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.

 

 

Summer is here, bringing with it a plethora of world music events to take in, many of which will occur outdoors. Harbourfront is of course one of the biggest purveyors of music and culture on its many stages both indoor and out, but before having a look at its summer line-up, I’d like to draw your attention to a special event hosted by the Toronto Summer Music Festival. Bunraku is a form of Japanese puppet theatre, which originated in 17th-century Osaka. Puppets are often life-size, and the drama is accompanied by traditional music. On July 22, the Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe and Imada Puppet Troupe will perform at U of T’s MacMillan Theatre, preceded by a pre-performance talk at 6:45pm. The Bunraku Bay group is the only American troupe of its kind, and they are joined by their mentors from Japan (Imada was founded in 1704!) in a series of short plays.

p22Heading down to Harbourfront, Music in the Garden curator Tamara Bernstein has once again put together a fine series of free Thursday (7pm) and Sunday (4pm) concerts, running July 1 to September 19. For the full schedule, check out Harbourfront’s website, but here are some “world” highlights: on Canada Day, the Ahkwesasne Women Singers sing traditional Mowhawk songs, and there will be a world premiere of a new piece by Barbara Croall, Agamiling (On the Shore), for Native instruments, voice, clarinet and field recordings. On July 22, folk dances from around the world will be performed by Jayme Stone (banjo), Mike Barnett (fiddle), Grant Gordy (guitar) and Greg Garrison (bass). Vancouver’s Orchid Ensemble presents “The Road to Kashgar” on July 29, featuring music inspired by countries and cultures along the Silk Road. In addition to Chinese, Indian, Jewish and Central Asian music, they’ll play works by contemporary British Columbia composers. Toronto’s own Japanese taiko ensemble Nagata Shachu performs on August 5; and sarangi virtuosa Aruna Narayan, with Vineet Vyas (tabla) and Akshay Kalle (tanpura) perform North Indian ragas designated for twilight on August 19.

Still at Harbourfront, World Routes 2010 is a series of mini festivals running every weekend from Canada Day through Labour Day. Some highlights: vocalist Cheryl L’Hirondelle presents contemporary songs expressing the Cree world view, July 1, at Redpath Stage. (Unfortunately this is around the same time as that evening’s Music Garden concert, so you’ll have to choose.) “Hot Spot” runs July 2-4; highlights include the Toronto International Flamenco Festival, featuring dancers, singers and musicians, and l’Orchestre Septentrional, an 18-piece big band from Haiti, on July 3. “Expressions of Brazil” runs July 16-18; Roda de Samba performs July 17, and 17-year-old Mallu Magalhaes performs songs from her two albums, in Portuguese, English and French. “Island Soul” presents Caribbean culture July 30-August 2; roots/reggae vocalist Queen Ifrica performs July 31, and some of Canada’s best steelpan players jam August 1 and 2.

“What is Classical?” (Aug. 6-8) explores notions of “classical” music, of both East and West. The Turkish ensemble Djoumbush joins forces with Warhol Dervish (baroque and contemporary chamber music collective) on August 7. And last but not least, the Ashkenaz Festival of Jewish culture returns for its eighth round of performances showcasing both local and international artists, August 31-September 6. For details, visit www.ashkenazfestival.com and www.harbourfrontcentre.com/worldroutes2010 for details on all Harbourfront festivals.

The 11th annual Bana Y’Afrique, a free outdoor festival of African music and culture, takes place July 24 and 25 at Metro Hall Square (King/John). Presented by Africa New Music, there will be 16 performances by groups from across Canada and one from abroad. Performers include M’bilia Bel (Congolese singer known as the “Queen of Congolese rumba”), Ethio Stars Band (Ethiopian songs from the 1960s to the present), Afrafranto (Ghanaian “palm wine music” – a style involving guitars, named after the drink served at gatherings where African guitarists played), Umurisho (a Burundian-Canadian drumming/dance group), and much more.

Staying on the outdoors theme, Yonge/Dundas Square is a hub of activity throughout the summer. The Global Grooves series includes Tambura Rasa on July 2, a cross-cultural group featuring Spanish guitar, gypsy strings, Afro-Latin percussion, Flamenco and belly dancers. Co-presented with Small World Music, another “ethno-fusion” band from Quebec, Apadoorai combines Australian didgeridoo, Reggae, Arabic, Celtic and folk music, July 23. Also a Small World co-presentation, Les Gitans de Sarajevo plays Balkan/Gypsy style music and song on August 13. For the full schedule of events at Yonge/Dundas Square visit www.ydsquare.ca and for more from Small World Music, visit www.smallworldmusic.com.

If you’re a jazz fan, the Danforth Mosaic BIA (www.danforthmosaicbia.com/blog) has a series of free outdoor concerts at the Coxwell Parkette (Danforth, just west of Coxwell station), every Wednesday evening beginning July 7. You can hear Suba Sankaran and Indian-jazz fusion band Autorickshaw on July 14.

If staying indoors is a must, head to Hugh’s Room on July 9 to hear the Gypsy jazz ensemble Gypsophilia; they’ll also be at London, Ontario’s Sunfest on July 10/11. And the Russians are coming!  The Russian Cossack State Dance Company makes its Massey Hall debut on September 1. Thirty dancers, a chorus, vocal soloists, and a 10-piece chamber orchestra present a colourful and lively evening of some of the most athletic dance and music around!

Karen Ages can be reached at worldmusic@thewholenote.com

 

 

June is the month in which The WholeNote releases its “Green Pages” guide to summer music festivals – and there are at least two with events coming up that are obvious picks for world music lovers.

p21The 11th annual Muhtadi International Drumming Festival takes place June 5 and 6. The festival launch event is June 3 at the Wychwood Barns (7 – 10pm), and a parade on June 5 leaves Ramsden Park at 10am ending up at Queen’s Park, where performances continue to 8pm, as well as noon to 8 on June 6. The festival will showcase around 30 different groups or performers, representing drumming traditions from around the globe, with a focus this year on “Women in Rhythm.” For more details, visit www.muhtadidrumfest.com.

The other major host of world music events over the summer is of course Harbourfront Centre, which launches its World Routes series of mini festivals on July 1, running every weekend through September 6. For the 2010 series, Harbourfront explores  a “global to local, and local to global” theme in its programming. Canada Day events include “Gypsy Melody,” Roma music from Slovakia at 1pm, and vocalist Cheryl L’Hirondelle presenting contemporary songs expressing the Cree world view at 6:30 (Redpath Stage). “Hot Spot” runs July 2 – 4; highlights include The Toronto International Flamenco Festival, featuring dancers, singers and musicians, and L’Orchestre Septentrional, an 18-piece big band from Haiti, on July 3. Visit www.harbourfrontcentre.com/worldroutes2010 for more details.

Harbourfront also launches its annual Summer Music in the Garden series of free Thursday and Sunday concerts at the Toronto Music Garden. On July 1, there’s a concert featuring traditional Mohawk songs sung by the Ahkwesasne Women Singers, and the world premiere of a new piece by Barbara Croall, performed by the composer and clarinetist Peter Stoll. For full schedule, visit www.harbourfrontcentre.com/torontomusicgarden.

Toronto’s Luminato Festival has a few free noteworthy events: June 12, “Rock the Casbah” and “An African Prom” runs from 1 – 11pm at Queen’s Park, and features performances by Montreal banjo maestro Karim Saada, the Maryem Tollar Ensemble, Algerian-born rocker Rachid Taha, Nigeria’s Tony Allen, Mali’s Bassekou Kouyate and American banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck. Kouyate, a master of the ngoni, the banjo’s African ancestor, was a contributor to Fleck’s film and recording project Throw Down Your Heart, which you can catch the same day at the Isabel Bader Theatre. Luminato also presents a World Music Celebration on June 20, the closing day of the festival, at Queen’s Park, noon – 6.
Another festival offering a taste of music outside the Western “classical” tradition is Music at Sharon, which presents Ensemble Polaris on June 13. They’re known to play a host of unusual folk instruments, performing music from Scandinavia, the Baltics, Scotland and Canada.

And there’s still plenty happening on the usual concert curcuit. The Canadian Opera Company continues its noon-hour concert series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, with Nagata Shachu, Toronto’s Japanese Taiko ensemble that performs both traditional and newly composed works, June 3. The Toronto Children’s Chorus presents “Around the World in 80 Minutes” on June 5, featuring music from Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South America, and Europe, including a new klezmer work by Martin Van de Ven, clarinetist with guest performers Beyond the Pale klezmer ensemble.

p21_shajarianIn association with Roy Thomson Hall, Small World Music presents Persian vocalist Mohammad Reza Shajarian, with the Shahnaz Ensemble, June 6. One of the most well known performers of Iranian classical music, Shajarian has had a career spanning over 40 years, both at home and internationally. He’ll be accompanied by an ensemble of 15 instrumentalists, directed by Iranian composer and tar player Magid Derakhshani. Small World also presents Italian singer/songwriter Carmen Consoli at the Mod Club on June 20. See www.smallworldmusic.com.

As well, the Toronto Chinese Music School presents a concert of classical and contemporary Chinese music, June 25 at the P.C. Ho Theatre in north Toronto. Instruments featured include the huqin, erhu, gaohu and pipa. And last but not least, Toronto’s Shevchenko Musical Ensemble presents a feast of Ukrainian and other folk, classical and contemporary music, featuring the Shevchenko Choir, the Toronto Mandolin Orchestra, vocal and instrumental soloists and the Desna Ukrainian Dance Company, June 27 at the Isabel Bader Theatre.

Enjoy the warm weather (and the music) – and see you in July!

Karen Ages can be reached at worldmusic@thewholenote.com

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