During the month of May, Toronto’s Latin music mecca, Lula Lounge on Dundas St. W., is the destination for world music aficionados. This year its ambitious festival LULAWORLD 2011: The New Canadian Songbook, runs from May 12 to May 22 and encompasses 15 concerts. While Lula’s focus does not abandon its Latin American musical roots, programmers make a case for showcasing the diversity all around us. Judging from the line-up, what they call “The New Canadian Songbook” is sung in Spanish, Portuguese, Yiddish, French as well as English. The festival highlights the contribution of Canada’s newcomer musicians, whose compositions, performances, and recordings constantly serve to refresh and redefine the Canadian musical landscape, enriching our cultural fabric by incorporating traditions from across the globe. And isn’t that what world music should be about?

The concert series kicks off May 12 with the celebrated Latin jazz vocalist Amanda Martinez, joined by her guest, the Colombian-born Grammy nominated guitarist/singer-songwriter Fernando Osorio. With her 2009 release Amor reaching #1 on iTunes, recent performances at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa and at New York’s prestigious Blue Note, Canada’s Martinez is riding high.

The festival continues later that evening with the Columbian group Bomba Estéreo, no doubt living up to their explosive moniker with an eminently danceable sound that often expands into trippy electronica territory. Bomba Estéreo was formed in 2005 by Simon Mejia, building on an already active underground electronic dance music scene in Bogotá, Colombia. The group expanded its sound and enhanced its live show by recruiting the fierce singer Liliana Saumet. Bomba Estéreo plays an explosive fusion of electronic dub and hip-hop styles which commentators have likened to M.I.A. and Santigold, but underscored with Colombian dance rhythms of cumbia and champeta. Afro-Colombian rhythms and the folk music of the coastal city Santa Marta, where the group leader Saumet grew up are especially important to Bomba Estéreo’s music.

22_patriciacanoSinger Patricia Cano was raised in Sudbury, Ontario, but is of Peruvian heritage. She headlines LULAWORLD on May 13. Moving early in life into the international spotlight, this young singer worked and studied in Paris and Brazil. In 2009, Cano recorded her debut album, showcasing traditional South American folk songs, including samba and Afro-Peruvian forms driven by jazz grooves and the soulful sound of the blues. Blessed with a mellifluous and oft intense voice, the album has a strong Brazilian lilt thanks to Brazilian guitarist Carlos Bernardo and percussionist/producer Luisito Orbegoso. Cano is emerging as one of Canada’s leading vocal talents.

In the second set on May 13, one of Canada’s leading salsa bands releases its third album Looking from the Top. Caché’s signature vibraphone-inflected sound that the group has been developing for nearly a decade features the irresistible vocals of frontman Juan Carlos Cardenas. Under the leadership of percussionist Wilson Acevedo and bassist Richard Morales, vibraphonist Randy Stirtzinger and conguero Daniel Stone contribute compositions that have become standards for Toronto salsa dancers. A favourite of CBC and campus radio stations, Caché may be the most in-demand salsa outfit in the country. I may be there trying out my floor moves too.

Speaking of dance, on May 14 at 1pm, Café Con Pan will be holding a free Mexican fandango workshop for families. Accompanied by the son jarocho music of Southern Veracruz, you too can learn the basics of zapateado dancing. At 3pm, the all-ages theme continues with Family French World Café hosted by Quebecois singer-songwriter Joanna Moon, with Donné Roberts. Both are LULAWORLD events.

Continuing with the LULAWORLD New Canadian Songbook theme, at 10pm on Saturday, May 14, an all-star band performs salsa works by noted Canadian composers including Luis Mario Ochoa, Hilario Durán, Jesus El Nino and Mario Allende. The musical direction is co-chaired by Luisito Orbegoso and Sean Bellaviti. The following day, join guitarist Luis Mario Ochoa, one of Canada’s best known Cuban voices, in “Lula’s Sunday Family Salsa Brunch,” hosted by CBC Radio’s Mary Ito; seatings at 11am and 1:30pm. The brunch includes a beginner salsa lesson and Ochoa’s Cuban Quartet. What better way to dance off your eggs benedict?

Sunday evening, May 15, LULAWORLD showcases David Buchbinder’s Odessa Havana featuring Hilario Durán and Maryem Tollar. Yes, you guessed it, this Jewish-Cuban mash-up was predated but not predicted by the Jewish-fuelled American mambo craze of the 1950s. This band is comprised of award-winning trumpeter and composer David Buchbinder, JUNO award-winning pianist/composer Hilario Durán and topped up with Canada’s top jazz and world musicians.

The young BC fiddler Jaron Freeman-Fox’s music dances the line between the soulful and the ridiculous. With his recent album Manic Almanac: Slow Möbius, and a new fiery band, The Opposite of Everything, he displays his own fusion of folk and experimental instrumental music on Tuesday, May 17, at LULAWORLD.

On May 19, singer-songwriter and 2010 Juno award winner, Dominic Mancuso, performs both originals and contemporary treatments of Italian songs and folk melodies joined by celebrated Toronto bassist Roberto Occhipinti. On the second set, Socalled (presented in association with Small World Music) performs his genre-bending collaborations melding funk, Klezmer, hip hop, lounge and classical music. Described as a “klezmer hip-hop maestro,” Socalled (aka Josh Dolgin) is a Montreal-based musician, producer, composer, arranger, magician, filmmaker and photographer.

Book-ending the LULAWORLD festival are several local acts. On May 20, Samba Squad makes a welcome appearance with guest vocalist Luanda Jones. Directed by Rick Lazar, Samba Squad gathers diverse global influences and produces raw, drum-heavy original compositions that are certain to rock the Lula! Lazar presents a night of new compositions and Samba Squad originals with a good measure of funked-up covers of traditional Brazilian favourites. Then on May 22, the Brazilian-born singer, percussionist and composer, Aline Morales, launches her solo CD Flores, Tambores e Amores. Accompanied by album producer David Arcus, percussionist Maninho Costa and the Heavyweights Brass Band, Morales provides a contemporary Canadian perspective on those quintessentially Brazilian genres, samba, tropicalia and maracatu.

24_jaronfreemanfoxElsewhere in Toronto, the Toronto Tabla Ensemble performs on May 18 and 19 at the Harbourfront Centre’s Enwave Theatre. Featuring North Indian rhythms combined with original loops, samples and sequencing, Ritesh Das directs from the tabla. Guest musicians include Evan Ritchie on drums and percussion, and Ian de Souza on bass.

Further afield, in London, Ontario, the “Year of India in Canada 2011” touches down at the Delta London Armouries on May 1. This year-long, Canada-wide cultural and trade show features dancers and musicians from across India. Represented is Carnatic music from the south, Hindustani music from the north, Rabindra Sangeet (songs of Rabindranath Tagore, Bengali’s favorite son), as well as folk and Bollywood songs. Nor have Indian dance fans been neglected: Odissi and kathak dance traditions are well represented too.

Back in Toronto, Quebec’s renowned folk trio, Genticorum, plays on May 19 at Hugh’s Room. Featuring songs from their new album Nagez Rameurs, the Juno and Felix nominated Genticorum’s performances are marked by stirring three-part harmonies, a high-level of musicianship, an engaging sense of stage humour and a joie de vivre, all of which have earned the band a growing international fan base. They impressed me a few years ago at the Cambridge Millrace Folk Festival and then again at the Mariposa Festival in Orillia. Their current show has more interplay than before between traditional songs and original compositions. Original reels are fused to traditional songs and traditional songs are performed to original lyrics. In my humble opinion this is what living folk music should be like.

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

It has been said that good things come in threes. On the first day of April, three concerts grace GTA stages – no foolin’. The well-traveled Hindustani slide guitar maestro Debashish Bhattacharya performs his raga-based improvisations at Brock University’s Centre for the Arts, in St. Catharines. Acclaimed as a musician while still a child, Bhattacharya has in recent years built three distinct forms of the slide guitar, the original Indian introduction of which he traces back to the 20th century Hawaiian guitar virtuoso, Tau Moe.

On the other hand, Canadian Harry Manx forged his own distinctive guitar style studying at the feet of the masters closer to home – in the blues clubs of Toronto. Manx followed his passion for slide guitar to India, spending a rigorous five-year internship with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. The latter is a noted Hindustani musician, the inventor of the 20-stringed mohan veena, an instrument also developed from the guitar. This is no novelty act, however; Manx’s guitar playing is finely tuned and sensitive, influenced by his playing of raga, while his vocals are deeply dipped in the blues. No one else makes music that sounds like this. Manx performs his eclectic repertoire of Indian-infused blues, American roots and Middle Eastern flavoured music on April 1 at Koerner Hall, with Californian multi-instrumentalist David Lindley.

The same day, completing our musical trifecta, the Sarv Ensemble celebrates Persian New Year and the arrival of spring. The concert titled Eidaneh features Iranian classical and folk music at the Beit Zatoun venue in downtown Toronto.

25_worldview_bridges-_roula_said__lenka_lichtenberg_etcIf I were seeking big themes for this month’s column, my choice would be to go no further than the Lula Lounge on Thursday, April 7, at a concert titled “Bridges: Yiddish & Arabic Music in Dialogue.” The two Toronto-based co-leaders Lenka Lichtenberg (voice/composition) and Roula Said (voice/composition/qanun/percussion) present an inspirational evening searching for common ground between Jewish and Arabic music traditions. With tensions between and within nations being what they are, the notion of music acting as a bridge between people is the high-minded leitmotif chosen by these multi-talented co-leaders.

The Czech born singer-songwriter Lenka Lichtenberg embraced Toronto’s world music aesthetic in her exciting fourth solo album Fray (Free, 2010). The Small World Music-presented concert “Bridges” is an extension of that project and includes some of Toronto’s finest world musicians: Alan Hetherington (percussion), Chris Gartner (bass), John Gzowski (guitars), Ernie Tollar (sax/flutes/clarinet), Kinneret Sagee (clarinet) and Ravi Naimpally (tabla).

Roula Said, dedicated to Middle Eastern music and dance, has been consistently active on Toronto’s world music scene going on two decades. Best known as one of Canada’s leading bellydancers, Said is the director of Om Laila Bellydance, and the producer of FunkaBelly and the Bellydance Cabaret. She is also a stylish vocalist, percussionist and quanun player, as evidenced by her performances with the Gypsy/Arabic funk band Nomadica, which she co-leads with trumpeter and composer David Buchbinder.

What will the evening’s music be like? Lichtenberg sings expressive Yiddish and English lyrics with an intimate soprano over well-wrought arrangements bridging many musical styles. Roula Said will undoubtedly bring to the stage her well-honed Arabic music and dance skills to the mix. Ultimately, you and I will have to attend to find out.

Small World Music also presents Ghana’s Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen (drums) on April 15 at the Phoenix Concert Theatre. Allen headlines the concert that includes guests Amp Fiddler (keyboard), Prince Enoki’s Insect Orchestra, and DJ medicineman.

On Sunday April 17, at the Glenn Gould Studio, the University Settlement’s Music and Arts School is celebrating a “Festival of Music and Culture” in honour of 90 years of “music in the making.” Designed as a multicultural event to celebrate diversity, this concert headlines the Indian-Canadian fusion group Autorickshaw Trio. Other noted performances include kathak dance by Joanna deSouza, guzheng performances by the Fan Shang-E Zheng Music Association, the University of Toronto Klezmer Band, Iranian Drumming by Manouchehr Chahardooli, Chinese Erhu by Yuan Wang and a special presentation of University Settlement Music and Arts School students. Proceeds from this event will support the many worthy University Settlement programs and services.

Perhaps we downtown denizens need to be reminded every once in while that there is (world) musical life outside of T.O. The Port Hope Friends of Music is a brave presenter in Port Hope, about 100km east of Toronto, which serves its community by bringing top-notch classical musicians to town. On Saturday April 30, however, world music is on the menu in the form of Toronto’s Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan (ECCG). The ECCG (of which I am a performing member) will perform its mixed program of contemporary Indonesian, Canadian and American works on its glittering bronze, wood and bamboo gamelan degung at the Cameco Capitol Arts Centre.

Closing the month on April 30 at Toronto’s Music Gallery, Amir Amiri on santur (Persian hammered dulcimer)) headlines a concert with Ziya Tabassian (percussion) and Araz Salek on tar (Persian lute). The concert, titledNew Ancient Strings,” explores the past and future of Persian music. Keeping with the Persian/Iranian theme, on May 7, Orchestras Mississauga/Chamber Music Society of Mississauga present “Tales and Tunes for Toonies: Carpet of Dreams.” This performance of Persian fairy tales set to traditional classical Persian chamber music performed by the Toronto-based Shiraz Ensemble is geared to youth audiences. The work will have its long-awaited premiere at the Living Arts Centre, Mississauga.

26_glendaHow better to fête International Workers’ Day, May 1, than to attend the Echo Women’s Choir’s concert Celebrating Women at Work at Toronto’s Church of the Holy Trinity? Echo is a well-established, vibrant, 80-member choir which regularly sings songs from around the world. In this concert they cover Georgian lullabies, and South African and North American protest songs, all conducted by Becca Whitla and Alan Gasser. Their special guest, Cuban-Canadian pianist Glenda Del Monte Escalante, joins the choir in Cuban numbers that she has arranged, and also leads a jazz set. I’ve consistently found Echo Choir concerts to be uplifting musical and community spirited affairs. (A personal note: I am proud of my past service in Echo’s men’s auxiliary.) n

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

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.

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