p30For almost a decade, Toronto’s Lula Lounge, on Dundas St. West, has been a hub of musical activity, most notably as an informal dining lounge and bar that has served up some of the best in World music over the years. On October 8, Lula’s co-founder and Artistic Director José Ortega was presented the 2010 Roy Thomson Hall Award of Recognition, one of several Toronto Arts Foundation Awards presented at the annual Mayor’s Arts Awards Lunch. The Roy Thomson Award is intended “to recognize creative, performing, administrative, volunteer or philanthropic contributions to Toronto’s musical life.” And who better than Ortega to receive this award – in addition to being Lula’s artistic director, he also overseas its outreach and educational programmes, and has volunteered his expertise in programming to music festivals throughout the city. And he’s also an internationally known visual artist who has donated works to various projects. I asked Ortega to talk a bit about the Lula Lounge, his own artistic life, and the award.

In addition to being co-founder and artistic director of the Lula Lounge, you are also a visual artist. Can you talk a bit about your background in art? I grew up in New Jersey and studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I’ve worked as a commercial illustrator since 1986, doing book covers, posters, postage stamps, packaging, and public art projects for a variety of clients including NYC’s Metro Transit Authority, Macy’s, Absolut, the U.S. Postal Service and the Buckingham Hotel in Manhattan. Since moving to Toronto, I’ve done a lot of design work related to the city’s Latin jazz and salsa scenes: projects like CD covers for David Buchbinder, Hilario Durán and Alexis Baro, as well as many poster designs for Lula. Over the years, my work has been included in group exhibitions both here and in the U.S., and last summer I had a solo show in Seoul, Korea. Over the past four years, I’ve contributed mural designs to our local BIA for large murals in the Dundas West area.

How and when did you come to create what we now know as the Lula Lounge, and who were some of the very first performers? We opened Lula is 2002. At the time, we were working as part of a not-for profit organization called Open City that organized weekend-long community arts festivals. These events had outgrown the private, warehouse space at 2 Federal that we were using. My business partner (José Neives) and I decided to take the plunge and buy a formal venue space. We felt that there was a void in Toronto’s live music scene that we hoped we could fill. It seemed to us that Toronto artists working outside of the mainstreams of North American music needed a high calibre performance space that they could launch new projects in.

Our very first performer was Cuban singer Isaac Delgado. The first local acts included many Canadian artists who have since made names for themselves on the national music scenes. Performers such as Amanda Martinez, Hilario Durán, Eliana Cuevas, Alexis Baro, Luisito Orbegoso. In the early days, we also hosted alternative bands like Metric and Feist; international performers have included Norah Jones, John Cale, the Mahotella Queens, Carl Palmer, Eliades Ochoa, Randy Brecker, El Negro and Ricardo Lemvo to name just a few.

What is your mandate or vision when it comes to programming? Our programming initially focussed on latin jazz and salsa but over the years has grown to include everything from rock to chamber to blues, African, Brazilian and other world music. Partly because of the high quality sound system at Lula as well as our commitment to providing the best performance experience that we can for the artists, we’ve had the pleasure of developing long term relationships with groups like the Gryphon Trio and organizations such as Small World Music and Batuki Music Society as well as individual artists such as Hilario Durán, Roberto Occhipinti, Dominic Mancuso and many many more.

The not for profit that we grew out of has changed it name to Lula Music and Arts Centre. Through that organization we continue to support Afro Latin Brazilian forms as they evolve in a Canadian context. At the same time, we try to build bridges across communities by bringing artists from different cultures together to realize various projects.

At lot of what we do is really facilitating musicians, organizations and presenters in creating their individual projects. These eight years of running Lula have lead us to the realization that in order to have a vibrant music scene, the city needs spaces where artists can realize their own visions, rather than trying to fit into the vision of programmers and venue owners.

Because of our world music programming direction and the quality of the performance experience that we strive for, we are often sought out by international, touring, world and Latin artists. So even on the international level, much of what we present seeks us out, rather than the other way around.

In addition to being a music performance venue, what other projects is the Lula Lounge involved with? Over the past few years, as Lula Music and Arts Centre, we’ve been involved in many projects outside of the walls of Lula. We helped to create the band SalsAfrica – a project that began in 2008 to bring together Latin, African and jazz musicians in order to explore the African roots of salsa. We’ve contributed to programming at Samba on Dundas, Harbourfront’s Ritmo y Color, Salsa on St. Clair and Luminato. Each May, we produce a world music festival called Lulaworld to showcase Canadian world musicians. Lula Music and Arts Centre also runs a very successful programme for high school French, Spanish and music students...

What does it mean to you to have won this award?

Of course, I was personally thrilled to have won the award. But I think that all of the Lula team including many of the musicians and community partners saw the award as recognition of the immense contribution that the Latin, Brazilian, African and other world musicians are making to the cultural vibrancy of Toronto. It feels like affirmation of our early intuition that there was a void in Toronto's musical landscape that needed to be filled. We do need affordable spaces for artists outside of the mainstream to do their thing. The award also seems like confirmation that the health of the city's musical life depends on embracing diversity and providing opportunities for the incredible wealth of talent that has made Toronto its home.

Who/what are some of the “not to be missed” performers/concerts coming up at the Lula Lounge in the coming months?

We're really excited about our new Sunday brunch program. This weekly event is an extension of other family friendly projects that we're working on. The brunches include live Cuban Son by Luis Mario Ochoa's Traditional Quartet. We've got the Roberto Linares Brown Orchestra on December 18th and New York based Gary Morgan is back with his PanAmericana project on December 29th. New concerts get added all the time so please check the schedule at www.lula.ca!

What other projects are you involved with personally, either as a visual artist or in other capacities, ongoing or coming up in the future?

I'm currently working on a "love" stamp for the U.S. Postal service to be released in time for Valentine's Day 2011 as well as on a public art project for the municipality of Guyaquil, Ecuador. Over the next year, I want to work on a documentary about Lula and the artists and communities that make it what it is. Besides continuing to program and do design work for Lula, I'm hoping to find more time to work on my painting. Over the past few years, I haven't had nearly enough time to work on my own art but I hope to change that in 2011.

Some Upcoming World-Music Events

• Luis Mario Ochoa performs at Lula’s Family Sunday Brunch till Dec. 19, noon – 3 pm.

• Pandora’s Box Salon presents Around the World in 80 Minutes, December 5 at the Aurora Cultural Centre, featuring music and dance from India, Egypt, Iran, Bali, Africa, and Europe.

• The Pearl Company presents Celtic band “Rant Maggie Rant,” December 11, 16 Steven St., Hamilton. Traditional Celtic music combined with Latin percussion and Appalachian swing.

• Echo Women’s Choir performs December 12 at Church of the Holy Trinity. In addition to settings of text by Margaret Atwood (from The Year of the Flood), they’ll also sing two South African songs in their original languages, and a composition by co-choir director Alan Gasser (a setting of words by Desmond Tutu), Three Appalachian Love Songs and other works

p31• Juno Award-winning vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia performs North Indian ghazals and Punjabi folk songs at Koerner Hall, January 22. Opening for her is seven-member instrumental/vocal /dance ensemble Rhythm of Rajasthan.

And, a big congratulations to Toronto’s Klezmer/East European folk band Beyond the Pale for winning the “Instrumental Group of the Year” and “Pushing the Boundaries” awards at the sixth annual Canadian Folk Music Awards held in Winnipeg this November!

Karen Ages can be reached at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

I’ll begin where I left off last month, with a reminder about Nagata Shachu, Toronto’s own Japanese taiko drumming ensemble, who present a new programme titled “Iroha” (colour), directed by Aki Takahashi, with lighting by Arun Srinivasan, November 5 and 6 at Fleck Dance Theatre. Each piece on the programme is inspired by a colour. In addition to drumming and the use of other traditional instruments, the programme includes some choreography.

November 6 is also the date you can catch the Ukulele Orchestra of Britain, performing at the University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall. This ensemble of around eight players is on tour this year (they’ll be coming to us via New York’s Carnegie Hall and a concert in Erie Pennsylvania, before heading back home briefly, then departing to New Zealand). The name says it all – they play ukuleles of various sizes, and if you’d like a sampling of their music, check them out on YouTube! You can also visit their website, www.ukuleleorchestra.com. Check out their rendition of “Ride of the Valkyries”; and yes, they sing too!

page_29_lulaSmall World Music continues its regular programming this month with concerts at the Lula Lounge and elsewhere. (And speaking of Lula, their artistic director for the past decade, José Ortega, was recently awarded the Roy Thomson Hall Award of Recognition, one of the 2010 Toronto Arts Foundation Awards; more about Ortega next month.)

But to continue with Small World Music: Septeto Nacional, Cuba’s “son” band formed over 80 years ago, brings the spirit of Havana to the Lula Lounge on November 5; then, hailed as “the new voice of Brazil”, singer Luisa Maita performs there on November 12. On November 13 there is a co-presentation of Chhandayan, Small World Music and Creations India — devotees of Indian classical music can experience a traditional all-night concert at St. Andrew’s Church. Featured musicians include Swapan Chaudhuri, Samir Chatterjee, Shashank, Ramesh Misra, Pandita Tripti Mukherjee, Suman Ghosh, Alam Khan, Gauri Guha, Dibyarka Chatterjee and others. Finally, on November 26 “India’s first YouTube star” Wilbur Sargunaraj, who hails from Tamil Nadu, brings a combination of dance, drumming and humour to the Lula Lounge.

For more info on all of these, visit www.smallworldmusic.com.

Yiannis Kapoulas

Also at the Lula Lounge, multi-instrumentalist Yiannis Kapoulas performs selections from his self-titled debut CD, with a six-piece ensemble, November 14. His signature instrument is the “Ethno III” a 3-necked instrument designed by his father George Kapoulas, which combines sonorities of the Greek bouzouki with those of two Turkish instruments, the saz and cumbus. Born in Hamilton to Greek parents, Yiannis plays a number of instruments from this region, including bouzouki, tzoura, baglama, laouto, oud, as well and other Eastern stringed instruments, guitar, percussion and keyboard. He first began performing with his father and brother at the age of 5. Since then he has gone on to establish himself as a musician and award-winning songwriter in international competitions. His career has flourished in both Greece and Canada, where earlier this year he was named this city’s “Best Live Acoustic Act” by the Toronto Independent Music Awards.

Folk music lovers will also be interested to know that award-winning blues singer/guitarist Joel Fafard is on tour this month with the release of his new album “Cluck Old Hen.” Included are vocal covers of old Southern roots and blues songs, tunes by Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Richard Thompson, Lyle Lovett, and traditional Appalachian pieces. He’ll be performing at the Free Times Cafe (320 College St. just west of Spadina) on November 20.

And looking ahead to December: Pandora’s Box Salon is a new venture in Aurora put together by French horn player Katie Toksoy. There are 5 events planned this season (the first has just passed, as I write this). Each is on a particular theme; a variety of art forms are featured including music, dance, literature, film, and visual arts. It all takes place at the newly renovated concert space in the Aurora Cultural Centre. Each event also includes wine and finger foods during an extended intermission so that artists and audience can mix and mingle. Proceeds go to a local charity. The next event is on December 5, and is titled “Around the World in 80 Minutes”; it features music and dance from India, Egypt, Iran, Bali, Africa, and Europe. Performers include sitarist Anwar Khurshid (director of the Sitar School of Toronto), the Sonore Percussion Trio, Sabrina Nazar on wooden flute, a bellydancer, and others. For more information on Pandora’s Box, visit www.pandorasboxsalon.com.

 

Karen Ages can be reached at

worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

By now, the concert season is well under way – and the world music scene has much to offer this month. Here are some highlights.

p30Virtuoso banjo player Jayme Stone launches a new CD with a cross-Canada tour that includes a concert October 13 at Hugh’s Room. Room of Wonders is a wonderful musical romp inspired by folk dances from around the world. I’ve had a sneak preview of the album, and this promises to be a lively evening of superb musicianship featuring banjo, fiddle, guitar, bass, nyckelharpa and other instruments in a kind of Appalachian “old-time-meets the rest of the world” scenario. Represented are dance tunes from Bulgaria, Ireland, Brazil, Norway and elsewhere. There’s even an arrangement of a Bach French suite.

Prior to this latest venture, Stone’s previous CD, Africa to Appalachia was a collaboration with Malian kora player and singer Mansa Sissoko, the result of a stay in Mali where Stone researched the banjo’s African roots. This Juno award-winning album led to a two-year tour of Canada, the US and the UK. I’ve been told Stone will soon launch a new website and a short documentary on the making of Room of Wonders, which will also include free lessons for aspiring banjoists! In the meantime, visit http://jaymestone.com.

After undergoing two years of extensive renovations, the Sony Centre re-opens this month with some exciting programming. Sure to be a spectacular event, “Dream of the Red Chamber” (October 12, 13) features the Beijing Friendship Dance Company in their interpretation of one of China’s most revered works of literature by the same name. Described as a “Chinese Romeo and Juliet love story,” the production blends classical ballet and traditional Chinese dance, with a score by Academy Award-winning composer Cong Su (best original score, The Last Emperor), 80 dancers and 800 costumes! The show is presented in celebration of 40 years of diplomatic relations between China and Canada.

Also, touted as “the Bob Dylan of Iran,” controversial musician Mohsen Namjoo fuses traditional Persian music with western blues and rock, October 16 at the Sony Centre, along with his band and a full live orchestra. Namjoo is a master vocalist, composer and setar player, who originally trained at and was later expelled from the Tehran University music programme for refusing to toe conventional lines. As difficult as it is to be an independent artist in Iran, Namjoo’s career took off due to internet exposure. Now based in California, he is free to create music that resonates with Iran’s youth, while appealing to audiences regardless of background.

Toronto based Yiddish singer Lenka Lichtenberg says, “after a little breather, to allow space for several members’ individual projects (namely CD releases), The Sisters of Sheynville are getting back into the groove and a regular rehearsal mode. The plan is to prepare a lot of new material this fall, and work towards a new CD in the spring.”

Upcoming gigs for this all-female Yiddish swing/klezmer band include Bread and Circus (299 Augusta Ave., Kensington Market) on October 7, and the Reservoir Lounge some time in November. Lenka had a well attended CD release concert of her own recently at last month’s Ashkenaz Festival, and you can read a review of Fray in the September WholeNote. She’s also been engaged in a unique synagogue project in Europe, doing recordings of traditional and new liturgical music that she says may be the most significant project of her life. She calls it “Songs for the Breathing Walls,” and hopes to continue with it for years to come. For more about Lichtenberg, visit www.lenkalichtenberg.com.

A new “kid” on the musical block, the Vesuvius Ensemble, has its inaugural concert on October 29 at the Edward Day Gallery, 952 Queen St. W. Dedicated to performing and preserving the folk music of Naples and southern Italy, the group is led by Italian tenor Francesco Pellegrino, who now teaches at the University of Toronto. He’ll be joined by Marco Cera (oboist with Tafelmusik who also plays baroque guitar, chitarra battente, and ciaramella – a type of Italian shawm), Lucas Harris (baroque guitar, and chitarrone – a large bass lute), and guest percussionist Kate Robson. And they’ve got a website up and running too: check out www.vesuviusensemble.com.

Looking ahead to November, Toronto’s own Nagata Shachu Japanese taiko drumming ensemble presents a new programme titled “Iroha” (colour), November 5 and 6 at Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queen’s Quay West. The production is directed by long-time member Aki Takahashi, with lighting by Arun Srinivasan. Each piece has been influenced by a colour, and in addition to drumming there will be more choreography.

“Colour can be expressed in countless ways,” says Takahashi; “people might describe the same colour differently depending on their mental and emotional associations with it. In Japan, where the four seasons are distinct, people experience each time of year through colours in nature. I hope people will discover the illuminating nature of our music reflected in the interplay of iroha.” Nagata Shachu (formerly known as the Kiyoshi Nagata Ensemble) has a number of CDs to its name; primarily it’s a drumming group, but they perform on a host of other traditional Japanese instruments as well, creating a variety of sonic textures. It will be interesting to see how they illustrate the notion of colour!

Thursdays 7:00 to 8:30pm, October 14 to November 18, at the Miles Nadal JCC. Call Harriet Wichin at 416-924-6211 x133 or music@mnjcc.org.

 

Karen Ages can be reached at worldmusic@thewholenote.com

 

World Music
Goes Uptown

With the arrival of September, the “official plan” for this column was to take a broad view of Toronto’s world music scene, and to look at a major development in the 2010-11 season. But before we get to that, there are two major festivals happening this month that deserve to be addressed in detail.

First out of the gate is Ashkenaz, Toronto’s biennial celebration of Jewish culture, which has just started and runs until September 6. Strictly speaking, the Ashkenazim are the Yiddish-speaking people of Eastern Europe – but the festival is much broader than that, and encompasses Jewish arts throughout the world.

Most Ashkenaz events take place at Harbourfront Centre – although there are also concerts at the Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas St. W.) and Caplansky’s Delicatessen (356 College St.). Not surprisingly, klezmer music is well represented: for instance, on September 5 there’s a Community Klezmer Showcase (1:00 on the Redpath Stage) and a cleverly named group from Italy called Klezmerata Fiorentina (2:30 in the Brigantine Room). The following day you can hear local klez clarinetist Martin Van De Ven and accordionist Sasha Luminsky (5:00 on the Lakeside Terrace). And there’s lots more.

But, as I said, Ashkenaz isn’t just about East European culture. On September 4 at 7:00 Flory Jagoda appears at the Enwave Theatre for a rare performance of Ladino songs. Later that evening, at 11:00 in the Brigantine Room, there’s a Sephardic and Mizrachi Cabaret. For those who like musical styles blended together, there’s David Buchbinder’s “Odessa/Havana” (September 5 at 7:00 in the Brigantine room), which brings together Yiddish and Afro-Cuban influences. And for those who like musical categories bent completely out of shape, check out Balkan Beatbox (September 5 at 9:30pm on the Sirius Stage), billed as “Balkan, funk, hip-hop, Middle-Eastern, reggae, and Sephardic music.” The selections above just scratch the surface. For more information go to www.ashkenazfestival.com.

Beginning later in the month, on September 23, and running to October 3, Small World Music presents its own Music Festival: 10 days of performances in venues throughout Toronto. It’s a musical tour of the world, featuring everything from folksongs from the Republic of Georgia (Darbazi, on September 24 at the Royal Conservatory) to contemporary Ugandan music (Kinobe, on September 29 at the Lula Lounge). There’s a free concert at Word on the Street (September 26 at Queen’s Park), and a “Global Soul” grand finale, featuring musicians from around the world (October 3 at the Isabel Bader Theatre). Again, these concerts just scratch the surface. Complete festival listings may be found at www.smallworldmusic.com.

Now let’s take a look at the big picture. It’s just possible that Toronto’s 2010-11 season will be remembered as the moment at which world music went mainstream. Traditionally, world-music concerts have catered to niche markets and cognoscenti, and have taken place in smaller, low-rent venues. That’s been slowly changing – and it’s about to change a lot more.

Roy Thomson Hall has been a leader in this regard – and this year’s programming at Toronto’s flagship auditorium is no exception. This year there are three big world-music concerts coming to bring some colour to the Grey Lady at King and Simcoe. On October 3 Homay and the Mastan Ensemble bring Iran’s classical music to Toronto; on February 13 there’s an Argentinian music and dance show called “Tango Buenos Aires”; and on February 25 frequent visitors Ladysmith Black Mambazo perform vocal music from South Africa.

When the Sony (formerly Hummingbird, formerly O’Keefe) Centre re-opens this fall, world music will be well represented. “Merchants of Bollywood” opens on November 4, and “Kodo Drummers of Japan” will pound out a performance on March 11.

P27Added to these offerings is a major new boost for world music coming from the Royal Conservatory of Music. The RCM’s concert series in Koerner Hall (and sometimes also the smaller Mazzoleni Hall) is now in its second season, and is just bursting with musicians from around the globe. The Conservatory’s world music programming begins on October 16 with Mallorcan singer/songwriter Buika; one week later, South Africa’s Hugh Masekela brings his trumpet to Koerner. And the bleakness of a Toronto November will be brightened, on the 27th of the month, by “New Orleans Nights” with Allen Toussaint, Nicholas Payton and the Joe Krown Trio.

In the new year, the Conservatory will present Kiran Ahluwalia and Rhythm of Rajasthan (January 22), “Acoustic Africa,” featuring Habib Koité, Oliver Mtukudzi and Afel Bocoum (March 6); and the “rainbow nation” sounds of the Johnny Clegg Band from South Africa (April 13). And further reinforcing the impression that the Conservatory is now the place for world music is Soundstreams Canada, which brings a Brazilian duo – vocalist Monica Salmaso and guitarist Fábio Zanon – to Koerner Hall on April 28.

Do all of the forementioned concerts pass muster as world music? Does Dixieland jazz “count”? If world music is about breaking down boundaries and embracing musical roots, then the boundaries of the genre (if it may be called a genre) are bound to be fuzzy and flexible. Something would be wrong if they weren’t.

 

Colin Eatock is a Toronto-based composer, writer and managing editor of The WholeNote. Our regular columnist, Karen Ages, returns to World View next month.

 

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