Perhaps one of the most unexpected venues for regular world music performance in our town is the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. As a performance space it is both casually chic and spatially flexible. This month, with two concerts scheduled, I thought it would be an opportune time to examine both the institutional framework and artistic talent which serves up this perennially bountiful world music smorgasbord.

The COC has hosted a noon hour World Music concert series since its inaugural season in 2006, an integral component of their larger series of free concerts. Its ambition as noted in a COC press communiqué is to “reflect in its programming the richness of Toronto’s cultural fabric and create an opportunity for people to experience the artistic excellence and cultural diversity of the city.” Over the past seven years it has become a dependable showcase for international music, very often performed by top musicians who make their home in the GTA.

If success can be measured by audience attendance then the World Music concert series is a runaway hit; whenever I’ve attended there has appeared to be a full house. COC stats show that some 15,000 people annually enjoy the various free concerts on offer from September to June. This is no mere fluke. Obvious care has been put into the curation of the series, reflecting both what our performing artists are producing today and what will convince audiences to make the trek at noon to witness in person. If success can be measured by community engagement then a compelling case can readily be made for the concerts’ collective breadth and depth. It’s personally satisfying to see that Nina Draganic, the programming director of the free World Music concert series, has not forgotten the often neglected “c” word — challenge — in the rush to maximize patron numbers.

This season the seriesencompasses nine diverse concerts embracing music blanketing the earth. I counted music from South Asia, East Asia, Western Europe, the Caucasus, North Africa, South America and the Caribbean.

On November 6 under the rubric “Many Strings Attached: Spotlight on Sarangi” Aruna Narayan, a pioneering sarangi virtuosa, headlines at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. The sarangi is a North Indian bowed 39-string instrument of considerable vintage, its playing technique challenging to tackle and supremely difficult to master. Ms. Narayan, the only woman to play this instrument professionally, is the daughter of the renowned sarangi master Pandit Ram Narayan. He single-handedly established the sarangi, formerly exclusively used to accompany vocalists, as a soloist in Hindustani classical music. She will perform in the classical khyal manner a concert of ragas selected from those appropriate to the time of day, accompanied by the drummed metric framework provided by the tabla and by the tambura, the plucked string instrument that establishes the indispensable drone throughout the performance.

What is she doing when not performing at the COC? Narayan maintains an active sarangi teaching atelier at her home just north of the city and teaches it at regional schools. She also keeps up an international concert career, having appeared in recent years with her father at the BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall and on India’s Doordarshan TV, as well as premiering the sarangi part in Nolan Ira Gasser’s World Cello for Cello and Orchestra with the Oakland East Bay Symphony. Nor has Narayan neglected home town audiences in her globetrotting. She’s appeared in the Music Gallery’s World Avant series, and crossed yet more musical borders in her 2007 performance with Toronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in a novel intercultural interpretation of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

28-29-worldview-darbaziDarbazi: November 13 the COC’s World Music concert series presents the Darbazi Georgian Choir directed by the charismatic tenor Shalva Makharashvili.The title of the concert,Gideli,”meansa grape harvest container. It’s not an unlikely thematic basket given that in Georgia fall is grape harvest season and the time to make the country’s favourite beverage from its juice. Many Georgian songs praise the vineyard, the grape and wine as divine gifts. Such songs are also characteristic of the supra–but more of that later. The Darbazi choir’s appearance in the COC series is a sharp counterpoint to the solo virtuoso concert tradition exemplified by Aruna Narayan, reflecting instead a kind of music making which is community based and polyphonic,

Founded 17 years ago in Toronto, the Darbazi ensemble passionately and exclusively focuses on performing the traditional polyphonic music of the various regions of Georgia, a mountainous country at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Darbazi’s concerts typically mine rich repertoire which ranges from meditative sacred Orthodox ecclesiastical chants to exuberant songs meant for horse riding, field working, drinking, dancing and general partying. An exciting new feature of their recent Toronto performances has been the addition of the Georgian dance group, Kakheti, with their elegant couple dances and hyper-extended male leaps and spins fuelled by sheer machismo.

When not performing at the COC, Darbazi — the core of which is composed of three women and seven men — does its share of gigs which include Toronto’s Fete de la Musique and First Night, Montreal’s World Music Festival, concerts in St. John’s, Newfoundland and New York City. Yet over the years, no matter the gigs on the table, the choir has been on a quest for an ever deeper understanding of the place of music in Georgian heritage and identity. Furthering this key mission, Darbazi returned last month from its latest visit to the Georgian motherland where they learned new song repertoire from legendary Georgian cantors. They were also featured performers at the Recital Hall of the Conservatoire in the country’s capital, Tbilisi, appeared on the Georgian TV channel, Imedi, and were feted at several supras — that most Georgian of feasts — a key site for social and cultural interactions. Back in Toronto Darbazi also does weddings, baby showers and funerals. I’ve attended a number of Darbazi-powered Toronto supras. In fact an impromptu supra-like moment sprang up at one of my recent birthday parties. I always felt it was at these community events — after the staged concert — that these songs came to vivid, palpable life.

Other Concert Picks: At the top of the month is the Day of the Dead Festival, Mexico’s celebration of all that has passed, especially one’s ancestors — our Halloween. Harbourfront Centre is marking it with a wide range of daytime cultural events on November 3 and 4. Musical performers at the York Quay Centre include the guitarist Pedro Montejo, the Café Con Pan group, Jorge Salazar, Viva Mexico Mariachi and Jorge Lopez.

Also on November 3, Small World Music presents the well-known Cuban singer and guitarist Eliades Ochoa at the Danforth Music Hall Theatre. First propelled to international attention as a member of the unlikely chart-topping Buena Vista Social Club, Ochoa is considered one of Cuba’s top soneros. Proudly displaying his guajiro roots, his folksy music exemplifies one of the streams which feed into the powerful current of Cuban music. His repertoire includes songs in the son, Afro-Cuban, bolero, changüi and guaracha genres.

Staying with Cuban music, on November 9 Alex Cuba performs at Koerner Hall. The Cuban-Canadian singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is launching his latest album Ruida in el Sistema (Static in the System), combining tasty elements of rock, pop, soul and Latin funk. In 2010, Alex Cuba was awarded a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist in addition to a nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Album, so we know he has studio and vocal chops galore. In his new CD, four tracks in English demonstrate that he is settling nicely into his adopted land — yes, really, in Smithers, B.C.

November 7 at St. Stephen-in-the-Fields Anglican Church, Concerts at Middaypresents Viktor Kotov on the haunting sounding duduk, an Armenian double reed instrument, accompanied by Raisa Orshansky on tsimbaly, a trapezoidal hammer dulcimer from Belarus and Ukraine. Kotov’s arrangements of European classical instrumentals, jazz standards, blues, Broadway and film music serve as a basis for his improvisatory style of playing the duduk.

November 10 and 11 we move musically to an island at the other end of the globe, Japan. Toronto group Nagata Shachu, led by Kiyoshi Nagata, performs “Work Songs”at their 14th annual live show at the Enwave Theatre. Artistic director Kiyoshi Nagata, whose career spans 30 years, explains: “In Japan there is a saying, ‘Where there is work, there is song’ ... often cheerful and uplifting.” The concert, featuring many types of Japanese taiko, gongs, bells, wooden clappers, shakers, bamboo flutes and voice, is a tribute to labourers, farmers and fishermen.

The Métis Fiddler Quartet plays at the Alliance Française de Toronto on November 24. This young bilingual French-English group specialises in fresh and energetic interpretations of Canadian Métis and Native old style fiddle music passed down by elder masters from across Canada. This under-represented music chock full of wit, spirit and joy is worth searching out.

Touching on a few concerts early in December, on December 1 the Royal Conservatory presents Amanda Martinez at Koerner Hall. What more can I add to Metro’s assessment of Martinez’s Canadian-Latin singer-songwriter music, “reminiscent of the Latin songstress of days of old ... strong and defiant while soft and vulnerable.” In this concert, featuring influences of flamenco and Afro-Cuban rhythms, bossa nova and Mexican folk music, she collaborates with Spanish producer Javier Limón

December 6 the University of Toronto Faculty of Music stages its annual free “World Music Ensembles Concert” at the MacMillan Theatre, Edward Johnson Building. This year’s student ensembles include African Drumming and Dancing directed by Ghanaian master drummer Kwasi Dunyo, Klezmer by “klezpert” Brian Katz, and Japanese Taiko Drumming by sensei Kiyoshi Nagata. I used to attend this annual world music roundup eagerly when younger. Just two examples of my early discoveries were Balinese gamelan Semar Pegulingan and Southwest Iranian coastal folk music. What in the world will you discover? 

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


After a warm late summer, the nip is back in the air, just in time to herald the fall concert season. To Torontonians with adventurous musical tastes that signals the advent of another X Avant New Music Festival running from October 12 to 21and organized by the avant-garde presenter the Music Gallery. A fixture of the downtown scene for 36 years, its programing is dedicated to presenting “innovation and experimentation in all forms of music” as well as also encouraging “cross-pollination between genres, disciplines and audiences.” While this year’s theme, “Expanding Circuits,” focusses on music from laptops to home made junk shop sourced electronics to commercial synthesizers, incoming artistic director David Dacks has still skillfully managed to weave world music elements into his programming.

Suzuki + Dunn: The first world music concert at the Music Gallery this month, on October 4, is “New World Series: Akio Suzuki + Kyle Bobby Dunn.” While falling just prior to the X Avant festival, this concert exemplifies the risk taking attitude at the heart of the Music Gallery programing. Just what is “world music” about this concert? Examining the veteran instrument builder and psych-drone specialist musician Akio Suzuki’s ancestry and instrumentation reveals a few clues. His musical aesthetic is infused with wabi-sabi, a comprehensive Japanese world view of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. Further characterized by asymmetry, asperity, austerity and intimacy, this aesthetic is permeated by a deep appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes. As for the instruments he plays, one of them, the ancient iwabue (stone flute), exemplifies those attributes. Having been passed down through his family for generations, this flute, made of naturally-formed large pebbles, is associated with Japanese Shinto ritual. The haunting, keening melodies Suzuki performs on it strike listeners as pure and simple — in the best way; antediluvian and contemporary at the same time. I witnessed a solo performance by this remarkable sound artist several decades ago and agree with the musician and author David Toop that “Akio Suzuki is a kind of magician.” Joining Suzuki is the rural Ontario-based minimalist composer Kyle Bobby Dunn, whose music is immersed in ambient, drone and post-classical composition genres.

Global bass:Commercial western record and concert production enterprises, specifically those headquartered in London, England, in the early 1980s, have often been cited as the origin of “World Music” as a marketing term. Ethnomusicologists such as Robert E. Brown and Peter Manuel, on the other hand, adapted it even earlier as an umbrella academic classification for a wide range of non-Western traditional musics. The general category has subsequently been redefined by both commercial and scholarly camps into numerous distinct regional subgenres primarily defined by geography, as well as hybrid sub-genres such asworldbeat, and fusion further described as world-, global- and ethnic-.

world view pages 28-29 chief boima option 1A concert on Friday October 12 titled “Global Bass Avant: Chief Boima, DJ Valeo and Daniel Vila” atthe Gladstone Ballroom on Queen St. W. reminds us that world music is an ever-evolving and highly contested notion. It also alerts us to the growing, energized role of the DJ and of the mashup and remix in this music. Part of the Music Gallery’s X Avant festival, this concert features three creative producer-DJs: NYC’s Chief Boima, Toronto-Montreal’s Valeo(aka Guillaume Decouflet), one of the founders of Montreal’s Masala radio show, and Daniel Vilawho isbehind the crypto-nightclub/art space, Double Double Land in Kensington Market, Toronto. All three musicians are active in cross-cultural musical experimentation as mediated by popular digital music technology. Taking the example of Chief Boima, his performances with the Sierra Leone Refugee Allstars, Jahdan Blakkamoore and Los Rakas, plus his releases including African by the Bay (2009) and Techno Rumba (2010) demonstrate the increasingly central place of the DJ in world music of all stripes.

world view pages 28-29 john kameel farah option 2Farah: The last X Avant festival concert highlighted here is “From Carthage to Rome: John Kameel Farahscheduled forSunday October 21. Toronto-based award winning keyboardist and composer Farah is no stranger to the pages of The WholeNote. I’ve reviewed several of his CD releases including his Unfolding (2009), an ambitious composition which in style and musical language is a veritable musical alchemical amalgam, drawing from an incredibly varied range of Western and Middle Eastern contemporary and historical sources. In it, baroque musical instruments and forms rub musical shoulders with drum and bass dance beats, Arabic maqam-based improvising structuresand metres: all this presented as a ten movement piano concerto! “From Carthage to Romeis Farah’s segue, with more emphasis on Arabic song structures, instrumental samples and characteristic microtonal tunings, yet with his trademark bravura piano playing front and centre. In keeping with X Avant festival’s theme of “Expanding Circuits,laptopolist Matt Miller reinforces the concert’s North African content by reanimating his Moroccan field recordings through Ableton software, adding Berber, Gnawa and Jilala ethnic source music into the mix.

Other Picks

On October 7 Marcel Khalifé and the Al Mayadine Ensemble,presented by the Toronto Palestine Film Festival, perform musical settings of the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish in the George Weston Recital Hall at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. The late Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish was among the Arab world’s most revered poets. Translated into more than 25 languages his poetry touched on themes of exile, family, marginalization and identity. In the 1970s his poetry became a source of inspiration for the Lebanese composer, oud master and singer Marcel Khalifé, the recipient of many distinctions including the UNESCO Artist for Peace Award (2005). He is joined by the Al Mayadine Ensemble, an eight-piece group comprised of vocalists and musicians playing Middle Eastern and Western instruments. Their program, a fitting conclusion to the Palestine Film Festival, revisits and re-imagines the ties that bind the two powerful advocates of Arab culture: Darwish and Khalifé.

Despite the blustery fall weather outside, we may yet get another chance to experience the feel of summer this year at the second annual “Uma Nota Festival of Tropical Expressions.” Running October 19 to 21, Uma Nota, which primarily programs music concerts this year, imaginatively partners with the Brazil Film Fest, each supporting the other’s mandate. Friday, October 19 Uma Nota presents the Canadian debut of Stereo Maracanã from Rio de Janeiro, a popular four-piece band mixing electronic music, hip-hop, funk and capoeira percussion rhythms. Local Latin alternative and tropical bass experts Dos Mundos DJs and DJ Valeo join Stereo Maracanã at the El Mocambo. The party continues Saturday, October 20 at The Great Hall, with Uma Nota’s “World Funk” feast. Emerging Toronto bands including Sound One reproduce a 1950s Jamaican ska sound, while Mar Aberto Sound System merge Brazilian percussion-rich dub reggae, samba grooves and tropical funk. DJs General Eclectic and Jerus Nazdaq spin Afro-Brazilian remixes, ska, reggae, Afrobeat and Latin standards. For other events such as the fun World Roots Community Cultural Fair please check the festival website.

October 23 at noon, the Canadian Opera Company’s World Music Series stages “Pura Vida” in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The Venezuelan-born vocalist Eliana Cuevas is ably supported by Jeremy Ledbetter, piano, and Luis Orebgoso, percussion. World music producer Derek Andrews once called Cuevas, possessed of a samba and salsa jazz-inflected sexy voice, “a major new voice on the Canadian music landscape” and I am inclined to agree.

October 25 the York University Department of Music presents “Trichy Sankaran — Music of South India” on the Faculty Concert Series at the Tribute Communities Recital Hall, York University, Keele St. campus. The mrdangam (classical South Indian drum) virtuoso and York music professor Trichy Sankaran is joined by senior vina (seven-string classical South Indian plucked lute) guru Karakudi Subramanian, a ninth generation vina player, and Desi Narayanan on kanjira. While the remarkable 40-plus year Canadian teaching career of Sankaran has indelibly influenced several generations of Canadian and international students (including yours truly), he has made an equally important contribution to the art of mrdangam performance. This will be live Carnatic music performance at its most refined.

Sunday October 28, the Toronto interpreters of inter-cultural music Jaffa Road release their new CD, Where The Light Gets In at Hugh’s Room. The new album is Jaffa Road’s follow-up to their Juno Award nominated, debut CD Sunplace. The group, comprised of leading Toronto music innovators Aviva Chernick (vocalist), Aaron Lightstone (guitars, oud, saz, synthesizers), Sundar Viswanathan(sax), Chris Gartner (bass)and Jeff Wilson(percussion), blends jazz, Jewish, Arabic and South Asian music with electronics.

Also at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, on November 6 the World Music Series concert “Many Strings Attached: Spotlight on Sarangi” showcases Aruna Narayan, among the world’s premier sarangi players. The sarangi, a venerable Hindustani (North Indian) bowed string instrument is considered very difficult to master. Aruna Narayan, the daughter and artistic heir of renowned sarangi innovator and virtuoso Pandit Ram Narayan, is the only woman to play this “classical” instrument professionally. Narayan’s concerts, vehicles for her technical prowess and profound understanding of the performance practice of Hindustani ragas are all too rare. I for one therefore will not miss her brief concert of midday ragas.

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

14 world john cage  yokohama  1986  photographer -akira kinoshita  courtesy of the john cage trustReflecting on this month’s slew of anniversaries, I am marking on my calendar the 100th year of American composer John Cage’s birth, on September 5, and the 20th of his death. What does Cage the multi-faceted avant-garde modernist, the influential composer, music theorist, author, mycologist, poet, lecturer, musician and master of silence have to do with world music, our column’s purview? This is the subject of the present column’s lead story.

English musicologist David Nicholls, in his 1996 essay “Transethnicism and the American Experimental Tradition,” argues that the influence of musical transethnicism — a branch of experimental music allowing for mixing recognizable music genres often from differing cultures — on Cage’s compositions, is less overt than in the work of some his colleagues such as Lou Harrison, tending to be “ideological ... rather than the musical sounds or techniques.” For much of Cage’s career that may be the case; however there is a significant Cage work composed for a Toronto world music group in the last decade of his long and prolific career that may suggest differently.

My interest in Cage’s music is highly personal: it began in my last years of high school, mediated by shiny new LPs. During my undergrad years at York University this vinyl-based curiosity developed into an active interest. I studied and played his music under the tutelage of Cage’s students and colleagues such as composition professor James Tenney. In the 1970s and 1980s Cage’s avant-garde celebrity was growing and there seemed to be ample opportunity to see him here in person. New Music Concerts brought him to Toronto repeatedly. I also attended a performance of the touring Merce Cunningham Dance Company at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, a company he was associated with for five decades as musician, composer and music director.

Canadian composer Udo Kasemets, an early Cage follower and adaptor, had performed Cage’s Suite for Toy Piano in 1963. Kasemets subsequently brought Cage and Marcel Duchamp to Toronto to perform at the Ryerson Theatre in 1968. By 1981, along with composer Miguel Frasconi, I felt well enough acquainted with Cage’s work to tackle an interview with him, published in Musicworks. My creative intersection with Cage and his work culminated in 1986/87. It was during that exciting time that I witnessed, firsthand, the genesis of Cage’s Haikai, participating in extensive rehearsals of the score and in the premiere performance.

Haikai was composed not for a new music group of Western concert instruments, but for the gamelan ensemble of the Toronto-based Evergreen Club, founded in 1983 by Canadian composer Jon Siddall. The group consisted of eight professional musicians who collectively played a particular type of gamelan called degung, indigenous to the West Javanese region of Indonesia. The Evergreen Club was Canada’s first performing gamelan and by the mid-1980s the group was beginning to make a name commissioning dozens of new works, performing them about town and recording them for broadcast on the CBC.

In 1986 John Cage was approached by Siddall, EC’s artistic director, to come visit its gamelan degung, Si Pawit, a name which in the Sundanese language of West Java means “honourable foundation.” James Tenney (still at York University) was already writing a piece for prepared piano and gamelan degung for an upcoming EC concert. Tenney was a former Cage student and Siddall took advantage of that personal connection to call Cage to inform him of his plan to combine Cage’s 1940 invention, the prepared piano, with gamelan. During Cage’s next lecture trip to Ontario, he visited the Beach neighbourhood of Queen St. E. where Siddall and his Si Pawit resided. I was to take part in Cage’s brief visit, and was on my way down Leslie St., but was unfortunately stuck in a minor gas-station fender bender. The following, therefore, is my, alas, second-hand account of John Cage’s only visit to Si Pawit, which I share with you for the first time, courtesy of my long-time friend and colleague Jon Siddall who served as Cage’s sole host and gamelan degung guide in my absence.

On arrival, Cage set to work exploring the individual characteristic sounds of the Si Pawit instruments with his own hands. In the Cageian spirit of playful experiment he turned the rows of gongs of two of the instruments, bonang and jengglong, upside-down and played their rims with mallets. The resulting unpredictable sounds so delighted him that he scored upended gongs, bowed and coaxed with mallets of graduated hardness, at the heart of his new work. His imagination wandered one step further: he wondered about spinning the gongs on the floor on their knobbed centres! Siddall knew then that Cage “was hooked.” Cage however stopped himself from taking that particular radical action, thinking out loud that it might not be beneficial for the instruments.

Cage worked on Haikai (1986) during a busy time in his career. He had begun work on his first opera project, Europeras 1 & 2, and I find it remarkable that he made the time to prepare a new work for a young, as yet little proven, gamelan group in Toronto. Perhaps it was Evergreen Club’s dedication to numerous rehearsals to finesse new compositions that secured Cage’s dedication to the project. In three weeks the beautifully hand written score — even the organic looking staff was drawn by Cage’s pen — was completed and sent. The work is dedicated “for Si Pawit, gamelan degung of the Evergreen Club.” This collegial dedication reveals Cage’s focus on the individual characteristics of this particular gamelan (Si Pawit), and also honours the performing group, the musicians who bring the score to life.

The commission didn’t go unnoticed by the local media. Toronto Star music critic William Littler, in his preview article “Ensemble to Debut Asian-influenced Cage Work,” takes a bemused, if friendly, stance. “There, in a second-floor Richmond St. studio the other night, sat eight men in stocking feet, squatting before a collection of bronze gongs and xylophones, wooden drums and a single flute ...”

For all of its innovation — the gongchimes turned upside down, bowed gong rims and what the score calls “Korean unison” (essentially chords of unmeasured entry, dynamic and duration) — the score reflects in its open spirit aspects of idiomatic gamelan practice with considerable sensitivity. This is a surprisingly canny achievement for a composer who had not formally studied any sort of gamelan instrumentation or had musical practice in it. Haikai does however bear the earmarks of two of the structural forms Cage adopted from Asian literary sources and repeatedly used in his compositional method: the I Ching, and haiku, the Japanese poetic form. The poetic haiku structure typically consists of the syllable count 5:7:5 spread over three lines. Cage adapted this structure in Haikai, through hand gestures indicating silences, notated in the score in the conventional manner, by fermata.

14 world eccgs gamelan degung at glenn gould studio  cbc  toronto  2010-11  1280x623 In Evergreen Club gamelan’s April 5, 1987, premiere performance at Toronto’s Premiere Dance Theatre, it is precisely during these fermata-marked moments in Haikai, when the performers are attentively “resting” yet actively listening, that the real Cageian magic emerges. It is only then that the customary invisible wall between performers and audience, and the physical one between the concert hall and the sounds of the outside world, become permeable, and are able to intermingle. The delighted group director Siddall acknowledged, “It is different from anything we have ever performed ... For me, it’s like nature, like a walk in the forest, where there is randomness but a sense of organization as well.”

The following morning, the music critic Ronald Hambleton of the Toronto Star was intrigued, if less delighted, writing in an ironic tone, “They used to praise the poet Coleridge, who could bore his friends by talking non-stop for hours, for his occasional ‘brilliant flashes of silence.’ But John Cage, the innovative 75-year old American composer, has a gift for prolonged silences broken by a few brilliant flashes of musical sound. He stretched that gift to a full 25 minutes of what he called ‘events’ in the eight parts of his Haikai ... ”

From today’s vantage point, what do we make of the legacy of this 26 year old work? For one thing, it marks a rare moment when the career modernist John Cage connected with a new/world music group, one of his few works dedicated to Canadian performers. For another, Haikai turns out to be Cage’s only composition for gamelan. Radios, turntables, electronics, conches, cacti and paper aside, in much of his extensive oeuvre Cage primarily composed for Western musical instruments and ensembles. In Haikai, however, he made a significant exception, expressly scoring for an Indonesian gamelan degung. The work stands up as an effective work for the gamelan instruments it was written for as well as accurately reflecting core mature Cageian philosophical notions.

As for the Evergreen Club (called the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan since 2000), it has not forgotten Haikai, Cage’s gift. This season, ECCG is celebrating not only its unique connection to John Cage on his 100th, but also surviving 30 years ourselves! ECCG is programming three concerts of works later this season, featuring works by Cage, Harrison, Tenney and Canadians including Gordon Monahan, to be performed by the emerging Toronto-based percussion ensemble TorQ along with ECCG’s gamelan.

Ashkenaz: Speaking of 30th anniversaries, mazel tov to Finjan, the Winnipeg klezmer revival pioneers! The well-known band plays in the Ashkenaz Festival, Harbourfront Centre, Saturday September 1 at 8pm on the Westjet stage. Ashkenaz, in this year’s programming, focuses on the diversity of Jewish music, art and artists from around the world, straddling the Labour Day weekend, a time which sparks atavistic fears of the end of summer! So visit Harbourfront and enjoy some of the best diasporic music this season before the summer fades altogether into a faint pleasant memory.

I can only list a few highlights here, so I will focus on music new to me. September 1: Veretski Pass, a trio from California, offers Carpathian, Romanian, Polish and Ottoman styles, mixed with dances from Moldavia and Bessarabia, Hutzul wedding music from Ruthenia, and Rebetic melodies from Smyrna, all woven together with original compositions; and Opa!, a hot post-Soviet “world music party band,” flavouring its vodka with klezmer, reggae, ska and funk, rocks out the night. September 2: the eight-member group Shashmaqam performing classical and folk music of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the liturgical repertoire of the Bukharan Jews; Abayudaya, representing the musical traditions of Uganda’s Jewish community; and Israeli Shye Ben Tzur whose music is pithily billed as “East Indian Jewish Qawwali.” The festival wraps on Monday September 3 with a performance by Mexico City’s Klezmerson, interpreting Jewish klezmer music from its Mexican viewpoint. Please visit The WholeNote listings and the Ashkenaz Festival’s own well-appointed website for details.

Two more: Moving on, Sunday September 9, the Music Gallery hosts a concert called Afro-European Soundscapes, featuring Werner Puntigam, Matchume Zango, Evelyn Mukwedeya and Memory Makuri. The latter two Zimbabwean musicians have performed with the stars Thomas Mapfumo, Stella Chiweshe, and many regional bands. Part of the Music Gallery’s New World Series, this concert is co-presented with Toronto’s Batuki Music Society. It is billed as “an interactive encounter between South and East African inspirations, European tonalities and electronic transformations accompanied by visual commentary.”

On Saturday September 22, the Brotherhood Concert Series presents two choruses, the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus (Detroit), and the Hoosli Ukrainian Male Chorus (Winnipeg) at the Ryerson Theatre. These Ukrainian male choruses, North America’s finest, have as an integral part of their sound an orchestra of banduras, the zither-lute which is often called “the voice of Ukraine.”

Small World Music: We have become so used to Small World Music’s Fall Festival ushering in the new season with an ambitious array of global talent that it is hard to believe this year marks the 11th iteration of the event. Consisting of ten concerts in six different venues, the 2012 Fall Festival launches September 20 at Lula Lounge with two groups: The Battle of Santiago mashes Afro-Cuban rhythms, rock guitar, dub bass and a sax and flute duo into what they call Afro-Cuban Post-Rock; and dance-party band Rambunctious, whose lineup is described as “Nine horns + one drummer = dance party” follows. Be prepared to dance!

The next day Fanfare Ciocarlia, a 12-piece Roma brass band takes The Hoxton stage. Beginning as a Romanian wedding band they have played over 1000 concerts in 50 countries, featuring an audience-winning formula of high velocity, high energy precision playing, enhanced by close miking and intense PA volumes, and wild virtuosic solos. Toronto’s Lemon Bucket Orkestra, our own “Balkan Klezmer Gypsy Party-Punk Super Band” opens.

September 22, Small World presents a daylong free “festival within the festival” at Dundas Square. Just a few of the acts: Jayme Stone, Bageshree Vaze, Aline Morales, Kendra Ray, Maracatu Mar Aberto, Lemon Bucket Orkestra and The Battle of Santiago.

September 23, the venue is the more intimate Glenn Gould Studio with a concert featuring Toronto’s Azalea Ray, only student of ghazal maestro Fareeda Khanum. Armed with North Indian classical vocal training, she performs in several Hindustani music genres. But it is her renditions of poetry-rich ghazal songs in her trademark rich alto that I am most looking forward to.

September 25 at the Lula Lounge the Lisbon quartet Deolinda delivers Portuguese fado music with a contemporary twist. They neither wear all black, use a Portuguese guitar, nor indulge exclusively in the untranslatable core ethos of “saudade.” In fact their often humorous and socially challenging songs and performances have been radically described as “happy.” There’s a concept!

Space permits even less detail on the rest: September 26, still at Lula, Toronto’s Jorge Miguel Flamenco Ensemble offers “Spanish Flamenco guitar with a Canadian accent.” The following day the young cimbalom soloist Yura Rafaliuk performs Ukrainian folk music, along with the ubiquitous Lemon Bucket Orkestra. Javier Estrada, among Mexico’s most in-demand electronic dance music producers, brings his “pre-Hispanic dubstep” to the Wrong Bar on September 27. Toronto-based Vesal Ensemble showcases their repertoire of Persian classical as well as Kurdish, Lori and Azeri ethnic music at the Glenn Gould Studio on September 28. And September 30 at the Lula Lounge the Small World Festival closes with rousing party music provided by Toronto’s practitioners of two Northeastern Brazilian song and dance genres: community group Maracatu Mar Aberto offers maracatu, a powerful living tradition of drum, shaker and bell rhythm laced with a through-line of song; and Maria Bonita & the Band perform forró, with its mix of vocals, accordion, fiddle, guitar, flute and percussion.

(I attended a party last night at which just a few members of Maracatu Mar Aberto played. While a friend there told me their powerfully loud drum sounds immediately corrected his previously upset stomach, I believe my ears are still ringing.)

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

I’ve been a frequent and enthusiastic Harbourfront visitor from its first season, experiencing my first taste of many genres of global music there. I first heard these masters liveat relatively intimate Harbourfront spaces: Malian guitarist-singer AliFarka Touré; Inuit singer-songwriter and guitarist Charlie Panigoniak; the passionate qawwali vocalism of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; Thomas Mapfumo “the Lion of Zimbabwe”;the son jarochoof Veracruz,Mexico; Malagasy music of Tarika; and others too numerous to mention. I’ve also been a sometime Harbourfront performer, participating in concerts, parades, community celebrations and WOMAD festivities.

Under the banner of “Discover the World in One Place this Summer” Harbourfront Centre, Toronto’s ten-acre arts and culture lakefront destination, continues its 30-plus year celebration of the hot weather festival season with a range of ethnically diverse community-friendly,eclectic programming. World music has always been part of the mix. In return, it attracts tens of thousands of visitors from a very broad range of backgrounds. Of course the actual visitor mix varies from one event to another, but there’s nowhere else I’ve been that appears to have a richer demographic and better reflects on a continuing basis our city’s multicultural evolution. Harbourfront is a family space. Even though mine has long been independent, judging from the families I see there, it’s still a fun and mostly free place to take the kids.

Harbourfront Centre’s summer really kicks off with the Canada Day weekend subtitled “Going Global.” As far as world music per se is concerned on this weekend, however, it seems to come down to the concert by South African singer, songwriter, dancer and musical activist Johnny Clegg which took place on June 30. (Read about Clegg’s July 7 concert online.)

The next weekend, July 6 to 8, the national focus shifts to Brazil. Artistic directorBarbara de la Fuentenotes that “Brazil is a fusion of many cultural and ethnic groups. In keeping with Harbourfront Centre’s ‘crossroads’ theme, Expressions of Brazil will showcase some of these cultural intersections.” Among the dozens of events, I can share a few music highlights, including forró artists Maria Bonita and The Band from Brazil’s northeast. Forró is a regional folk dance and music genre with roots in both Africa and Europe, a soulful, infectious mix of voice, accordion, violin, guitar, flute and percussion. Forró has become popular throughout Brazil, inspiring a new generation of musicians like Maria Bonita and The Band and another band, Zé Fuá, which performs the energy-packed Pernambuco style of forró.

Toronto-based musicians are well represented, too. The singer and songwriter Bruno Capinan marries samba, bossa nova and tropicalia, while singer Aline Morales has been steadily building her reputation from her Toronto home. Her last release has been touted “the finest Brazilian album ever produced in Canada,”(The Grid).

Tio Chorinho on the other hand is a newly formed local ensemble dedicated to performing Brazilian choro music in the tradition of the mandolin master, Jacob do Bandolim.

And it wouldn’t feel like a Brazilian festival without a characteristic parade animated by a large group of booming drummers, a chorus, and dancers. The Afro-Brazilian troupe Maracatu Mar Aberto playing Maracatu de Baque Virado and other Pernambuco regional rhythms fills the bill rather nicely.

July 13 to 15, the SoundClash Festival appears focused on dance and hip-hop but even here significant world music content crops up.For well over four decades Benin’s Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou has performed a blend of Afrobeat, funk, soukous and other styles, often mixed with indigenous vodun rhythms. Having recorded a remarkable 500 songs, they have toured extensively though their Friday July 13, 9:30pm show is theirCanadian debut. I plan to be there.

The weekend of July 27 to 29 loosely explores the themes of what is “classical,” and music made on stringed instruments. “Classical IV: Strings” embraces music made with the aid of cord stretched over a sound box and then plucked or bowed.         Highlight concerts include the Masters of Malifeaturing world music star Sidi Touré on Friday, July 27. From Bamako, Mali, Touré is the winner of two national awards for best singer. He draws inspiration from his inherited Malian musical milieu but is also informed by western blues and rock. In 2011, Touré released his debut album Sahel Folkfor Thrill Jockey and then toured North America for the first time, taking him to prestigious venues and festivals, including New York’s Lincoln Center and the Chicago World Music Festival. The songs on Koima, his critically-acclaimed second album, are his tribute to his native Songhaï music of northern Mali, the rhythms of which are called holley, shallo, takamba, and gao-gao.

Toronto’s George Sawa, a leading Arabic music scholar, kanun (Arabic zither) player and mentor to several generations of musicians, has been a fixture of the local scene since his arrival from Egypt in 1970. He leads his Traditional Arabic Music Ensemble Saturday, July 28 at 1:30pm with guest Egyptian belly dancer Nada El Masriya, among the city’s foremost exponents of the art.

Another Toronto-based ensemble, much newer on the scene, Minor Empire performs twice that evening. On the heels of its debut album, Second Nature, it has created a buzz in the Canadian world music arena through the forging of an accessible yet still adventurous style. Guitarist/composer/producer Ozan Boz and vocalist Ozgu Ozman co-direct Minor Empire. Based on traditional Turkish tunes, the group’s repertoire is arranged by Boz who aims not so much for a fusion of Turkish and Western music, but “the result of both a collision and confluence of these disparate elements.” The arrangements are abetted by Ozman’s stylish vocals and the accompaniment of outstanding sidemen: Ismail Hakki Fencioglu (oud), Didem Basar (kanun), Debashis Sinha (darbuka, bendir, asma davul) and Sidar Demirer (saz).

Later on the evening’s bill is Irshad Khan, among the leading sitar and surbahar (bass sitar) exponents of his generation. Born into a prominent North Indian musical family he received outstanding traditional instruction from his famous father Imrat Khan and uncle Vilayat Khan in sitar and raga, that all-encompassing rigourous musical concept merging melody, mode, scale, emotion, time and much more. A long-time GTA resident, Irshad Khan has not relied exclusively on exploring the vast possibilities of the Hindustani classical tradition, however. Rather, he has increasingly focussed his virtuoso sitar powers on searching for new ways to communicate with his Western audiences, including performing with musicians and musical forms well outside Hindustani classical tradition.

Tuesday, July 31 from 7:30 to 10:00 pm The Calypso Stars take over Harbourfront Centre. This two-and-a-half hour Caribbean music concert features calypso singers performing original songs from the annual Calypso Tents Music Series (CTMS). Top Canadian soca artists and special guests round out the event, including Macomere Fifi and Structure. Alexander D Great, a calypso master, recording artist, teacher, writer and winner of the Association of British Calypsonian (ABC) calypso monarch title in 2010 and 2011 is the evening’s special guest. Virtuoso steelpannists, carnival characters on stilts called moko jumbies, traditional Caribbean drumming and limbo dancers from Trinidad round out the full program.

August 3 to 6 the Island Soul Caribbean festival commemorates the 50th Anniversary of Independence of two island nations of cultural and artistic significant to the GTA: Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago.The party commences on Friday, August 3, 8 pm with a musical Tribute to Lord Kitchener. Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts) who has been dubbed the “grandmaster of classic calypso music” is among Trinidad's best-loved calypsonians, with a career spanning more than an astounding 60 years. Before Kitchener died in 2000, he penned hundreds of songs and recorded more than 40 albums. His songs became a staple with steel bands due to their catchy melodies and harmonic complexity. Toronto’s Moses Revolution is the featured house band for the evening.

Afrafranto (butterfly in the Akan language of Ghana) takes the stage August 4 with “palmwine” sound, a West African brand of relaxed music featuring songs accompanied by (mostly) acoustic instruments. Palmwine is a music genre that evolved among the Kru people of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Portuguese guitars introduced by sailors were adapted to play Trinidadian calypso, a very popular genre in the mid-20th century Indigenous musical elements and lyrics were added to the mix, resulting in palmwine music, named after the local alcoholic palm sap drink. Afrafranto features two JUNO-award-winning members of the African Guitar Summit group: Theo Yaa Boakye on lead vocals and shakers, and Pa Joe on guitar and vocals, as well as Ebenezer Agyekum on bass guitar, Sam Donkor on balafon and Kwame Twum on percussion.

Monday, August 6 at 4pm the Caribbean Folk Performers (CFP) close the long weekend festivities. CFP is an Afro-Caribbean performing arts company based in Toronto, founded in 1988. The company’s mission is to preserve and promote “traditional African and Caribbean culture through dance, music and drama.” Its members perform a mix of African, Caribbean, modern and jazz dance, incorporating diverse styles and costumes, all accompanied by Afro-Caribbean music.

Planet IndigenUs running from August 10 to 19 showcases global Indigenous culture as it is practiced today. Book-ended by two weekend-long festivals Harbourfornt Centre hosts this citywide celebration which it claims is “the largest multidisciplinary, contemporary, international Indigenous arts festival in the world.” Note: many of the events are scheduled off-site at the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, ON.

In trying to tease out the world music-related items from the vast program, it occurred to me that many older indigenous performing arts are part of a culturally-specific social, ritual, or even game context, as in some traditional Inuit throat singing. That is true of music – which many of us typically treat as a separate definable discipline and profession – but which in some “traditional” societies is difficult to disincorporate from its concomitant and interwoven performative forms. Here I refer to performances which may include elements of dance, performance art, transformative costume, spoken word, social action and ritual utterance and action, in addition to what we may without question categorise as vocal and instrumental music. Yes music is there, but it’s deeply embedded. Therefore to tag world music concerts within the Planet IndigenUs programming has generally speaking been a challenging proposition.`

No such confusion in the concert on August 11, however. The New Zealand trio, Pacific Curls, makes music that fuses traditional Celtic tunes and fiddling styles with jazz chord transitions and then imbues it with expressive vocals and politically savvy lyrics in Maori, Rotumanand English. With a backbone of Maori rhythms and instrumentation like thetaonga puoro, these three women (Halliday, Ora Barlow and Jessie Hindin) have pioneered a fusion sound that blends their indigenous roots with the reality of modern New Zealand. Pacific Curls also performs as part of “Celebrating the Crossroads – Opening Night Spectacle”on Friday, August 10.

Ashkenaz, North America's premier festival of Jewish and Yiddish culture closes out Harbourfront Centre’s summer programming August 28 to September 3. Yemen Blues, the Israel/NY band, purveyors of high-energy world music fusion is one of the headliners; the band performs on September 2 at 9:30pm. More details will follow in my next column.

Further east along Harbourfront Centre’s waterfront is the Toronto Music Garden, launching its 13th year of free summer concerts. Curator Tamara Bernstein has, as usual, programmed traditional music from around the world along with classical and jazz concerts. A few things to remember: concerts take place in the Music Garden most Thursdays at 7pm and Sundays at 4pm and are approximately one hour in length. Concerts proceed weather permitting. Please visit the website for more details. Here’s a thumbnail overview of a few world music picks.

Thursday, July 12 ,7pm“Wassho!” features Toronto’s taiko drumming troupe, Nagata Shachu.

Sunday, July 15, 4pm, “From the Gardens of India” showcases Bageshree Vaze (voice) and Vineet Vyas (tabla) presenting North Indian classical ragas, drawing on traditional Indian rustic themes.

JUNO-winning banjoist Jayme Stone’s “Room of Wonders” is up Thursday, July 19, 7pm. His music is inspired by music from around the world, and joining him to perform it are Kevin Turcotte (horns), Andrew Downing (cello) and Joe Phillips (bass).

Sunday, August 26, 4pm, “Songs from an Ancient Garden” offers classical Persian music performed by the Shiraz Ensemble, led by Araz Salek with guest percussion virtuoso Pedram Khavarzamini.

Other concerts about town

World music is not limited to the Toronto waterfront in the summer. Witness the Cultura Festival at Mel Lastman Square, North York. Now in its third year, Cultura will run on Friday nights from July 6 to August 10. Though you won’t find them in this issue’s daily listings, here are just a few, of many, picks:

July 6, calypsonian David Rudder, who has been described as modern calypso’s most innovative songwriter, performs live.

July 13, Autorickshaw, Toronto’s gift to the cultural cutting edge, perform with their winning melange of contemporary jazz, funk, the classical and popular music of India. Exceptional Canada musicians, vocalist Suba Sankaran, tabla player Ed Hanley, bassist Rich Brown and percussionist Patrick Graham join forces for this iteration of Autorickshaw.                     

August 3,the Silk Road (Qiu Xia He, pipa and Andre Thibault, flamenco guitar) presents their blend of Chinese folk and classical music with Celtic, Latin, Arabic, Aboriginal, jazz, and blues.

August 10, Toronto’s young Sarv Ensemble plays traditional Persian music drawing inspiration from diverse classical and folk traditions across Iran.

July 20, the JUNO-award-winning Quebec folk group Le Vent Du Nord’s repertoire relies in part on traditional folk songs and in part on original compositions. I’ve seen them on stage and these four fine musicians convey an admirable esprit du corpsand a fine-tunedsensibility that moves any audience to its feet and in its heart.

On July 7, the thunderous roar of Japanese taiko drums will resound throughout the U of T’s MacMillan Theatre. Under the aegis of the Toronto Taiko Festival, for the first time taiko groups from Eastern Canada and beyond meet under the banner of the drum to exchange skills and share stories, aiming to strengthen the taiko community. The festival is organized by Raging Asian Women Taiko Drummers (RAW), a collective of women who combine community building and healing through music as a way of achieving social justice. Performances by four groups are showcased: Yakudo, Nagata Shachu, RAW and Arashi Daiko, with a special guest appearance by Tiffany Tamaribuchi of the Sacramento Taiko Dan/ JO-Daiko.

Further afield

A sure indicator of the depths of summer for some is a leisurely drive to a signature Niagara winery. These days it’s not only for the pleasure of exploring the verdant countryside and to taste some promising vintages, but also to experience novel culinary and even musical treats. On July 7, the Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate at Niagara-on-the-Lake is the setting for a “Summertime Soiree,” part of The Royal Conservatory’s 125th anniversary year celebrations. After a gourmet dinner accompanied by fine local bottles, what could be more suitable than listening to the South African star Johnny Clegg at Jackson-Triggs' 500 seat open-air amphitheatre? Clegg is a Grammy nominee and Billboard music award winning singer, songwriter, dancer, anthropologist and a respected international musical activist. Over three decades he has sold over five million albums of his infectious blend of Western pop and African Zulu crossover music. Awarded the prestigious French Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et lettres, he’s not unknown here either: his Koerner Hall RCM debut was sold out. I can easily imagine myself sitting amid lush Niagara vineyards with a glass of crisp riesling in hand, bopping and perhaps even singing along to Clegg’s affirmations. Life is good – may you enjoy your summer too.

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


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