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The new album from Kuné is a call to action on the earth’s climate crisis

Kuné World. Photo by Zahra Saleki.

“Humanity is not taking care or paying respect to Iemanja,” explained Aline Morales, a member of Kuné, Canada’s global orchestra. Aline grew up in Belo Horizonte, Brazil before immigrating to Toronto. Iemanja plays a critical role in Brazilian culture, the Orixa or deity of the aquatic world.

“As children of Iemanja, we should also take care of her home,” Aline added.

“Our mother’s home is also our home. The way we are treating the water is not respectful,”

Humanity’s relationship with water and the earth is central in Kuné’s new album, Universal Echoes (LulaWorld Records, 2023). Born and raised in different parts of the world, the lives of the 11 members of Canada’s global orchestra, Kuné, have all been impacted by climate change. Kuné (which means together in Esperanto) was created at the Royal Conservatory of Music in 2016 in Toronto. Over one hundred musicians responded to the call for auditions,, and only 11 were selected to become part of the ensemble. They worked together composing, learning and rehearsing.

When the members of Kuné decided to make a second album together, they discovered that they weren’t just united with their common love of folk music, but they found that their universal language could be used to address a problem that should unite us all.

“Whether it is displacement caused by wars or sickness from pollution, all of our lives have been touched by these crises. Making music together is how Kuné copes and responds to these calamities,” explained Kuné’s percussionist Matias Recharte, who grew up in Peru.

“Earth,” part of the “Elements Suite” on Kuné’s new album, begins with a lamentation for the destruction of the world’s largest forest and its Indigenous stewards. Droughts caused by climate change are transforming once rich agricultural lands in the Middle East into desserts – which is addressed in this suite. Similarly, “Water” also speaks to the drying up of rivers including the Euphrates, which crosses Turkey, Iraq and Syria.

Another powerful song on the album, “Fire,” deals with ecological racism. The lyrics were written by Ahmed Moneka, who was born in Iraq and immigrated to Canada after growing up amidst years of war in his homeland.

“This is the fire that burns in our hearts, the kind of fire that is ignited by pain,” Ahmed explained. “The kind of hurt that racism inflicts, when you are looked upon as a stranger, it makes your heart burn with anger and grief.”

During his formative years in Baghdad, Ahmed learned Afro-Sufi singing and drumming in the tradition of his family, who came to Iraq from Kenya in the eighth century. He was the first Black Iraqi to host a television program.

“Fire” is connected to the album’s theme of the world’s climate crisis, which often disproportionately affects racial minorities and indigenous communities.

“I grew up in Peru, where mining and oil extraction are important industries,” added Matias Recharte, who composed the music for “Fire” along with Demetrios Petsalakis, Selçuk Suna and Tyler Emond.

“When we were writing the music for this album, I remembered a very big oil spill in the Loreto region, where there was a lot of damage to the communities there, and still the long term consequences of these disasters are affecting the lives of people. There was also a mercury spill that happened in Cajamarca more than 20 years ago. The mercury was used to mine for gold. People in a village in the Choropampa region are still feeling the effects of these disasters, generations later,” explained Matias.

One of the most personal songs on Universal Echoes is the final track, “Zendeghi,” composed by Padideh Ahrarnejad, who grew up in Iran before immigrating to Toronto. It is about her experience as a cancer survivor in a world awash in toxins.

“When I was going through cancer treatment, I realized that death is like a neighbour, like our shadow. And that we need to learn how to live in the moment and to dance as if nothing else matters,” said Padideh.

Matias explained that despite the enormity of the problems addressed in Universal Echoes, its message is one of hope.

“It is testament to the power of a pluralistic vision of the future, in which innovative, cross-cultural responses come from a deep commitment to traditional culture and an openness to dialogue.”

As for the urgency of the project, Aline Morales said, “We are all connected: the waters and us. We are all one.”

She then warned, “Iemanja will give it all back if we don’t start to take care of the earth and the water.”

Kuné’s Universal Echoes CD launch concert is tonight at Toronto’s Lula Lounge.


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