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Al Qahwa launches Weyn Allah with a June 18 concert at the Tranzac in Toronto

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Ernie Tollar, second from left, has performed in countless Toronto-based world and jazz ensembles, including Al Qahwa.

Toronto world music group Al Qahwa Ensemble, will celebrate the release their fourth album, Weyn Allah (Where is God?), with a live concert at Toronto’s Tranzac Club on Sunday, June 18 from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

The ensemble features Egyptian-Canadian artist Maryem Tollar on vocals, riqq (Arabic tambourine) and qanun (Arabic table harp); Irish/Acadian/Hungarian-Canadian musician Ernie Tollar on wind instruments; Greek-Canadian artist Demetri Petsalakis on oud (Arabic fretless lute); and Iranian-Canadian musician Naghmeh Fahrahmand on Middle Eastern percussion. Special guests include Sudanese-Canadian artist Waleed Abdulhamid on bass, percussion, and vocals; Jamaican-Canadian singer Lauren Barnett on backup vocals and saxophone; and Palestinian-Canadian artist Roula Said will join the group on backup vocals, percussion and dance. The concert will also showcase Demitri’s electronic dance duo Catchfiyah, with wife Lauren, who’ll do a short set of music after Al Qahwa’s set. Weyn Allah is available on all platforms where music is streamed or downloaded. For more information please visit their website | bandcamp | FB Event

Since their breakout album, The Coffee House in 2016 – the group name Al Qahwa is Arabic for “the coffee house,” and was inspired by the coffee house culture in the Middle East, where people would go to hear the latest news, music, poetry and stories – Al Qahwa Ensemble has performed original compositions, instrumental improvisations, and popular traditional Arabic repertoire. Their music ranges from hypnotic Sufi devotional love songs from the Arab world to popular folk songs and classic Egyptian songs.

The title track of the new album, “Weyn Allah,” written by Maryem Tollar, is simultaneously an acknowledgement of the imposed isolation of the past few years, a prayer to recognize the Godly qualities in ourselves, and a statement of activist purpose in pursuing justice for the oppressed, as it builds slowly in layers from a quivering oud and primal beat to full, rich instrumentation and a beautiful mass of harmonizing voices.

“Share The Beauty,” a collaboration between Demetri and Maryem, sounds very traditionally Greek, but Demetri invited Maryem to add lyrics to it, which she did in Arabic. The instruments are a full bouzouki ensemble (all played by Demetri) – the tzoura, bouzouki, baglama, and oud. Maryem’s lyrics, about rising to share your light and beauty in a changing world, were inspired by her experiencing that first-hand, as her collaborators and activists around the world have done, to help us cope with the many crises at our doorsteps.

“Humanity (Bora),” written by Waleed, is a bright, fast-paced romp propelled by his many layers of percussion, and featuring both the group’s choral harmonies and catchy horn parts.

And “Spencer’s Kitchen,” an instrumental written by Ernie, was inspired by Celtic musician Spencer Murray, but also has South Indian rhythmic influences. Ernie’s yearning flute is simply gorgeous, as it weaves along its wandering journey throughout this short, sweet, and lilting piece.

Check out this live performance of “Weyn Allah” from Koerner Hall and don’t miss Al Qahwa on June 18 at the Tranzac.

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