Not that long ago, June in Toronto meant a slow slide into summer, accompanied by an inevitable wind-down of concert activity. Over the last half decade, however, Luminato has enriched this time of the year by infusing the performing arts into the lifeblood of our city, entertaining and inspiring citizens and visitors alike. Luminato has swiftly established itself as one of North America’s preeminent arts festivals, having commissioned over 50 new works, and presented 6,500 artists from over 35 countries. This year “Luminato 6” takes place from June 8 to 17 in various downtown venues. Many performances are free; most are staged at the Luminato venue they’re calling the “Hub,” at David Pecaut Square.

world_ernest-ranglin_1Taking its cue from the rich diversity of the city’s numerous cultural communities, Luminato presents world music as part of its overall programming, its artist mix fostering a healthy, dynamic balance and even interplay between local and international performers. In an interview with The WholeNote, Luminato music curator Derek Andrews revealed that he has been working on some 30 music events this year, many which have world music connections. Andrews noted that Luminato aims to take risks by programming artists who are new to Toronto audiences, pairing them with local newcomers and favourites. Here are a few concert picks:

World music at Luminato launches on Friday June 8 with the double bill of K’NAAN and Kae Sun. Both are known primarily as hip hop, and sometimes “urban folk” performers, yet both were born on the African continent. They both maintain ties to their homelands. Born in Somalia, the singer, rapper, poet, songwriter and instrumentalist K’NAAN is a Canadian popular music phenomenon. He garnered global attention when his song Wavin’ Flag was adopted as the 2010 FIFA World Cup theme song, in due course becoming an international chart-topper. The singer-songwriter Kae Sun (Kwaku Darko-Mensah Jnr.), on the other hand, began his career performing in his native Ghana before immigrating in his teens to Canada, studying multimedia and philosophy at McMaster University in Hamilton. His debut album, Lion on a Leash (2009) blends folk, soul and hip hop idioms, and was followed, after a visit to Ghana for inspiration, by his impressive 2011 EP, Outside the Barcode, which was “recorded on 2-inch tape on a farm in Ontario.”

On the afternoon and evening of Saturday June 9, Luminato’s Hub is the site for a “Caribbean Summit” where veteran Jamaican and Trinidadian musicians celebrate their nations’ 50th anniversary of independence. Here are a few of the headliners: Guitarist Ernest Ranglin was called “the most important musician to emerge from Jamaica” by Island Records’ founder Chris Blackwell. Ranglin is also credited as the founding father of Jamaican ska, which paved the way for reggae music. He fronts the “Jamaica to Toronto” band which includes Jay Douglas and Everton “Pablo” Paul. Calypso Rose, “The Queen of Calypso,” began her singing career at 15 in her native Tobago. She has enjoyed a long string of calypso hits during her five-decade career. Another seasoned singer, the Jamaican-born Michael Rose, began his recording career with the important group Black Uhuru, which in 1985 won the first Grammy for reggae. He has since released more than 20 albums, including Last Chance, which reigned for weeks at number one on the UK reggae charts. Bringing it back home, the Trinidadian-Canadian group Kobo Town takes its name from the Port-of-Spain neighbourhood, the birthplace of calypso. Formed in 2004 by singer-songwriter Drew Gonsalves, the band’s lyrics explore issues such as immigration and war, while its music serves up compelling heart-pumping, booty-shaking reggae-calypso grooves.

The next afternoon, on June 10, the concert titled “Ethiopiques: The Horn of Africa” offers a double bill exploring the region’s folk, jazz and hybrid musical genres. The Boston-based nine-piece Debo Band mixes horns, strings and accordion along with voices. Their sound is a tribute to the exciting hybrid Ethiopian music being made by the bands of Haile Selassie’s era. The Debo Band has recently been signed to SubPop’s Next Ambience label. The other ensemble on the card is Abyssinian Roots. Produced by Toronto’s Batuki Music Society, the band features notable expats of Addis Ababa’s nightclub scene. Among the styles presented: “Azmaris” songs accompanied by monochord music with lyrics replete with social commentary, varied regional folk musics, as well as Ethio-jazz standards.

The evening concert on June 12, titled “Buena Vista West Africa,” comes with a world music back-story. The opening act is the Ivory Coast singer Fatoumata Diawara in her North American premiere. After a career as an actress and multi-instrumentalist, she released an album featuring her singing. Diawara also made significant contributions to other high-profile projects, including Herbie Hancock’s Grammy-winning Imagine Project. Now to the back story of the show’s title. In 1996, several of Mali’s finest musicians were scheduled to visit Cuba to record an album with local musicians. The Malians never arrived, however, and the veteran Cubans, not wishing to squander the scheduled studio session, recruited other musicians to partner with. That recording resulted in the global world music hit album Buena Vista Social Club. Fourteen years later the original Malian invitees, including Bassekou Kouyate, Toumani Diabate, Kassey Mady Diabate and Djelimady Tounkara, were finally united with the Cuban singer and guitarist Eliades Ochoa and his Grupo Patria. They produced the album AfroCubism. That this remarkable African-Cuban musical ensemble, which rarely performs live, is making its Toronto premiere at a free concert is a good argument for Luminato’s programming.

Then, on June 16 at 8pm, Toronto’s self-described “Balkan-Klezmer-Gypsy-Party-Punk-Superband” Lemon Bucket Orkestra, opens Luminato’s “Balkan Beat Blowout.” According to the festival promo the 13-piece Orkestra “grew out of a conversation between a Breton accordionist and a Ukrainian fiddler in a Vietnamese restaurant” — not an unlikely scenario in contemporary Toronto, I’d say. Even the title of their 2011 EP Cheeky gives away their folk party ways. Lemon Bucket is putting its imprint on the city’s urban-folk scene with their quirky arrangements of traditional Ukrainian, Yugoslavian and Romanian songs. The headline act scheduled at 9pm is the Bucovina Club Orkestar, making its North American premiere.

In addition to these (and many more) concerts, Luminato is also presenting free weekday noon hour discussions and concerts of world music interest at the Luminato Lounge at the festival Hub, under the rubric, “Lunchtime Illuminations and Concerts.” These events feature artists’ conversations, each paired with a custom-tailored musical performance. They look like an unparalleled opportunity to get a deeper peek into the artists’ m.o.

Please check the Luminato website (, print media and of course The WholeNote listings for more details.

Other Picks

Contrary to appearances in my column thus far, Luminato is not the only world music game in town this month. On June 1, the Royal Conservatory presents Simon Shaheen at Koerner Hall. Among today’s most significant Arab musicians, performers and composers, Shaheen is a virtuoso oud and violin player, incorporating traditional Arabic, jazz and Western classical idioms. Of interest to fans and students, Shaheen will also lead a public masterclass on Friday June 1 at 10am, at Beit Zatoun, located on Markham St., just south of Bloor.

Also on June 1, Ensemble Polaris presents “Game On!” at the Heliconian Hall. This concert presents traditional Canadian and northern European songs and dance tunes linked thematically with sport and games of skill and chance. Self-described as an “Arctic fusion band” — and why not? — Ensemble Polaris also performs at 2pm on June 7 at the Toronto Public Library’s Orchardview branch.

June 6 at noon the COC’s World Music Series presents a concert of “Authentic Klezmer and Gypsy Swing” at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. The musicians include the Yiddish Swingtet: Jordan Klapman, piano; Jonno Lightstone, clarinet; Tony Quarrington, guitar and mandolin.

Further afield at the University of Waterloo, the Department of Music presents “Singing: East and West” on June 13 at Renison University College. The University of Waterloo Choir directed by Gerard Yun performs chant and (Tuvan, or Inuit?) throat singing. Guests include Marhee Park, soprano; Waterloo Chinese Philharmonic Choir; and the Bluevale Collegiate Choir.

Back in Toronto, on June 20, the Georgian choir Darbazi performs as part of the glittering lineup at the SING! Festival fundraiser hosted by star tenor Michael Burgess at the Green Door Cabaret on Ossington Ave. Darbazi will also perform sets on July 2, at the Canada Day Celebrations, outdoor SING! tent at Harbourfront Centre.

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

20_billy_bryans_120423The sad news that Billy Bryans, musician and champion of world music in Toronto, has died too early at 63 reached me as I was writing this month’s column. Suddenly, his passing at the Kensington Hospice in Toronto seems to mark the end of a chapter in the evolution of the Canadian “world music scene.” This ever-expanding, ever-evolving basket of often vague and variously labeled commercial categories comprises mostly previously unconnected music genres. By those who like genres with capital letters, they have been diversely dubbed Folk, Ethnic, Traditional, Worldbeat, World Music, Global, Roots, Alternative World, Local, and Diaspora.

Billy Bryans’ four-decade career successfully connected with many facets of the Canadian popular and world music business. But it also reflects the evolution of musical diversity in Toronto and the hybrid processes at work in our nation’s multicultural musical landscape. The health of the current world music scene in turn owes much to the dedication of gifted artists such as Bryans, widely known to local musicians as Billy.

20_parachute-club-bryans_parachuteclub400Billy first came to my attention in the 1970s as a drummer active on Toronto’s Queen Street scene with groups such as the new wave punk, the Government. A few years later he co-founded, with Lorraine Segato, the four-time JUNO winning pop group the Parachute Club. He also made his mark as producer, working for a time at Daniel Lanois’ Grant Avenue Studios in Hamilton. His production credits include the Downchild Blues Band, the rockabilly Bop Cats, jazz revivalists the Original Sloth Band, and Raffi.

But it’s Billy’s career as a world music drummer, producer and promoter, to which he segued over the last two decades, that most touch us here at World View. The Globe and Mail was not alone in calling him a “world music pioneer.” What is clear is that he brought to bear his considerable musical passion, driving drumming grooves, and production and promotional savvy to Toronto’s emerging global music scene. Many acts including the South African jive group Siyakha used him as their drummer.

Billy produced several significant albums in the genre including the prescient 1992 CD The Gathering, a song compilation of Toronto-based musicians from a variety of cultures that won the first JUNO Award in the “Worldbeat” category. (The category was renamed “Global” and changed yet again in 2002 to “World Music”). His CDs for the Shego Band, Diego Marulanda, AfroNubians, and Punjabi by Nature helped set the bar for the genre. Both of his productions for reggae dub poet Lillian Allen won JUNOs. In 1994, Billy saw a chance to connect directly with international artists and the emerging industry. He traveled to Berlin to be among the few North Americans to attend the first world music expo, WOMEX, which has since become “the principal market for world music” (Le Monde). He also established Mundial Music, Canada’s first world music record “pool” for journalists and radio DJs.

Long a fan of African-American and African musics, Billy grew to love Latin music in its many incarnations. In the last decade he took to the dance floor to polish his salsa moves (especially Cuban rueda de casino) as well as spinning Cuban dance tracks for club goers as a popular Toronto DJ. When the Lula Lounge opened its doors at Dufferin and Dundas as a live music dancehall showcasing Toronto’s growing Latin music scene, Billy was there, directly engaged. And the feeling was mutual. When his health faltered, his musician friends and fans rallied. Lula held a recent benefit “Rumbon Para Billy Bryans” to raise funds for his palliative care on April 19, 2012, featuring an all-star cast including Jane Bunnett, Alex Cuba, Son Ache and Samba Squad.

The use of the term “world” when referring to a kind of music or a musician has a contested history. It often seems a strained, an incorrectly placed, or even a derogatory tag. When used to describe the whole of Billy’s career however, embracing as many musical genres as he did, “World Musician,” in capitals, feels right.

LULAWORLD 2012 concerts

21cafeconpan-79Another Canadian pioneer, Alexander Graham Bell, is reputed to have written, “When one door closes another opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” It seems hardly possible that the Lula Lounge is a decade old, yet here it is celebrating this remarkable anniversary during May with a series of concerts, looking forward all the way.

Originally a Latin dance club, in the ten years it has been open this venue has broadened its mandate, distinguishing itself as a home for world music of many persuasions. Now called the Lula Music and Arts Centre, it is programming a series of collaborative concerts called LULAWORLD 2012, bringing together artists from around the globe. Here are just a few highlights.

The series kicks off May 9, in collaboration with Small World Music, with the celebrated local Autorickshaw shaking up contemporary jazz, funk and the classical and popular music of India into a bubbly brew. In keeping with LULAWORLD’s theme Autorickshaw (Suba Sankaran, voice; Justin Abedin, guitars; Collin Barrett, bass; Dylan Bell, keys; Ed Hanley, table; Ben Riley, drum kit) has invited illustrious local guests including jazz specialists pianist Gordon Sheard, bassist George Koller and mallet percussion maestro Mark Duggan.

21_lady-son_yeti09-400On May 11, Café Con Pan, Toronto’s exponents of son jarocho, the traditional music of Veracruz, Mexico, mix it up with guests La Marisoul (LA) plus musicians from Canada, Mexico, Chile and Iran. The concert will also launch Nuevos Caminos a Santiago (New Roads to Santiago) their “genre defying” second CD. In the second set this evening Lady Son y Articulo Viente hosts Montreal’s tropical urban scenester Boogat in what is billed as a “hip hop son cubano mashup!” Canadian born and raised Yeti Ajasin, aka Lady Son, is the lead vocalist/director of the Latin fusion band Artículo Veinte. It sounds like dancing is required.

Two outstanding, award-winning local ensembles join forces May 16: the classical Gryphon Trio and the Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz specialists, Hilario Durán Trio. They will perform “Cuban, Brazilian, Sicilian and Argentine charts” celebrating music that has resounded at Lula.

You can find more LULAWORLD 2012 concerts listed in The WholeNote’s “In the Clubs” section.

World Music Picks

This is one of those months where no amount of space seems enough to cover the myriad concerts of interest in the GTA. I have selected a few to highlight and apologize for having to leave out so many others.

Yoga and music have long been intimately linked. On Friday, May 4, 8pm at the Casa Loma campus of the George Brown University, the Institute of Classical Yoga and Therapy presents “Music in harmony with Yoga,” a free Hindustani classical vocal concert featuring Ramneek Singh. Ms Singh will be accompanied by an esraj player and by Yashodhan Navathe on tabla.

May 5 the Aradia Ensemble hosts Toronto’s leading Georgian choir Darbazi in a fascinating concert contrasting the two groups’ choral approaches at the Glenn Gould Studio. Titled “The Grain of the Voice,” the concert features two new works by Andrew Agar and Kevin Mallon which will unite these two very different vocal “grains.” Aradia’s Kevin Mallon, conducts.

Another concert that marries Western and Eastern (here specifically Southeast Asian) classical music forms will be presented at the Glenn Gould Studio on May 22. The Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan an eight-member pioneering world music ensemble, of which I’ve been a member for some 29 years, is playing host to the Bozzini String Quartet, Montreal’s contemporary and experimental music specialists. The two groups will present five commissioned works by leading Canadian composers for their joint forces, repertoire they performed recently at a well-received Montreal concert.

Back firmly on our musical native land, on May 10 the Métis Fiddler Quartet launches its debut CD, North West Voyage Nord Ouest at the Lakeside Terrace, Harbourfront Centre. Currently based in Toronto, the four youthful sibling members of the quartet, Alyssa (viola), Conlin (guitar), Nicholas (violin) and Danton (cello) Delbaere-Sawchuk were born into a Métis family in Winnipeg. Their program highlights arrangements of originally rural Canadian Métis and Native fiddle music that they learned directly from the greatest living masters, and that the Métis Fiddler Quartet is eager to share with urban Canadians.

Finally, on June 1 at Koerner Hall, the Royal Conservatory presents Simon Shaheen on oud and violin in a concert fusing Arabic, jazz and Western classical music. Shaheen has been hailed as one of the most significant Arab musicians and composers of his generation. Based in New York, his two bands Qantara and the Near Eastern Music Ensemble tour internationally. Moreover, he has received numerous awards for his performing and educational contributions, including the National Heritage Award he received at the White House. His album Blue Flame has been nominated for an impressive 11 Grammy Awards.

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

World music concerts this month launch with the culmination of the Toronto association Bharathi Kala Manram’s 40th Annual Thyagaraja Music Festival at the SVBF Auditorium in Etobicoke. Thyagaraja (1767–1847) was a singer and prolific composer and remains among the most influential figures in the Carnatic (South Indian classical) music canon. On Sunday April 1 at 4pm, Thyagaraja’s musical legacy is marked in a concert featuring the Indian vocalist P. Unnikrishnan, accompanied by Embar Kannan, violin and Anand Anathakrishnan, mridangam (hand drum). As well as being considered one of India’s great composers, often compared to Beethoven, he dedicated his life to the devotion of the divine. Many South Indians thus consider him the patron saint of Carnatic music and his widespread diasporic legacy is celebrated every year in presentations of his songs.

world_bombino_by_ronwyman_03Our remarkably early and pleasant spring weather this year is certainly a cause for celebration of another, more secular kind. (The weather’s distractions might also explain the fact that this next concert, by the Sarv Ensemble, as well as that of the Baarbad Ensemble on April 15, discussed below, came to my attention too late to convey to The WholeNote listings department.)

On April 5 the Sarv Ensemble presents a concert marking the arrival of spring and the Persian New Year at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Comprised of young musicians playing Persian instruments this ensemble was formed two years ago in Toronto. Its music draws inspiration from diverse classical and folk music traditions from across Iran, freely incorporating new compositions, yet striving to remain faithful to the tradition of the radif, the primary tonal organizational principle of Persian music. The eight-member Sarv Ensemble is joined by the York University ethnomusicologist Irene Markoff as vocalist and baglama player.

That same April 5 night, around the nose of Lake Ontario in St. Catharines, three top Canadian guitarists share the stage at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University. P.R.O. is pan-Mediterranean specialist Pavlo, Canadian Rock Hall of Famer Rik Emmett and multi JUNO Award winner Oscar Lopez. Each musician has carved out a career specializing in a particular guitar-centric niche mixing his passion for pan-Mediterranean, rock, Latin, “nouveau flamenco” and fusion music genres. Another passion — one they share with their many fans — is an abiding love for the six-string, fretted instrument they’ve built their careers on.

On April 12, Small World Music/Batuki Music Society present the trio called Bombino, whose music is billed as “blues from the Saharan desert” at Toronto’s Lula Lounge. Born in 1980 at a nomadic camp near the North African desert town of Agadez, the guitarist and songwriter Omara “Bombino” Moctar grew up during an era of armed struggle for Tuareg independence. His electric guitar riffs, once considered a symbol of Tuareg rebellion, draw on the guitarism of fellow North Africans Tinariwen and Ali Farka Touré, as well as the American rock and blues of Jimi Hendrix and John Lee Hooker. Bombino, with his intense guitar virtuosity backed with driving drum kit and electric bass, is renowned throughout the Sahara. Not only are his bootleg tapes treasured and traded among fans in the region, but in recent years his guitar prowess has been increasingly noticed internationally. In 2006, Bombino recorded with the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and Charlie Watts.

On the same day, April 12, at the Harcourt Memorial United Church in Guelph, and with no guitars in sight, the Guelph Youth Singers headline a concert titled “United for Africa.” Joined by the Guelph Community Singers and Les Jeunes Chanteurs d’Acadie, the GYS program includes three African dances, the marching song Siyahamba, and songs from the traditional Acadian repertoire. The concert proceeds go to the Bracelet of Hope charity, providing medical care to HIV/AIDS patients in Africa.

The Irshad Khan World Ensemble performs on April 13 at the Living Arts Centre, Mississauga. Of impeccable North Indian musical lineage, Irshad Khan, a resident of Mississauga, is a formidable sitar and surbahar master whose career is rooted in classical Hindustani music. In this, his latest East-West fusion project, however, he has infused his sitar playing with the talents of local musicians John Brownell on drum set, Dave Ramkissoon on tabla, guitarist Brian Legere, Mark West on keyboards and bassist Dave Field. Together they explore the lighter side of world-beat, playing Irshad Khan’s compositions that will “be decided spontaneously on the stage.”

Also on April 13 the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo presents international pipa (Chinese lute) virtuoso Wu Man with the Shanghai String Quartet as part of their Classical World Artists Series. Wu Man is an eloquent advocate of traditional and avant-garde Chinese music who is best known to international audiences as a champion of the pipa in the works of contemporary composers. Performing for nearly three decades, the polished Shanghai Quartet has toured major music centres throughout the globe and collaborated with some of the world’s leading composers and musicians. Together they perform a mixed program of music by both European and Chinese composers.

April 15, the Persian music Baarbad Ensemble in collaboration with Sinfonia Toronto and Moussou Folila, stage an ambitious seven-part music program at the Glenn Gould Studio. Titled “The Wayfarers of This Long Pilgrimage,” the evening is intended to represent “the seven stages of ancient mysticism.” This multi-cultural performance showcases the premiere of compositions by Persian santur player Mehdi Rezania and kamanche master Saeed Kamjoo. New arrangements of the folk music of Iran and the Balkan region by Hossein Alizadeh and Hans Zimmer enrich the musical texture and ethno-historical resonance. Involving a large group of over 25 musicians the ensemble also features guest Toronto world music vocalist Brenna MacCrimmon, Hossein Behroozinia on barbat (Persian lute), and djembe player Anna Malnikoff.

Ritmo Flamenco Dance and Music Ensemble present “Vida Flamenco” at the Al Green Theatre on April 21. Directed by Roger Scannura who serves as lead flamenco guitarist and composer, the show features Anjelica Scannura as lead dancer and choreographer. The Scannura family has made flamenco a way of life and are among Canada’s foremost exponents of the art form.

This month intrepid Toronto world music fans can feast on music and dance: the multi-venue Bulgarian Arts Festival demonstrates the many faces of that country’s culture. Titled “Soul Journey to Bulgaria,” the festival’s events include not only visual arts exhibits, classical concerts, poetry, theatre and film screenings, but also several folklore dance and world music concerts. I can mention only a few concerts here; for a complete listing of the many scheduled events please visit the festival’s website. On Saturday April 21, the Eurovision-esque singing style of Bulgarian pop stars Rossitza Kirilova and Kaloyan Kalchev headline the concert along with the engaging folk based music of the Bulgarian Children’s group Bulgarche at the Great Hall of the Macedono-Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Cathedral. The venue changes on April 27 to St. George’s Macedono Bulgarian Church. That concert showcases the folkloric music and dance of the Dimitrovche group, with Grammy winning kaval (end-blown Bulgarian flute) virtuoso and composer Teodosii Spassov.

On the following Saturday, April 28, from 3pm to 10pm, the Bulgarian Arts Festival takes over Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. A few highlights rounding out the afternoon: the Bulgarche children’s group and Irene Markoff’s York University Balkan Music Ensemble. At 8pm the Teodosii Spassov Ethno Jazz Trio swings into the Brigantine room. The trio’s moniker couldn’t be more descriptive. Led by kaval maestro Spassov, a soloist at the Bulgarian National Radio and with ten solo albums to his credit, the trio explores his patent merger of traditional Bulgarian folk music with jazz, classical and popular genres. He has been hailed by the Chicago Tribune for making music “… like a jam session between Ian Anderson and Thelonius Monk.” With his brilliant and innovative playing, Spassov has taken what was originally a shepherd’s flute into 21st-century concert halls around the world.

Also on April 28, unfortunately, the Grammy Award winning Buena Vista Social Club’s guitarist Eliades Ochoa performs with his band at Toronto’s Opera House. The Toronto-based Latin singer Laura Fernandez guests. For Cuban song (and Wim Wenders’ film) aficionados like me it’s a rare opportunity to experience one of this music’s godfathers live on Queen St. E.


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

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

Before we get to this month’s concerts, I’d like to wade in on the world music component of Canada’s music industry awards, the JUNOs. Held from March 26 to April 1 in Ottawa, this year’s JUNOs have 41 award categories encompassing nominations of the top-selling singers and musicians you would expect such as Arcade Fire, Avril Lavigne, Drake, Justin Bieber, Michael Bublé and Nickelback.

24_WORLD_Kiran_choice_2The “World Music Album” category nominations reflect more modest album sales, but no less artistic ambition and achievement. Among the distinguished performers represented is previous JUNO award-winner Kiran Ahluwalia. Her latest album Aam Zameen: Common Ground fuses her own ghazal and Punjabi folk-song approach with the music of the African masters of Malian “desert blues.” Montreal based artist Socalled has had a shorter career, yet his latest music, impossible to pigeon-hole, is no less ambitious in its transnationality. His musical mission appears to cross all sorts of musical and media boundaries, all the while embracing a kibitzing attitude toward sound collage inspired by pop, funk, klezmer and rap. Another nominee is the Brazilian-born singer, percussionist and composer Aline Morales, represented by her debut solo album Flores, Tambores e Amores. Her music assays Brazilian song styles such as samba, forró and 1960s tropicalia, and forges them into her own voice with traces of Italian film soundtracks, avant-garde poetry, African percussion and vintage synths.

Now to the month’s live offerings: examining world music in a living historical context on March 1, the Royal Conservatory’s String and World Series at Koerner Hall presents the multi-Grammy Award-nominated viola da gambist, Jordi Savall, directing two groups, Hespérion XXI and the Tembembe Ensamble Continuo. The Catalan virtuoso of the viola da gamba, “an instrument so refined that it takes us to the very brink of silence,” Savall has been among the world’s major figures in early music since the 1970s. He is partly responsible for bringing the viola da gamba back onto the world stage. While his typical repertory ranges from the mediaeval to the baroque period, Savall’s approach to interpreting this “dead” historical repertoire has always been informed by the performance practices of living oral music traditions of Europe, the Arab world and now the “New” world.

Appointed European Union ambassador for intercultural dialogue in 2008, Savall is passionate about asserting the common roots of human expression. The Koerner Hall concert is titled “Folias Antiguas & Criollas: From the Ancient to the New World.” It features Spanish and Mexican baroque music as well as performances from the living Mexican Huasteca and Jarocho music traditions: Savall explores the creole music created from their confluence. You can catch the programme March 2 at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo if you miss it at Toronto’s Koerner Hall.

No less challenging to the music landscape status quo is the March 5 CD launch concert, “Bridges: Jewish and Arabic Music in Dialogue” at the Al Green Theatre, Miles Nadal jcc. Headlining are Lenka Lichtenberg, the Jewish singer with an international career, and Middle Eastern-Canadian singer, dancer, actor and qanun player Roula Said. For over 20 years the inspiring Said has been one of Toronto’s leading lights in the belly dance, Arabic and fusion music scenes. While Lichtenberg was born and raised in Prague, she completed her university music education in Canada. Her current music reflects her Yiddish roots and her ongoing study of the Jewish cantorial tradition; in her extensive touring, she pursues a career as a singer-songwriter. Together, their aim with “Bridges” is to establish an inspiring dialogue between Jewish and Arabic cultures grounded on musical commonalities. They are supported in their quest by an outstanding backup band composed of a Toronto world musician “A-team,” including John Gzowski on oud, guitars and bouzouki, Kinneret Sagee on clarinet and Ernie Tollar on sax, flutes and clarinet. The rhythm section consists of bassist Chris Gartner, percussionist Alan Hetherington and Ravi Naimpally on tabla and dumbek, all of whom performed with convincing élan on Lichtenberg’s sparkling last album Fray, markedly influenced by Toronto’s interactive world music scene.

On March 2 the Toronto-born chanteuse Alejandra Ribera performs at the Glenn Gould Studio. Her dramatic singing and genre-hopping eclectic repertoire draws on both her Argentinean and British heritage, and particularly mirrors the grit and magic of Ribera’s everyday urban Canadian reality with its darkly lyrical themes.

The Amadeus Choir, directed by Lydia Adams, presents “A Celtic Celebration,” March 3, at Toronto’s Jubilee United Church. The 115-voice veteran choir is joined by Stratford’s five-piece, pan-Celtic fusion band Rant Maggie Rant, led by multi-instrumentalist Mark Fletcher. The Highland dancers also on the bill will undoubtedly further animate the concert.

The Royal Conservatory’s World Series presents two outstanding singers early in March. On March 7, in a multi-media presentation, the Latin Grammy award winning Lila Downs will perform her dramatic and highly unique reinvention of traditional Mexican music and original compositions fused with blues, jazz, soul, African root and even klezmer music.

And on March 10, it’s another Grammy Award winner’s turn: the powerful-voiced Angélique Kidjo performing her brand of Afro-funk fusion with an infectious joie de vivre. Dubbed “Africa’s premier diva” by TIME magazine, the West African born Kidjo has been an active member of the international world music scene for over 20 years. Her list of illustrious collaborators including Bono, Carlos Santana, Peter Gabriel, Alicia Keys and Branford Marsalis, gives an idea of the force of her personality and the significant impact of her vocal accomplishments.

On Thursday March 15, at 7:30pm, Nagata Shachu, Toronto’s professional Japanese taiko drumming and music group, presents the premiere of Tatsujin Gei (Master Artists) at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto. Three master performers from Japan — Kodo Drummers’ Yoshikazu and Yoko Fujimoto, and the Okinawan dance master Mitsue Kinjo — will join forces with Nagata Shachu directed by Kyoshi Nagata. (This rare chance to see some of Japan’s top exponents of taiko, song and dance in Toronto missed our listings deadline so you won’t find further details here in the magazine. Call the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre at 416-441-2345 for details.)

This month, two of our universities showcase the wide-ranging world music activities of their music students and faculty. I’ve found these concerts are a particularly good way to sample a musical tradition new to me: they’re relaxed, the youthful participants are charged with the enthusiasm of new converts — plus they’re free.

On March 15, from noon to 8pm, York University’s Department of Music presents day one of its “World Music Festival.” Performances by the World Music Chorus, Celtic, Ghanaian, Cuban, Klezmer ensembles and the Escola de Samba will fill the halls and rooms of the Accolade East Building with global sounds. The festival continues all next day with Caribbean, Chinese, Korean Drum, Balkan Music, Flamenco and Middle Eastern ensembles. Then on March 19, York’s World@Noon series presents the triple platinum, Israeli singer-songwriter Idan Raichel at the Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Accolade East Building. His “Idan Raichel Project” is distinguished by its fusion of Hebrew lyrics, Middle Eastern and Ethiopian music and electronica.

The University of Toronto Faculty of Music presents its own World Music ensembles in concert March 16 and 21 at the MacMillan Theatre, Edward Johnson Building. On March 28, at Walter Hall, the exemplary Vocal Jazz Ensemble is directed in concert by the inspired extended vocalist, conductor and teacher Christine Duncan. They will perform with their guest, Darbazi, our region’s first and most accomplished Georgian polyphonic choir.

25_WORLD_Strunz_FarahThere was a time in the early 1990s when the guitar duo Strunz & Farah virtually defined the emerging world music market. Their very successful albums won Billboard’s World Music Album of the Year and a Grammy nomination. With an eclectic sound that has been described as world fusion, their music is a mediated reflection of their cultural roots, including Afro-Caribbean, Latin American folk, flamenco and Middle Eastern music, wrapping it all up in jazz-based improvisation. They’re back on the road appearing in venues across Southern Ontario this month. Starting at Hugh’s Room in Toronto, March 14, they then appear at the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, the Molsen Canadian Studio at Hamilton Place, London’s Aeolian Hall and at Market Hall in Peterborough, on March 15, 16, 17 and 18, respectively.

Finally, rounding out the month, on March 31 the Royal Conservatory presents “Intercultural Journeys,” echoing the intercultural and peace-bridging function of music proposed by some of the other concerts noted this month. Israeli cellist Udi Bar-David leads a group consisting of Lebanese violinist Hanna Khoury and Palestinian percussionist Hafez Ali, digging into repertoire merging European and Arabic classical musics. Their guests, Syrian singer Youssef Kassab, cantor Beny Maissner and Toronto qanun master George Sawa, will add yet more inclusive notes to this cross-cultural concert.

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

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