There are places in the world where for reasons that are beyond logic, you cannot visit or even contemplate living a life of safety and calm. War, politics, terrorism, poverty, crime, environmental degradation and persecution are just some of the ways that the very existence of human beings is imperilled in those places.
Canada has become a refuge and sanctuary for people who must leave their homes and often their families, travelling across seas, continents and oceans in search of safety. Think of how difficult it must be to survive if you live in zones of conflict and repression like Syria, Colombia, Turkey, Iraq — the list goes on and on.
This new CD from Sultans of String takes us on a journey to many of the almost mythical musical origins of those people. Chris McKhool, the amazing violinist who is the leader of Sultans of String, has brought together more than a dozen talented guests to create for us a voyage through Arabia and beyond.
Unusual to my western ears are instruments, lyrics and tunes that really transform our listening experience. There are tunes with odd time signatures, interesting rhythms and voices singing in lilting and uplifting lyrical patterns. Almost all of these guest musicians have come to Canada as refugees or immigrants.
Sultans of String’s virtuoso performers are Chris McKhool (violin), Drew Birston (bass, Moog synth), Kevin Laliberté (guitars) and Rosendo ‘Chendy’ Leon (drums, percussion and palmas). They have perfectly integrated voices and instruments from all over the world into this astounding music.
We hear the gaita flute and percussion from Juan Carlos Medrano from Colombia; tabla by Ravi Naimpally, originally from India; and tar, played by Padideh Ahrarnejad from Iran. Saskia Tomkins from England plays the Swedish nyckelharpa; Fethi Nadjem from Algeria plays mandole, and Amchok Gompo from Tibet plays wooden flute. On the track aptly named “Hurricane,” Turkish strings come into the soundscape via Gündem Yayli Grubu, along with fellow Turkish musician Mehmet Akatay who plays darbuka and riq, along with other percussion instruments. Marito Marques from Portugal brings us the sound of the kalimba on “Asi Soy,” a song which perfectly marries vocals from Tamar Ilana with Eddie Paton’s high strung guitar and Turkish strings from Gündem Yayli Grubu. It is at once a joyful celebration of the freedom to make music and song that these musicians now enjoy in Canada.
And to root the whole musical experience, we meet several First Nations people, who have hosted us immigrants on their ancestral lands for hundreds of years. Dr. Duke Redbird, Twin Flames (Jaaji and Chelsey June), and Tamar Ilana, all lend their voices and words to this recording. It is a completion that brings us full circle to the ideas of hospitality, conviviality, and a sharing of cultures and music in this sanctuary of a country.
You’ll be delighted by this recording, and even more when you see the band in performance. Check out the band’s really busy tour schedule at: www.sultansofstring.com