What is “World Music” and who are its performers? For years I have been alternately intrigued by the question or flatly dismissed it as irrelevant to the music I loved and made myself. Now that I’ve served as your faithful world music columnist for some months, however, I thought I’d use this end of year soapbox to finally tackle this slippery musical subject. Please brace yourself for a further series of annoying questions arising from my simple initial one. The woods get much thicker before we can clearly see the trees, let alone the clearing beyond.

Is world music a commercial marketing category, coined by record label executives in 1980s London, equipped with its own sales charts, radio category, journalistic terminology and record awards? Or a term coined in the early 1960s by the late ethnomusicologist Robert E. Brown at Wesleyan University, Connecticut for his groundbreaking world music studio and academic programs there, which became a model for universities, colleges and conservatories around the world?

Is it “local music from out there,” or “someone else’s local music” as some have proposed? Is it about “our” vs. “their” music, or about the way musicians variously recombine the music you were born into with the music you chose, moved into? Or is it a musical football match playing out a disagreement between perceived authenticity (i.e. indigenous music) and hybridized musical categories, especially those seemingly “diluted” by pop culture?

In the face of such a bewildering range of questions, just what can we agree on? One thing, perhaps, is that the definitions of world music are multiple, dynamic and overlapping. Another is that over the last 30 years world music has clearly gone through a process of gradually increasing “sub-genrefication,” not unlike other kinds of music (heavy metal is a good example). By sub-genrefication I mean an extension of the genre’s original definition of a perceived unmediated “roots music” to include a mounting list of newly created hybrid sub-genres. Part of this process is no doubt the result of pressures on genre boundaries in the overall climate of a globalising pop culture. There are commercial pressures at play here too. According to a 2002 Unesco report by the latter half of the 1990s the value of global record sales hit a historic peak. Significantly slipping sales ever since have meant the record and publishing company financial support for world music, has declined. On the one hand this has led, overall, for world music as well as for many other music categories, to a precipitous decline in overall album sales. Paradoxically it may also be directly linked to the vigour of the modest but vital local live world music performance scenes dotted around the planet, and to the touring companies who (hope they will) pack our largest halls, often wrapped up in elaborately costumed and staged extravaganzas.

There are examples of both on display in my column this issue. Happily for all of us, musicians of all stripes continue to make both established and newly minted hybrid kinds of music that someone may choose to dub world music — or not.

I hope I haven’t lost you in my overview of some 50 years of world music, because, as you can see from what follows, our GTA concert scene over the next two months reflects and underscores many of the issues I have mentioned.

Parvaz Homay and his Mastan Ensemble present “Love, Wisdom and Human” [sic] at Roy Thomson Hall on December 2. Described as a newly created concert “opera” by Iranian musician Parvaz Homay, this production (in Farsi) is presently touring Canada and the US. Judging from this group’s multiple albums and international tour dates they seem to enjoy a sold fan base among the Iranian diaspora. At its Toronto stop, the Mastan Ensemble, a traditional Persian instrumental group, is reinforced by a Western orchestra directed by Toronto conductor Kerry Stratton. A brief trailer video on his website reveals Homay as a singer with a folksy voice. On the other hand, soprano Darya Dadvar sings in a distinctly operatic manner. The dramatic baritone, Soli, rounds out the concert cast.

On December 6, the world music Christmas calendar begins in earnest with the Nathaniel Dett Chorale’s concert titled “An Indigo Christmas: Navidad Nuestra” at Koerner Hall. The artistic director, Brainerd Blyden-Taylor has programmed a vibrant mix of Afro-Latin and Andean rhythms and harmonies. The Latin music quartet, Maderaz, and the celebrated dance collective COBA will add to the choir’s celebration of Afro-centric dance, music and folkloric traditions invoking the spirit of Christmas. The concert features two choral gems by Argentinean composer Ariel Ramírez (1921–2010). His Misa Criolla (1964), now a staple of the choral repertoire, is spiritually charged and at the same time deeply rooted in multiple music/dance forms from across South America including the chacarera, carnavalito and estilo pampeano, as well as Andean influences and instruments. Here, COBA choreographer BaKari E Lindsay, COBA brings it to life through staged dance representations of the dance rhythms intrinsic to Ramírez’s score. Ramírez’s signature Yuletide Navidad Nuestra, which serves as the concert’s centrepiece, is a suite of Argentinean carols marked by characteristic Hispanic American music. The evening is rounded out by Haitian-born Sydney Guillaume’s Dominus Vobiscum interweaving Gregorian melodies with Creole texts and rhythms; a trio of African-American spirituals by Minnesota composer Robert L. Morris; an a cappella interpretation of Go Tell It On The Mountain arranged by Bruce Saylor; and Craig Courtney’s impassioned arrangement of Mary Had A Baby.

Music Gallery’s concert on December 16 also has a Christmas theme, but one that reaffirms the commitment to experimentation in the Music Gallery’s “New World Series.” Titled “Asalto Navideño Reimagined: A Latin Christmas Concert,” the concert has three layers: a remix of a classic salsa Christmas album, a seasonal celebration and a resolute statement of pan-Latino culture. Originally a statement about New York Hispanic life, Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe’s popular salsa Christmas album Asalto Navideño, now 40 years old, is ripe for reinvention. Its lyrics speak of the joy of Christmas, but they also explore themes of home and diaspora and even propose new festive traditions. Today’s Latin sounds continue to mix music from across the Americas, increasingly with the intervention of electronics. Therefore it’s natural that four “producers” have been commissioned to remix the album’s now-iconic material: Toronto’s DJ Linterna & Ulladat, DJ Javier Estrada from Monterrey, MX, and Sonora Longoria from Austin, TX. All are known for their individual combinations of music genres, groove and experimentation. Their electronic contributions will be mixed with live instruments including Steve Ward on trombone and vocals. Vocalist Lido Pimienta, who splits her time between Toronto, London, Ontario, and Colombia, is a key voice in the evening; her striking hybrid performance style combining unaffected vocals and electronics.

Moving into the New Year, on January 10, 2012 at noon, the Little Pear Garden Collective presents a different sort of festive entertainment, performing classical and contemporary dance works with Chinese music at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The collective, directed by Emily Cheung, is Toronto’s Jingju or Peking opera company. That this concert is part of the “Dance Series: Chinese Traditions Then and Now” is yet another reminder that world music performances also sometimes include dance.

29_shenyun1Keeping with the Chinese music and dance theme, on January 12 to 15, Falun Dafa presents “Shen Yu Performing Arts” at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. This massive NYC based company certainly aims high. It was established in 2006 with no less a mission than “reviving 5,000 years of divinely inspired Chinese culture.” Its mission statement makes an eloquent ideological case, “After more than 60 years of Communist Chinese rule …Chinese traditional culture has been all but completely demolished. However, the deeper spiritual core of the ancient culture, with its values of benevolence, honor, propriety, wisdom, and sincerity, as well as a reverence for the gods and the heavens, cannot be destroyed. In order to restore … Chinese traditional culture, a group of overseas Chinese artists established Shen Yun in New York.”

At the core of Shen Yun’s performances appears to be a vast staged pageant, with tableaux enacted by dozens of performers clothed in impressive, brilliantly coloured, custom-made costumes and supported by an original musical score performed by a Western orchestra, classical Chinese and regional ethnic dance styles, instruments such as erhu and pipa, and characteristic vocalists. The show’s narrative is transparent. It moves audiences from the Himalayas to tropical lake-filled regions, “from the legends of the culture’s creation over 5,000 years ago through to the story of Falun Dafa in China today.” With over 100 artists “Shen Yu Performing Arts” might be one of the primary proponents of the “go big because you can’t go home” school of world music (and dance) performance.

May you all have wonderful Holidays, a stellar 2012 and be able to go home if you want to.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer.  He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

12_taf_awardsBefore wading into the teeming waters of this month’s events, a moment’s reflection on the recognition of world music and of the general stature accorded to the arts in this town: The occasion that brought both together for me was the 2011 Mayor’s Arts Awards lunch. Presented by the Toronto Arts Foundation on Thursday October 20 at the Bay’s Arcadian Court, While this was the sixth such awards event, it was to have been Rob Ford’s first — that is, if he had chosen to attend the ceremony named after his office. But that would have meant delegating his high school football coaching duties (final game of the season you know). The mayor’s choice was not lost on the media covering the event or on the arts insiders who did attend. But his absence did surprisingly little to sour the mood, thanks in no small part to the deft emceeing of playwright, novelist and actor Ann-Marie MacDonald and a brace of earthy and soulful songs from blues singer and songwriter extraordinaire Rita Chiarelli led the proceeding with a brace of earthy and soulful songs, the second tapping her Italian roots. Then the awards rolled out.

More than 300 guests had cleared their busy agendas. The enthusiastic crowd consisted of seasoned artists, politicians, business leaders, arts patrons, bureaucrats and arts media. They gathered to celebrate artists, arts administrators and supporters who have helped build Toronto’s vibrant civic and cultural life. Five awards, with cash prizes totalling more than $40,000, were presented.

The Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre (previously widely known as Canadian Childrens Dance Theatre) won the Arts for Youth Award. In her acceptance speech artistic director Deborah Lundmark praised not only the key choreographers, teachers and dancers in her company, but also composers like the late Michael Baker who contributed significantly to the company’s success.

The Muriel Sherrin Award for international achievement in music went to the mrdangam and kanjira drummer, composer and York University music professor Trichy Sankaran. Indian born Sankaran has been an active fixture on the Toronto, and indeed on the global world music scene, for 40 years. He has tirelessly taught music, performed his native Carnatic classical music of South India, and has collaborated with a vast array of leading musicians from many genres. I see this award as a milestone, recognizing a lifetime of achievement. It’s also a recognition that world music has come of age in our town.

As for Sankaran’s contribution to the Toronto scene, it’s no exaggeration that he has taught and inspired dozens of musicians who have gone on to notable careers. One of them, ’80s Sankaran student, saxophonist Richard Underhill (best known as the leader of the bop rap jazz combo Shuffle Demons), was sitting to his former teacher’s left. (On a personal note, Trichy Sankaran is one of the reasons I’ve pursued a career in inter-cultural music.)

Echo: spotted among the “seasoned artists” at the aforementioned Arts Awards luncheon were Allan Gasser and Becca Whitla, the organizational glue of many a true community arts venture, among them Toronto’s Echo Women’s Choir. At the beating heart of most cultures around the world is the practice of community music and dance. These are too often sidelined in the public and media gaze, however, in favour of polished staged professional presentations, the kind that appear in large venues in cities. For 20 years the Echo Women’s Choir has been “keeping it real” by cultivating songs from many places — including our own — with passion, musicianship and a small-town activist community spirit.

So there’s no need to get out of town to celebrate the harvest season because on Saturday, November 5 you can do it at the heart of downtown. The Echo Women’s Choir is serving up an old-fashioned community square dance at the Church of the Holy Trinity, beside the Eaton Centre. I’ll be getting in touch with my inner square dancer as caller Lorraine Sutton guides dancers through the steps and Cape Breton fiddler Dan Macdonald and keyboardist Kate Murphy provide the essential live musical incentive. In true Echo Women’s Choir tradition, there’s more: craft activities for children, homemade preserves for sale and a gourmet home-baked pie raffle. I’m holding out for a tart and, hopefully, heritage apple pie.

And there’s so much more!

From November 1 through 6, Mirvish Productions presents Fela! at the Canon Theatre. Fela! is a dramatization of the story of Nigerian Afro-beat pioneer, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, whose powerful music ignited a generation; it is directed and choreographed by the Tony Award winning Bill T. Jones. Fela Kuti dedicated his life and music to the struggle for freedom and human dignity. The Broadway buzz is that this triumphant and athletic production chock full of Kuti’s propulsive music, Jones’ book and explosive choreography ends up as an inspirational evening.

The Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, continues its series of free noon concerts. On November 3, Nova Bhattacharya, dancer and Ed Hanley, tabla, present a programme titled “Bharatanatyam Beat.” On November 23, “In the Shadow of the Volcano,” featuring the traditional music of southern Italy, is performed by the Vesuvius Ensemble with tenor Francesco Pellegrino. Indigenous music genres include the villanelle, tarantella, fronna and tammurriata.

On November 4 at Koerner Hall, the Royal Conservatory presents star Spanish flamenco and tango singer Diego El Cigala. The show titled “Cigala & Tango” serves up an “evening when tango and flamenco join hands.” El Cigala is joined by leading Spanish and Argentine musicians. The same night at the Music Gallery, Minor Empire performs a concert co-produced by Small World Music. Minor Empire is a band with unabashed Turkish roots yet embracing the language of electro jazz. The group is manned by local musicians including Orgu Ozman, vocals; Ozan Boz and Michael Occhipinti, guitar; Chris Gartner, bass; Debashis Sinha, percussion; Ismail Hakki Fencioglu, oud; and Didem Basar, kanun.

Beyond the GTA, the University of Waterloo Department of Music hosts a free noon concert on November 16 called “Honkyoku Duet.” Traditional Japanese shakuhachi solos and contemporary duets are rendered by shakuhachi master Gerard Yun and Kathryn Ladano, bass clarinet, at the peaceful Conrad Grebel University College Chapel.

13_world_nagata_shachuNovember 18 to 20 will be auspicious days for Nagata Shachu. The Japanese taiko group performs at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre. John Terauds noted in the Toronto Star, “It’s another credit to this cosmopolitan city that one of the world’s most interesting Japanese taiko drumming ensembles hails from Toronto.” Not only will it unveil its second DVD video, but Nagata Shachu is also premiering a new show, Hana. Rooted in the folk drumming traditions of Japan, Nagata Shachu’s principal aim is to rejuvenate this performance art by producing innovative and exciting music that speaks to today’s audiences. Its production of Hana strives to strip away the superficiality of typical concert performances and to reveal the essence of each performer to the audience through the use of many kinds of taiko, flutes, shamisen, voice, and movement.

Over the past few years Gallery 345 has proven itself to be a modest venue with an ambitious programming policy. On November 18, multi-instrumentalist, singer and oud virtuoso Mel M’rabet pairs up in concert with the illustrious Cuban-Canadian pianist Hilario Duran. Mel has performed internationally with musicians such as Cesaria Evora, Steve Potts, Omar Sosa and Cheb Mami. Still at Gallery 345, the November 20 concert at 3:30pm is titled “David Lidov. Recital Number Six.” The world music aspect of the evening is in the form of the premiere of Lidov’s Obedient Ears for sulings (Indonesian bamboo ring flutes) and piano. Performers include David Lidov and William Wescott on piano, the Annex String Quartet and yours truly on sulings.

On November 25, Small World Music presents Naseer Shamma & the Magnificent Strings at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge St. And plucked strings are undoubtedly what you will hear. Naseer Shamma, a renowned Iraqi oud player, is joined on stage by Pakistani sitarist Ashraf Sharif Khan and Andalusian flamenco guitarist Romero Iglesias.

Judging from the next concert, it seems we’re already ramping up to the holiday season. On November 26 at 1 pm Small World Music presentsCelebrate! Holidays of the Global Village with Chris McKhool & Friends” at Trinity-St Paul’s Centre. This free multi-cultural musical mosaic includes musical guests Ernie and Maryem Tollar, Suba Sankaran, Shannon Thunderbird, Jordan Klapman, Aviva Chernick and the members of Sultans of String.

My world music also includes the music of the First Nations. The University of Toronto Faculty of Music presents “World Music Visitor: Pura Fé,” in a concert of First Nations contemporary music on November 26, 7:30pm, at Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building. The award-winning vocalist Pura Fé is a founding member of the native woman’s a capella trio, Ulali, and is recognized for bringing Native contemporary music into the mainstream.

November 27, the Batuki Music Society presents Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba at the Great Hall; 1087 Queen St. W. Bassekou Kouyaté is a virtuoso musician and singer whose work overlaps West African and American roots music. The ngoni, his instrument, is a “spike lute” and considered one of the ancestors of the banjo. Deeply anchored in the griot tradition, Kouyaté has collaborated with many musicians in and outside of Mali. He was part of Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabaté’s “Kulanjan” project, as well as serving as one of the key musicians on Ali Farka Toure’s posthumous album Savane (2006). He also toured and recorded with master banjoist Bela Fleck on the Grammy winning Throw Down Your Heart. I saw them in Toronto last summer and was duly mesmerized by their music.

14_world_chavaalbersteinFinally, on December 3, the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall showcases famed Israeli folk singer-songwriter Chava Alberstein, acclaimed as “the most important female folk singer in Israeli history,” with over 50 albums to her credit, in a double bill with extraordinary Egyptian-Canadian vocalist Maryem Tollar. Their large band includes Oved Efrat, acoustic guitar; Eran Weitz, guitars; Avi Agababa, percussion; Waleed Abdulhamid, bass; Naghmeh Farahmand, tombak; and Michael Ibrahim, nay. Local musicians include Ernie Tollar, saxophone and flutes; Hugh Marsh, electric violin; Ian De Souza, bass; and Levon Ichkhanian, guitar. I’m expecting the Israeli-Egyptian musical forecast in Koerner Hall to be convivial and warm, even though the temperature on Bloor St. might prove rather frigid that December Saturday night.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

world_trichysankaran2Over the past 30 years, as world music has emerged as a commercial music category, the general audience interest in it has continued to grow and morph. As a meta-genre, it has long jumped the boundaries of its component musics’ roots in their ethnic communities of origin. The various kinds of music included in the sea of world music, when observed at close hand, really consist of multiple interconnected pools. And here in Toronto there are many such pools teeming with life. This is the “scene” I try to get a feel for and share with you, dear reader, in each WholeNote issue.

As important as various groups and communities are to the overall vibrancy of the local world music scene, the significance of the contributions of certain individuals pops out occasionally. These individuals are the performers, teachers, producers and programmers without whose imagination, skill and dedication the scene would be a very still pool indeed.

Small World Music is a case in point. This production company is the lovechild of Alan Davis who cut his programming teeth at Toronto’s Music Gallery in the 1980s and 1990s. In the ten years since he founded his production company, Small World Music has become, arguably, Toronto’s most active and consistent presenter of music from many corners of the globe. It is also a supporter of music that mixes all sorts of genres. I attended the launch of the tenth annual Small World Music Festival on September 22, and got the scoop on this year’s lineup.

Having begun in September, the Small World Music Festival continues on October 2 at the Enwave Theatre, Harbourfront, with the Karevan Ensemble performing a concert titled “Homeland Variations.” Composed by Reza Moghaddas, the score received a 2011 Dora Mavor Moore Award nomination. Called “multimedia Persian fusion,” the music combines gypsy songs accompanied by kamancheh (Persian fiddle), punctuated by saxophone, keyboards and electric bass. Further sections feature R&B rhythms blended with industrial and electronic sounds, dovetailing with melancholy duduk (Armenian reed) melodies and the spirited upbeat juxtaposition of African percussion, kamancheh and tanbour (Kurdish lute). I’m guessing the dancer Bahareh Yaraghi will provide the “multimedia” aspect of the show.

The same Sunday night at the Royal Conservatory, Small World Music, in association with the RC, presents the Bollywood diva Asha Bhosle with Nilandri Kumar on sitar. Bhosle, one of the queens of playback singing, has performed an astounding 20,000+ songs in over 1,000 movies in her epic career. In fact she has the distinction of receiving the “most recorded artist” laurel from the Academy of World Records. Kumar, much the junior of Bhosle in age and experience, is an emerging Indian fusion sitarist with roots in the classical tradition. He has worked in Bollywood as a musician, and recorded with guitarist John McLaughlin on his album Floating Point, as well as on 13 of his own albums. We can expect that popular film songs and ghazals, songs sometimes included among the “light classical” side of North Indian music, will dominate the evening at Koerner Hall.

Another example of an individual who has made a significant contribution to Toronto’s world music scene is the mrdangam (South Indian hand drum) master and music professor Trichy Sankaran. It is hard to recall a time when Indian music–classical and otherwise–was not a feature of Toronto’s concert and university music education landscape, but there actually was such a time not that long ago.

A noted mrdangam player in India when still quite young, Sankaran came to York University 40 years ago to help build its newly hatched South Indian classical music (Karnatak music) programme. He’s still teaching at York, inspiring by example yet another generation of students to study this highly developed percussion art form. He has also inspired some of his two generations of students, myself included, to infuse Karnatak music’s language and discipline into their own music and scholarly research.

Sankaran’s 40th anniversary at York will be marked on October 4, 7:30pm, at a concert at the Tribute Communities Recital Hall, part of the York University Department of Music’s “Faculty Concert Series.” In addition to Sankaran’s brilliant mrdangam playing, guest musicians will include members of Autorickshaw (Suba Sankaran, piano and vocals; Ed Hanley, tabla; and Dylan Bell, bass guitar), as well as Mohan Kumar, ghatam, and Desi Narayanan, kanjira. Trichy Sankaran’s considerable contributions to his field are increasingly being acknowledged. He has recently been short listed for the Toronto Arts Foundation’s Muriel Sherrin Award for International Achievement in Music. He will be receiving the prestigious “Sangita Kalanidhi” title from the Music Academy in Chennai, India, in January 2012.

A commemoration of another sort takes place on October 21 and 22 at the Betty Oliphant Theatre. The works of the late Toronto composer and percussionist Ahmed Hassan were imbued with Afro-Caribbean and Middle Eastern influences. Written primarily in conjunction with Canadian theatrical dance, Hassan’s works will receive performances in their original staged dance context at the Abilities Arts Festival, produced by Peggy Baker Dance Projects. Renowned dancer Peggy Baker, the curator of this show, is Ahmed Hassan’s widow. Titled “The Neat Strange Music of Ahmed Hassan, his music will be performed along with the original dances, by important Toronto choreographers, for which his music was commissioned. The performers include senior students of the School of Toronto Dance Theatre; Hassan’s sister, Maryem Tollar, vocals and Mother Tongue, a “world beat” band.

version_1_peter_ahmedFrom October 15 to 23 the Music Gallery presents its annual X AVANT New Music Festival VI. The festival typically programmes avant-garde music in its many guises, however on Friday October 21 there is a world music element. That night, three acts represent various shades of contemporary music. The Montreal based sound artist Tim Hecker will play St. George the Martyr Church’s pipe organ plugged into a computer, the sound looped, altered and played back through the PA system, while the German pioneer of “glitch” music, Markus Popp, explores modern electronica. (Opening the evening, is a new cross-cultural Toronto music collective Global Cities Ensemble of which, as I mentioned in the June issue, I am a member, playing suling — Indonesian ring flute, and kacapi — Indonesian zither along with Araz Salek (tar — Persian lute); Abdominal (songs and rap) and Professor Fingers (live electronics), and blending instruments, intonation, and modes from Iran, Indonesia, India and Western musics.)

World music also makes several appearances this month further downtown on Front Street at the splashy, renovated Sony Centre For The Performing Arts. On October 21 “Goran Bregovic And His Wedding and Funeral Orchestra” features music from the mixed ethnic centre of Sarajevo, combining a Serbian gypsy band, a classical string ensemble, an Orthodox male choir and two Bulgarian female vocalists. On the 22nd, the Salsa Kings perform music from Cuba including the dance-infused music of the mambo, rumba and the cha cha cha.

Opening its run on October 26 also at the Sony Centre, David Mirvish presents “Bharati: The Wonder That Is India.” Judging from the promotions touting a “music and dance spectacle from India, featuring 70 dancers, actors, singers, acrobats and musicians,” this production appears to be a big-stage nationalistic extravaganza along the lines of recent Chinese productions and predated by the long-running Irish themed mega-shows “Riverdance” and “Celtic Woman.”

Bharati’s storyline, on the other hand, sounds compellingly contemporary. A modern day Siddharth raised in the U.S. and cynical of all things Indian returns home to cleanse the Ganges river of its pollution. Despite his contempt, Siddharth is attracted to a mysterious and elusive Indian woman, Bharati, who reintroduces him to the many wonders of India. As the story goes, in the end, Siddharth, appearing to be a sort of diasporic Everyman, discovers a new sense of self in this journey of homecoming, identity and redemptive love.

These are big, ambitious themes. I hope the production delivers them with more than simplistic bombast since I plan to attend.

I especially wish for a nuanced presentation of a sampling of the multitude of Indian traditional performing arts, among the treasures of the music of our world.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

September has come around again, yet many of us are eager to squeeze as much summer as possible out of this swing season month. While the fall concert season in the past has typically begun this month, in recent years it seems the lines between summer and fall seasons are becoming less defined.

An example of this is the CNE. This quintessential end-of summer celebration for generations of Ontarians has for decades been the Canadian National Exhibition, affectionately known as the “Ex.” Founded in 1879, this year it continues until September 5. Those of us who associate it with fond childhood fairground memories may have missed the news that these days, in addition to the midway, fair food and pavilions, the Ex hosts more than 80 performances of music and dance from around the world. The concerts mounted on the Transat Holidays International Stage located in Hall B of the Direct Energy Centre feature both local and visiting acts. In the words of the CNE, their programming “represents Canada’s vibrant cultural mosaic.”

The majority of the concerts take place in August but I found a few this month, which are of interest to world music aficionados. On Saturday, September 3 at 6:30pm “Hawaiian Pacific Magic,” a music and dance troupe, will take you on a tour of Polynesian culture. Their repertoire includes the Hawaiian hula along with its ancient chants, the magic poi dances of New Zealand and the drum-driven performance arts of Tahiti (the otea), Fiji and Samoa. I’ve experienced some of these performances on their home turf and when done with skill and passion they leave tacky Hollywood and TV stereotypes in the sand. There has long been a special place in my heart for this music and dance — a longing that only the island spirit of aloha can fill. Sadly it’s a balm much too rare in our town, and I’ll be sure to dip into it on this occasion.

world_faye___bryant_lopezOn Sunday September 4 at 3pm, Bryant and Faye Lopez appear as “Tango Soul” on the Transat Holidays International Stage. They will be dancing the Argentine tango to the virtuosic and emotive music which bonds so completely with this archetypal couple dance that it’s impossible to determine which accompanies which. Tango is a thrill to watch, only exceeded by the thrill experienced by those performing. Frank disclosure: I fall into the former armchair category.

If I were in town on the first weekend of September and got a hankering for Latin culture, I’d visit the “Hispanic Fiesta,” now in its 30th year, at North York’s Mel Lastman Square. The Fiesta features the music, dance and food of 20 different Spanish-speaking countries, and boasts over 300 local and international performers. Over the years the Fiesta has quietly garnered a reputation as one of the best-organized ethnic festivals in Toronto.

world_hafez_nazeriHafez Nazeri, among Iran’s younger generation of composers, is currently based in Toronto. His “Rumi Symphony Project,” based on the poetry of the famous Persian Sufi bard, is marking its Canadian debut at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts on September 10. The project has received glowing reviews from leading American dailies. Hafez Nazeri will perform alongside an international ensemble of musicians including his father, the noted vocalist Shahram Nazeri. The concert will also feature the world premiere of new compositions pairing the classical music of Iran and the West, from his upcoming album on Sony Classical. The composer aims to create a new genre that unifies these two distinct cultures and their musics.

world_davidbuchbinderLater on in the month, on September 27, a new music project called “Andalusia to Toronto” launches at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall. This concert, presented in partnership with Small World Music, mixes traditional and jazz-accented Arabic, Jewish and Afro-Cuban music, each of which celebrates roots on the Iberian Peninsula. Some of Toronto’s leading exponents of these genres are involved including David Buchbinder, trumpet and flugelhorn; Bassam Bishara, vocals and oud; Michal Cohen, vocals; Amanda Martinez, vocals; Hilario Durán, piano; Aleksandar Gajic, violin; Roberto Occhipinti, double bass; Jamie Haddad, percussion; and Roula Said, dance and voice.

My bet is that this outstanding group of musicians will take their audience on a thought-provoking and exhilarating multi-cultural musical excursion. I plan to be there. It will be a fine way to mentally prepare for the crisp fall weather coming all too soon.

He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

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