19_arabesque_dance_companyThis month starts auspiciously with the Arabesque Dance Company & Orchestra’s world premiere of its NOOR (Light), running March 3 - 6 at Harbourfront’s Fleck Dance Theatre. This ambitious production promises to be among the grandest world performance events this season with an international ensemble of 17 dancers and 14 musicians, including three vocalists. Linking traditional art forms from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Spain, NOOR evokes the rich influence of Arab art in medieval Andalusia as expressed through spiritual poetry, regional music and dance. The company directors Yasmina Ramzy and Bassam Bishara collaborated with the noted violinist and exponent of the ancient Muwashshahaat poetic tradition Fathi Aljarah, with Canada’s premiere flamenco guitar master Roger Scannura and dancer Valeria Scannura of Ritmo Flamenco. The result is a juxtaposition of the more languid belly dancing tradition with the fiery brilliance of flamenco.

19_acoustic_africaWest African music lovers are in for a treat on March 6. The Royal Conservatory of Music in partnership with Small World Music present Acoustic Africa, a concert featuring three headliners: Habib Koité, Oliver Mtukudzi, and Afel Bocoum, legends in their native Mali and Zimbabwe. We can expect an infectious blend of pop, South African mbaqanga, jit and traditional kateke drumming. I’m willing to bet that more than a few patrons will get up out of their Koerner Hall seats to dance along.

Melodies of Armenia on March 10 is part of the free World Music Series held noon at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The concert by the Levon Ichkhanian Quartet shines the spotlight on the playing of Mark Korven’s soulful duduk, an apricot wood shawm with ancient roots in Armenian culture. Levon Ichkhanian on plucked strings, bassist Victor Bateman and Wilson Laurencin on percussion join the duduk in presenting the oft melancholy music of Armenia.

The Kodo Drummers of Japan marks its 30th anniversary this year bringing its show to the Sony Centre For The Performing Arts on March 11. I saw them years ago and their interpretations dazzled the audience with feats of astounding percussive speed, dexterity, and muscular endurance.

The Musideum is a unique and fun downtown Toronto music retail store cum museum, filled to the ceiling with musical instruments from around the world. Its Friday 7pm series continues March 11 with the FreePlay Duo in which Suba Sankaran and Dylan Bell (of Autorickshaw fame) sing a capella songs accompanied only by a digital looping station.  On March 25 local world music diva Maryem Hassan Tollar performs with musicians Ian De Souza and Chris Church.

Hindustani classical music will take the stage on March 17 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Presented by Small World Music, the concert presents the leading younger generation sitarist Nilandri Kumar (whose father was the prominent sitarist Pandit Kartick Kumar) with the celebrated tabla maestro Zakir Hussain.  Zakir received a firm musical foundation from his father the honoured late tabla virtuoso Allah Rakha, though many would say Zakir with his brilliant technique and crowd-pleasing musicianship has outstripped his guru’s international fame through his expeditions across once-forbidding musical boundaries.

Readers may be surprised to see the name of Toronto’s ViaSalzburg Chamber Orchestra in this column. They owe this distinction to the special guests for their Glenn Gould Studio concert on March 24 and 25: Canada’s pioneer Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan. (Full disclosure: I have been composing for and performing with Evergreen since its inception in 1983). The programme will include the epic Beethoven String Quartet Op. 131, Montreal composer Michael Oesterle’s piece for gamelan degung and string quartet, and Evergreen Club’s performance of “Ibu Trish” (1989), its signature work by American composer Lou Harrison for gamelan.

Kicking off its New World Series on March 25, the Music Gallery and Batuki Music Society present ETHIO T.O.  This concert, described as “Ethiopian and Eritrean pentatonic jazz-funk” features two bands. Ethio Fidel is led by the local first-call Ethiopian bandleader saxophonist, Girma Wolde Michael. The group Canaille on the other hand is directed by the multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Strachan, who is strongly influenced by Ethiopian horn arrangements and tonality. Toronto has the second largest population of people from Ethiopia and Eritrea in North America. Kudos to The Music Gallery which has thought to bring the music of Ethiopia’s “Golden Age” of the ’60s and ’70s to its venue just north of Queen St.

The next day on March 26 the Echo Women’s Choir and Mariposa In The Schools present David and Goliath: An Earth Hour Evening of Song and Story at the historic Church of the Holy Trinity, benefitting both of these charitable organizations that bring music to diverse communities. This spirited evening of international songs and stories will feature artists such as Ken Whiteley, the 80-voice Echo Women’s Choir, David Anderson, Njacko Backo, Jowi Taylor and the Cuban Percussion Ensemble.

Brampton’s spiffy Rose Theatre is stepping up to challenge T.O.’s hold on touring world musicians on March 31. Debashish Bhattacharya, among the pre-eminent Hindustani slide guitarists today, will appear accompanied by Shubhasis Bhattacharya on tabla. The duo will bring the classical raag and taal based music of northern India to Flowertown.

Finally, this is the time of year for new beginnings. Nowruz marks the Iranian New Year, celebrated on the vernal equinox by Iranians all over the world. The youthful Sarv Ensemble presents two concerts on April 1 and 2 called Eidaneh: A Celebration of Persian New Year and Arrival of Spring. They perform Iranian classical and folk music at the Beit Zatoun House on 612 Markham St. in downtown Toronto. Just one year old, this new venue is a large open gallery that aims to serve as a platform for social justice and human rights events. “When we share the art and culture of another then there is no room for injustice or hatred.” A noble vision indeed. ν

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

In 1979, Toronto became the first municipality in Canada to formally proclaim Black History Month. BHM affords citizens a special opportunity to recognize the past and present contributions that African Canadians make to the life of Toronto in such areas as education, medicine, public service, politics – and the arts, including music. Adding weight to this recognition, the United Nations has declared 2011 the “UN Year for People of African Descent.”

p10__amadou_keinouCelebrations kick off with the 15th annual Kuumba festival at the Harbourfront Centre for two weekends, February 5-6 and 12-13. Among the many notable events exploring Black and Caribbean culture, here are my musical picks. Amadou Kienou, who comes from a family of renowned traditional praise singers from Burkina Faso, performs on February 6. Kienou’s repertoire consists of Mandingue songs and dances that he has adapted, accompanied by the djembe (a West African drum). The same day, the group Pablo Terry y Sol de Cuba brings its Cuban-drenched sound to the Lakeside Terrace. Terry honed his musical skills working with outstanding Cuban musicians such as Celia Cruz, Omara Portuondo and Compay Segundo of the Buena Vista Social Club. The following weekend, on February 13, the Kuumba Gospel Fest 2011 features a who’s who of local gospel music talent. In addition there is a wealth of other events at Kuumba many free– programmed in the family-friendly manner we have become accustomed to at Harbourfront.

Chinese New Year also falls in February this year. In honour of the incoming Year of the Rabbit, the Canadian Sinfonietta presents a Chinese themed concert on February 12 at the Glenn Gould Studio. The well-known erhu (Chinese fiddle) virtuoso George Gao will be featured with the Sinfonietta in an unusual program of works composed by contemporary Chinese composers.

On February 17 the group Kinobe and Soul Beat Africa brings the music of East Africa to the Living Arts Centre, Mississauga. Rooted in Ugandan music, Soul Beat Africa’s music is a synthesis of African roots and world music, of traditional and modern instrumentation. The group is led by veteran multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter, Kinobe. In a forward-thinking educational tie-in, the Living Arts Centre is presenting two workshops on February 18, introducing traditional African instruments kora, kalimba, adungu, endongo, ngoni and various drums to elementary school children. More presenters ought to do the same!

Still in Mississauga, the Chamber Music Society of Mississauga presents the brilliant musicians of the Shiraz Ensemble in a programme of Persian classical music on February 19 at The Unitarian Congregation of Mississauga.

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale, Canada’s professional ensemble dedicated to the dissemination of Afrocentric choral music, presents Voices of the Diaspora … Haitian Voices on February 23 and 26. Conducted by Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, the program will highlight the poetic and musical traditions of Haiti, in particular Creole language and spirituality. The concert will feature the works of composer Sydney Guillaume, including two premieres – Ayiti and Diplomaci.

World musicians have often focused on the energy, synergy and excitement generated by cultural mixology. A good example can be heard February 26 at the Mod Club, with the premiere Toronto performance, presented by the Ashkenaz Foundation, of Yemen Blues, a new Israeli-based world music group enjoying quite a buzz. Founded a few years ago by the Yemenite vocalist Ravid Kahalani, this nine-piece international ensemble presents an energy-packed 21st century musical brew of Yemenite-Jewish song and poetry, American jazz, blues and funk, and West African grooves. Some Yemen Blues concerts have been reported to erupt into spontaneously ecstatic dance-fuelled celebrations.

Music and dance often go hand-in-hand. When the partnership works, there is a mysterious symbiosis, as in a good marriage. European Renaissance and Baroque composers knew this well, and the practice continues in the waltz time music of Johann Strauss every bit as much as in the hiphop-infused music of today.

That being said, it is rare to find anywhere a single person equally fluent in both music and dance. We have a homegrown practitioner of this exceptional dual mastery in Toronto’s Peter Chin. The Jamaican-born Chin has been called, “one of the finest contemporary choreographers working in Canada.” While he is best known for his award-winning choreography and dance performances, Chin is an accomplished life-long musician, singer, and a composer with a unique voice. His music has been performed by groups such as Gamelan Toronto, Array Music, Jeng Yi Korean percussion ensemble, St Michael’s Choir School and the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan. The CanAsian International Dance Festival is presenting a new program by Peter Chin titled Olden New Golden Blue on February 24 and 26 at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront. Five young Cambodian dancers will interpret choreography and music featuring big, deep social and artistic themes. I won’t miss it.

Another project of note merging music and dance is The Toronto Consort’s Marco Polo Project. Over 38 seasons, the Toronto Consort has crystallised into one of our city’s musical jewels, recognized internationally for its top-flight performances of European medieval, renaissance and early baroque repertoire. On February 18 and 19 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, however, with the aid of guest artists skilled at working within a South Asian cultural heritage, their program seeks to answer the rhetorical question “what tunes would Marco Polo have had on his iPod?” Joining the Consort in this exploration is choreographer Lata Pada and members of her company Sampradaya Dance Creations. Singer/composer Suba Sankaran and tabla player Ed Hanley of the Indo-fusion ensemble Autorickshaw are also aboard for this expedition, as Consort and guests weave an imaginary tapestry of the sort of music 14th century explorer Marco Polo might have encountered on his travels. Performers and audience alike will undoubtedly have fun with this concept.

York University’s Department of Music is presenting several free concerts highlighting its world music instructors in programs jauntily titled World at Noon. All concerts are at the Martin Family Lounge, 219 Accolade East Building. On February 3 the Gareth Burgess Steelpan Ensemble performs jazz standards, R & B arrangements and original compositions. Leading local Japanese music masters Linda Caplan (koto) and Gerard Yun (shakuhachi) perform traditional and contemporary Japanese music February 17. And the Irene Markoff Ensemble, highly accomplished musicians all, performs traditional Balkan music on March 3.

Bookending Black History Month, on March 6, the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall is the venue for Acoustic Africa, presented in partnership with Small World Music, a musical journey led by five top African string instrumentalists and singers. The instruments include traditional monochords, kamele n’goni (Malian lute), as well as the modern guitar and violin. The group is co-directed by international stars of African pop music. No stranger to Toronto stages, the legendary Zimbabwean singer, composer and bandleader Oliver Mtukudzi is the innovator of an undeniably contagious musical style. His music has been inspired by the intricate melodies and rhythms of the mbira (thumb piano), and incorporates South African mbaqanga, the energetic Zimbabwean pop style jit, and traditional kateke drumming. Co-headliner Afel Bocoum is a Malian guitarist, singer, composer and protégé of the late Malian guitar innovator Ali Farka Touré. (I still recall with pleasure and a smile the memorable concert Farka Touré gave a couple of decades ago at Harbourfront.)

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

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.

Back to top