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5 acts Heather can’t wait to see at the Folk Music Ontario conference

Kuné World. Photo by Zahra Saleki.

The annual Folk Music Ontario conference kicks off in London on Thursday – that time of year when folk club and festival promoters come together to check out artists that are hoping to tour next year. And let’s just say, I hope they all have big budgets because they’re going to have a hard time deciding between the insane talents on offer.

Sitting here with the showcase schedule trying to decide what to see is a bit like – well, like reading a festival program and trying to decide what to see.

The only way I could possible narrow it down to five top picks for the purposes of this article was to eliminate all the acts I’ve already seen previously.

It’s not that I don’t LOVE Kaia Kater, Kunlé, Connie Kaldor, Adrian Sutherland, Lonesome Ace Stringband and countless others.

But if I included all the favourites I’ve seen before, we’d be here all night, and I’ve got a bus to catch to London.

So here are five artists I can’t wait to see, in part because I genuinely haven’t seen them before, and I’m dying to see what they’re like on stage.

KUNÉ World

KUNÉ World is an eleven-piece collective made up of ten immigrant musicians from all over the world and one Métis musician (Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk), whose goal is to musically recreate the experience of living in Toronto. The members of this ensemble include some of the most impressive “world” musicians in Toronto, including breathtaking tar player Padideh Ahrarnejad, vocalist and percussionist Aline Morales, and guitarist/oud-player Demetri Petsalakis, who I think plays with pretty well every artist in Toronto whose music touches on Middle Eastern or Mediterranean. Needless to say, it’s hard to describe what this ensemble sounds like because it changes entirely from one song to the next. I think this is one act that you really need to see three-dimensionally to truly appreciate.

Friday, Oct 13, 3pm, Grand Ballroom West & Centre


It’s true. I’ve honestly never seen Locarno before. Yes, I’m from Vancouver. Yes, I’ve seen Tom Landa’s other band, the Juno-winning Paperboys, on countless occasions. But this will be my first time seeing this veteran performer front his Mexican-based Latin music project. On record, the music is mostly high-energy and the original songs are catchy as heck. But this is no cheesy Latin party band. The mostly-acoustic arrangements marry Latin and pop influences in sophisticated ways that I’ve never quite heard anywhere else. Couple that great music with one of the hardest-working performers out there (Tom), and this is sure to be a heck of a show.

Thursday, Oct 12, 9:35pm, Suite 200
Thursday, Oct 12, 11:25pm, Suite 300

Pascale LeBlanc

Quebec-based artist Pascalle grew up in Haiti and makes music that blends French, Creole and Quebecois influences with Caribbean percussion. Whether she’s performing uptempo numbers with a beach party feel or jazzy, minimalist ballads, her music has an airy, easygoing quality about it that’s just infectious.

Friday, Oct 14, 7:30pm, Suite 300
Friday, Oct 14, 11:25pm, Suite 300

The Snake Charmer

Having the Snake Charmer at FMO is like having a rockstar in our midst. If you’re the sort of person that routinely disappears down YouTube rabbit holes, you already know who she is. She’s the Indian bagpiper who plays high energy Celtic Bhangra fusions and covers of popular songs. The woman has more than 700,000 subscribers and is known for being India’s first female bagpiper. The only thing I didn’t know is that she’s based in Mississauga – or at least, she is currently. Cool!

Saturday, Oct 14, 2:20pm, Grand Ballroom West & Centre

Empress Nyiringango

Empress Nyiringango is an Ottawa-based Rwandan-Canadian artist who describes her sound as “Jablur,” a mixture of jazz, blues and Rwandan. That doesn’t really do it justice though. Her understated, acoustic-based music drips with soul. Her arrangements showcase Rwanda’s oldest instrument, the inanga, a type of zither, and she sings in Kinyarwanda, Swahili, French, and English. Empress became a songwriter in order to commemorate the victims of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis. Her first song, “Agahinda,” marked the beginning of a musical healing journey.

Thursday, Oct 12, 10:25pm, Suite 300
Friday, Oct 13, 2:20pm, Grand Ballroom West & Centre


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