul of Portugal” at the Green Door Cabaret will do the trick on December 1. On the other hand Amanda Martinez, our own Latin-Canadian singer-songwriter, might be the ticket to lifting your spirits at Koerner Hall on the same night.

At noon on December 5 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, four of Toronto’s finest gigging world musicians troll the season’s more whimsical global side in an all-ages concert titled “GrimmFest: Fairy Tales from Faraway Lands.” The musicians are vocalist Maryem Tollar, Roula Said, vocals/dance/percussion, percussionist Naghmeh Farahmand, and Waleed Abdulhamid on bass/percussion/vocals. Also at the Four Seasons Centre on December 13 the Jeng Yi Korean Drum and Dance Ensemble, featuring Joo Hyung Kim on Korean zither, perform a program with the enticing label “Drums, Strings and Ribbons.” If West Africa is where you’d rather be mid-December, then be there in spirit at the Dande Music Showcase’s CD release concert of Bongozozo, an Afro-Jazz band with Zimbabwean roots, at the May Café on the 15th.

worldview buika1stchoiceAs much as December is about reflection, January and the New Year means new beginnings for many of us. The month starts slowly, but by January 18 it is in full swing with the concert by the groups Soledad Barrio, Noche Flamenca and the Jorge Miguel Flamenco Ensemble at the Royal Conservatory of Music. More flamenco, this time with a decidedly jazz-infused flavour served up by Buika, graces Koerner Hall on January 25. Ending the month on the afternoon of the 27th is Soundstreams’ adventurous production of “The Three Faces of Jerusalem,” including music and poetry exploring the shared heritages of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Torontonian composer James Rolfe’s as yet unnamed new work will be unveiled. On the traditional side of the program: Sephardic songs, Arabic instrumental and vocal works, as well as Lauda Jerusalem, by the great Italian renaissance composer Monteverdi. I think it’s a fittingly optimistic way to greet the New Year. May yours be peaceful and filled with music. 

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

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