Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Montreal's La Otra Orilla come to Toronto

From a press release about what sounds like a very cool show:

DanceWorks presents El12 by
acclaimed Montreal flamenco company La Otra Orilla
a piece for a dancer and four musicians
Choreographed/danced by Myriam Allard
Direction/singing by Hedi "el moro" Graja
Guitars by Caroline Planté and Kraig Adams, Percussion by Éric Breton
Music by Caroline Planté, Video by Geneviève Allard
Lighting design by Pascal Turmel, Costume design by Susana Vera

Enwave Theatre, 231 Queens Quay West
Friday April 23 and Saturday April 24, 2010 - 8pm

Toronto, March 24 2010- DanceWorks, the city's longest-running contemporary dance series, presents the Toronto premiere of El12, from Montreal-based flamenco troupe La Otra Orilla (The Other Shore) running Friday, April 23 and Saturday, April 24 at Harbourfront Centre's Enwave Theatre (see ticket details below).

A work for a dancer and four musicians, La Otra Orilla dancer/choreographer Myriam Allard and director/ singer/director Hedi "el Moro" Graja are joined by guitarist/composer Caroline Planté, guitarist Kraig Adams and percussionist Éric Breton for this work that embodies the 12 beats essential to flamenco.

Infused with the spirit of Spain's Andalusia, the number 12 is the starting point for this piece, representing the beginning and the end, the universal concept of the relentless march of time. El12 is fraught with novelty and repetition, waiting and loss... the time we think we hold but that slips away.

El12 amalgamates and creates resonances and interferences between different temporal dimensions, from the 12-beat flamenco rhythm to the beat of the performance and the more dreamlike rhythm of the video imagery. El12 weaves memory and hope, yesterday and tomorrow, and the will to live of bodies destined for oblivion into a visual tapestry that rushes 12 in 12 (12 beats, 12 hours, 12 months, 12 years) headlong toward the abyss.

La Otra Orilla was created in 2005 in Montreal by co-artistic directors Myriam Allard and Hedi "el Moro" Graja. Trained in traditional flamenco in Seville and Madrid, dancer/choreographer Myriam Allard began dancing professionally at the tablaos flamencos in Spain and Japan. She worked with such artists as Fani Fuster (Toulouse), Shawn Hounsell (Montreal) and Antonio Arrebolla (Seville) before founding La Otra Orilla in Montreal. Director/singer Hedi "el Moro" Graja is a self-taught flamenco singer. He became interested in the art form while studying classical voice at the Conservatoire National Régional de Toulouse, and spent four years in Andalusia perfecting his craft.

La Otra Orilla's repertoire includes Declaración en idioma flamenco, which performed to sold-out houses in Quebec City and Montreal in February 2006, and Denominacón de Origen Descontrolado, a public and critical success that toured the province during the 2007-2009 seasons. Their following show, MuE_s, was warmly received at the Montréal en Lumières Festival in 2008.

Rooted in tradition yet projected in a current mode of expression, the flamenco of La Otra Orilla both exemplifies and champions the timeless and universal values embodied in this Andalusian art form.

Of a previous performance, La Presse has said: We are left totally stunned, jolted by the magnetic energy that heats up the stage and theatreŠ magical moments, which won't be repeated anytime soon. La Otra Orilla is a name to remember.

El12 premieres as part of the Danse Danse in Montreal from March 30-April 17, and will tour to Sherbrooke, Quebec on April 20 and Trois-Rivières, Quebec on May 1.

DanceWorks presents
El12 by acclaimed Montreal flamenco company La Otra Orilla
Part of Harbourfront Centre's NextSteps
Enwave Theatre, 231 Queens Quay West
Friday April 23 and Saturday April 24, 2010 | 8PM
Tickets: $28 (Discounts for students, seniors, groups, equity)
Box Office: 416-973-4000 or online at www.danceworks.ca

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bill Viola, American Video Artist

Bill Viola,
American Video Artist

In Bill Viola: The Eye of the Heart, a documentary directed by Mark Kidel in 2003, Bill relates a near drowning incident while on a family vacation in the mountains. He describes it as … the most beautiful world I’ve ever seen in my life, without fear, and peaceful. I only found the quote while looking into this post, but being familiar with his work, it came as no surprise. His love affair and intense fascination with water is a theme that pervades much of his body of work.

Bill Viola was born in 1951, and got an BFA from the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University. He then took a detour into drumming for a rock band for four years or so, an experience he credits with fueling his growing interest in creating within an electronic medium. In fact, he and others went on to form the Composers Inside Electronics Group, touring the world in the early 1970's. He says the switch to video was a natural one.

I first became aware of his work in about 1998 I think, with pieces like The Messenger from 1986, and The Reflecting Pool (1977-79). Of course he's taken on different themes, but what really stands out in his work is how the obvious technical mastery of video - in various manipulations and elements like time-lapse, slow motion and reversals - only serves to create an impression, a movement and transformation that takes on multiple dimensions. The technology is in service of the art, in other words, and the effect is something spiritual, with universal themes.

One of the measures I use in looking at any creative work is, does it make me see something I wouldn't have otherwise - either by showing me something I've never seen before, or by showing me something incredible and new about something mundane? Of all the ways to die, I have to say drowning has always seemed among the least appealing, yet... in Bill Viola's work it's more like a transformation, a reabsorption into that most ubiquitous of elements. Beautiful, yes, but peaceful and welcoming is new territory for me.

I don't mean to suggest all his work looks at the same issues in the same way. 1983's Anthem is a a look at urban alienation, (among other things). In The Passions, a show that ran at the Getty Museum in 2003, along with other work, his main subject is the human being - human beings as modes of expression, however, not as mere objects.

You can read Bill's own thoughts on video in this 1969 articles from Art in America. Today Bill Viola is arguably the preeminent video artist of our time. A native of NYC, he now lives in Long Beach, California.

To close, a list of current exhibitions along with a video about Ocean Without a Shore, the piece he showed at the Venice Biennale in 2007.

  • February 20, 2010 - May 13, 2010
    The Quintet of the Astonished (2000), "Disquieted: Contemporary Voices From Out of the Shadows," Portland Museum of Art, Portland, OR
  • February 5, 2010 - April 25, 2010
    Becoming Light (2005), "Desire," Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX
  • November 15, 2009- May 3, 2010
    Room for St. John of the Cross (1983), "Collection: MOCA's First Thirty Years," Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Habib Koité part II

Look what I found - about three minutes from Thursday night at Revival with Habib Koité and Bamada.

The funny thing is, towards the end when the rest of the band starts, you can see me standing against the wall around the far side of the stage... lol

Photo by John Leeson of www.to-music.ca during their 2009 concert in Toronto.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Habib Koité and Bamada at Revival Toronto

Habib Koité and Bamada
Revival in Toronto March 25
presented by
Small World Music

Habib Koité and Bamada delighted a packed house at Toronto's Revival last night in a concert characterized by wonderfully intricate music and the laidback and unforced Malian charm of Koité himself along with the rest of the band. It's a testament to the infectious nature of the music that I'm still singing Wassiye - which they did as part of an encore that also included Cigarette Abana, an early hit - even though I don't know what the words mean.

They played a generous set of about two hours by my reckoning, time that flew by in a whirl of music and a crowd that couldn't keep still. Born to musical parents, Koité's education and career began early, and he blends various styles of Malian music to create his own vibe. He's been recording since 1991 and touring the world since 1994. The musicians played balofon, a traditional West African instrument that resembles a xylophone, with both percussive and tonal effects, along with electric guitar, bass and drumset, talking drum and kora in a blend of electric and traditional instrumentation. Koité himself plays the guitar, tuned to a pentatonic scale, a unique approach that I'm told is similar to the way one would play the kamale n'goni, a West African stringed instrument. The result is a sound that's bright and tropically flavoured, with echoes and shades of flamenco in its kinetic style.

It was clearly a love in that flowed back and forth between audience and stage, with African dance enthusiasts not only coming on stage but brought up on stage by the genial members of the band, including a couple of ladies from South Africa and Tanzania who really knew their stuff. At the end, one band member lingered on stage, having his picture taken with fans, while Koité autographed CDs at the front. It was one of those nights when you're more than a little bit sorry that all the music and love had to end.

Check out his remaining North American tour dates here - and I'll leave you with more of the music here.

Images by John Leeson of www.to-music.ca from their show at Revival last year.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I'm So Close It's Not Even Funny - Opening Night

I'm So Close It's Not Even Funny
March 23 - April 3

The Theatre Centre
100-1087 Queen Street West (at Dovercourt) Toronto

Written by, directed by and starring Ravi Jain (Canada), Katrina Bugaj (United States) and Troels Hagen Findsen (Denmark)
Co-writer and Dramaturgy by Nicolas Billon (Canada)

Why Not Theatre's production of I'm So Close It's Not Even Funny is a moving target of a theatrical experience, a funny and kinetic whirl of theatre, modern dance (with some impressive moves!), projected images and dialogue. The dialogue comes face to face, over the phone, via Raj (Ravi Jain,) the Virtual Assistant in India, and smart phone text messaging, in a regression towards less and less real contact between husband Steve (Troels Hagen Findsen) and the wife played by Katrina Bugaj.

The husband/wife thread of the piece tells the tale of a well meaning businessman with a 'green' idea to make the world a better place and his patient but losing-her-mind wife left at home after the idea takes off and turns him into a jetsetting corporate type with little time for her. Interlaced with that story is one of an archeological find, a 5,000 year old grave in Italy where the two skeletons, male and female, are intertwined, forever locked in an embrace. Along the way come a few lessons in quantum physics, the Big Bang Theory and other tidbits - like the fact that, at some point in the future, for reasons too complicated to go into here, there will be a time when we'll still see a sky full of stars, but in fact they'll be long gone to farflung corners of the galaxy. For astronomers, the sky will be empty.

Of course the ideas bounce against each other, just as the characters themselves bounce against each other in some very physical sequences, including the aforementioned modern dance moves. Steve's first day in the office becomes a literal whirlwind of repeated movements and officespeak refrains. The 'real' (physical) interaction between husband and wife becomes an ever tightening, ever more restricted circle of rote movements and phrases that eventually spin him away from her entirely.

The projected images (designed by Canadian Jamie Nesbitt) and spare staging worked well with a piece that relies on creating fleeting moments of performance and impression rather than extended scenes. The home environment is reduced to a bed, the one place that the pair both reconnect and part ways in increasingly shorter cycles.

It all works as an absorbing theatrical experience because of the combined energy of the three performers and expert assistance from Lighting Design by Gina Scherr (U.S.) and Sound Design by M.L Dogg (U.S.) It's deservedly gotten a lot of buzz since its premiere in 2008, with Arsinée Khanjian and husband Atom Egoyan among the crowd at last night's opening.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sankofa: Ballet Creole's Spring Show

I've experienced Ballet Creole's athletic artistry myself, so I can easily endorse their upcoming show - from press releases:

Celebrating their 20th Anniversary Season of Dance
Ballet Creole
present Sankofa

A Retrospective of Ground breaking Afro-Caribbean and Contemporary Dance
Fleck Dance Theatre
April 15th - 17th 2010

Toronto, ON – Like most Arts organizations, Ballet Creole has gone through changes in organization, dancers and administration. But this Season is one of the promise coming out of artistic, financial, funding and ultimately economic challenges, and the Spring Season of Dance ushers in a new era for the company.

Sankofa transforms in celebratory reverence to dances of the past, present and future in constant poly- rhythmic flow. The result is a seamless synergy of contemporary African and Caribbean modern dance and music. Sankofa is a testament to the transcendent power of drums, mesmerizing union of contemporary dance and polyrhythmic African / Caribbean dance aesthetics connected through time. The Dancers and musicians become communicators of a lasting tradition featuring works by Artistic Director Patrick Parson and Associate Choreographer Gabby Kamino.

After a premiere to thunderous applause last year, “Drum MasQ / TRANS-formation” returns and promises to titillate through visual athleticism and live accompaniment by Creole Drummatix. Set against the backdrop of live traditional African and Caribbean music the work unites dancer to musician and the audience to ethereal visual transcendence, the visual mapping of the dancers through space in virtuosic grace and athleticism.

“Dancing Spirits” into the traditions and connections of the past, is remount of a collaborative ballet interwoven with traditional Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian influences. The ballet evolved from an exploration of the shared cultural ancestry of Trinidadian-born Patrick Parson and collaborators Consuelo Herrera from Cuba and Newton Moraes from Brazil. This rousing work explores their shared ancestral/spiritual traditions in Diaspora linking it to its origins in Africa.

About Ballet Creole

In its 20th Season, Ballet Creole comprises an ensemble of professional dancers, musicians and a School offering professional and community recreational programs. Ballet Creole School is the first of its kind in Canada to offer a technically diverse dance Professional Training Program geared to a variety of culturally diverse dance techniques, for aspiring dancers in Canada and abroad. The school also provides recreational dance and music program to the community level.

Part of the outlook for the years to come is about engaging community, artists and audiences. Mr. Parson is assertive that Ballet Creole be integral in the education and development of artists from culturally diverse backgrounds. Ballet Creole artists perform in an average of over 250 schools in a given year and have been in continual partnership with Prologue to the Performing Arts.

Ballet Creole acknowledges the generous support of the Canada Council, Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, Trillium Foundation, Next Steps and FK Morrow Foundation and TD Financial

20 Years of “Tradition, Progression,and Foresight”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Iceland Rocks - Mugison at Toronto's Drake Hotel

Iceland's Mugison
The Drake Underground March 19 & 20

Things must be pretty laidback in Iceland, I'm guessing. Partway through the second song of Mugison's hour long set last night at the Drake, the affable Icelander (?) mentioned it would be nice if his band members "...if they're here..." wouldn't mind coming up on stage to help out with the rest of the song. So they did, in an unhurried kind of way, bass and drums to complete the power rock trio and launch into songs like Jesus is a good name to moan (about prostitutes), the pathetic anthem, and others in a similar vein.

Mugison, or Örn Elías Guðmundsson as he was born, often plays solo, and when he's with a band it seems a revolving cast of characters than can swell to five members or more, but the power trio version we got was plenty enough to fill the Drake's little rock cave with sound. The place was full and appreciative, responding to his frequent requests for back up vocals and choruses by the very first song. He was polite in speech, screeching or gravelly voiced in songs that had echoes of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zep, (not to mention people like Queens of the Stone Age,) played with tight precision by the classic configuration, including "animal" drummer, and bassist who sang a weird "solo" composition that seemed like an inside joke. Knowing he was running out of time for any chance of an encore, he played his next to last song asking the crowd to "ask for one more after!"

At the end, the band gave out CDs, although he was also trying to sell 4 CD homemade box sets for $20 as well. They reminded me how well the bass-guitar-drums combination can work.

Images are of Mugison at the Moers Festival 2006 by Michael Hoefner.

Friday, March 19, 2010

who knew grannie: a dub aria by ahdri zhina mandiela

who knew grannie: a dub aria
by ahdri zhina mandiela

Obsidian Theatre Company
World Premiere
in association with Factory Theatre, Toronto
Continues to – April 4th, 2010

Starring Miranda Edwards, Ordena, Joseph Jomo Pierre, Andrea Scott & Marcel Stewart
Musician: Amina Alfred (representing the sankofa bird)

who knew grannie.. is a creative and engaging piece of theatre by playwright/ director ahdri zhina mandiela. It has a rhythm that ebbs and flows with the music of dub poetry in beautiful language that echoes the up and down movements of energy and intensity. There were layers and elements of movement, dance, song, and the drumming and other music by Amina Alfred to add to the mix.

There is a story, and its basic outlines are fairly straightforward - four cousins are returning to Jamaica for the funeral of the grannie who raised them. As such occasions do, it sparks a flood of memory, feelings of regret and loss. The piece flows from past to present to thought to action in scenes that contrast their solitary lives in farflung locales with the shared memories of childhood. You could see the passion the actors had for the material, and both humour and pathos seemed genuine.

The stories of the cousins, as children and grown up, unfold in bits in those memories and children's games. Your mother was a good woman - your mother was a kind woman - like me! It becomes a refrain that grannie (Ordena) sings to young tyetye (Joseph Jomos Pierre), as an adult the underachiever of the four, sitting in jail on some minor offense - as a the child only too eager to believe something good of the mother who disappeared from his life.

Set and costumes by Julia Tribe, along with lighting by Bonnie Beecher, create a warm glow on stage with splashes of the colour that's so absent from this area of North America this time of year. It evokes both a more tropical climate and the hazy warmth of childhood memory itself.

Opening night looked full or nearly so, with a responsive crowd that gave the cast a standing ovation. Perhaps it's not incidental that this is the third or fourth theatrical piece I've seen this year that has the strength of family as its core theme..?

Images are mine:
Top - Joseph Jomo Pierre, Miranda Edwards, Ordena, Andrea Scott & Marcel Stewart
Middle - Amina Alfred & Ordena
Bottom - Marcel Stewart, oseph Jomo Pierre, Miranda Edward - behind, Ordena, Andrea Scott

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I'm So Close It's Not Even Funny - opens next week in Toronto

Why Not Theatre Presents
I'm So Close It's Not Even Funny
(Part of Free Fall & in conjunction with the
Harbourfront Centre)
March 23 - April 3 - see details below

The Theatre Centre 100-1087 Queen Street West (at Dovercourt) Toronto

Next week, I'm checking out I'm So Close It's Not Even Funny, what sounds like some very cool original theatre. It's presented by two year old company Why Not Theatre, currently in residence at Toronto's Theatre Centre, an international theatre company whose mandate is to create productions of both new and classic works that engage audiences in new ways.

Why Not Theatre's core consists of Ravi Jain (Canada), Katrina Bugaj (USA), Troels Hagen Findsen (Denmark), Katharine Yates (UK) and Gina Scherr (USA), who met as students at The Jacques Lecoq international theatre school in Paris, where studies tend to emphasize the physicality of performance. Their pieces combine various media with a physical energy that's been described as explosive, and they've gotten a lot of buzz since getting rave reviews for their performances at the 2008 Summerworks Festival, winning the Spotlight Award.

I'm So Close looks at real connectivity in our connected world. We have a zillion ways of staying in touch, but how close are we really? It follows the story of Steve, who wants to make the world a greener place - but we all know with what the road to hell is paved...

Looking forward to the show on the 23rd. The production tours to Vancouver in April directly after the Toronto run.

Written by, directed by and starring Ravi Jain (Canada), Katrina Bugaj (United States) and Troels Hagen Findsen (Denmark) Co-writer and Dramaturgy by Nicolas Billon (Canada) Lighting design by Gina Scherr (U.S.), Sound design by M.L Dogg (U.S.) Costume design by Kelsey Hart (Canada), Projections designed by Jamie Nesbitt (Canada)

Opens Tuesday March 23 and runs to Saturday, April 3, 2010
Tuesdays through Sundays as follows during the festival:
Tuesday, March 23, 8pm; Wednesday, March 24, 8:30pm
Friday, March 26, 7pm; Saturday, March 27, 9pm
Sunday, March 28, 2pm
Tuesday March 30 - Saturday April 3 at 8pm

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Jaffa Road Garners Juno Nomination

I interviewed Aaron Lightstone of Toronto's Jaffa Road a few months ago, and they sent me an update recently. Congrats!

Jaffa Road Garners Juno Nomination

We are very excited to share this news with you, earlier today we attended the Juno Awards press conference.

Jaffa Road as been nominated for World Music Album of the Year for our début CD Sunplace..

Here's the official press release:

March 3, 2010


World Music Album of the Year!

[Toronto ON] Canada's ambassadors of cutting-edge Diaspora Roots music, Jaffa Road, are nominated for a 2010 JUNO Award for their CD, "Sunplace":: World Music Album of the Year!

With electrifying onstage chemistry, Toronto's acclaimed Jaffa Road combines original and ancient poetry sung in Hebrew, Spanish and English with pulsating dub grooves, belly dance rhythms, ambient electronic textures, and exhilarating improvisations. The group has created a unique sonic landscape that draws easily and organically from the worlds of Jewish song, Classical Arabic and Indian music, modern jazz, rock, pop, and dub. In doing so, the group creates a union that is at once acoustic and electronic, secular and sacred, ancient and modern.

Sunplace, the band's debut disc, was released in 2009 to a packed house at The Lula Lounge in Toronto and was recorded for CBC's Canada Live. Enjoying wide airplay across the country, Jaffa Road's songs have won them Grand Prize in the John Lennon Song Writing contest (world music category) and runner-up status in the We are Listening Worlds of Music contest.

Jaffa Road is made up of some of Canada's most exciting and virtuosic interpreters of inter-cultural music: the textured stylings of founder and multi-instrumentalist/music therapist Aaron Lightstone (guitar, oud, saz, synthesizer), the ethereal vocals of multilingual lead singer Aviva Chernick (Levon Ichakhanian, Ernie Tollar, Tania Gill, Andrew Downing, Mitch Smolkin and Klezmer Buenos Aires), the visionary grooves of bassist Chris Gartner (Chantal Kreviazuk, members of both The Band and Barenaked Ladies, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Tasa), the entrancing sounds of saxophonist/flutist Sundar Viswanathan (Wynton Marsalis, Al Martino, the Grammy-nominated Charles Tolliver Big Band, Bobby Vinton, Kiran Ahluwalia, Tasa), the driving beat of percussionist Jeff Wilson (Maza Mezé, David Buchbinder, and The Liquidairs). Sunplace was produced by Chris Gartner with Aaron Lightstone.

"Their blend of Jewish, jazz, Indian and Arabic music, electronica and dub is fantastic!"
CBC, Metro Morning

"Their music is incredibly diverse, rooted in centuries-old traditions yet with a keen eye to the future... it's played to the highest level of skill... truly inspiring to hear live."
Small World Music Society

"If Toronto had to pick one group to reflect the world music scene in that city, well Jaffa Road would definitely be in the running as musical ambassadors."
CBC, Canada Live

"Their eclectic mix of world beat, jazz and electronica has a combination of cultural elements that is a virtual peace plan for the Middle East...great musicianship, odd ball combinations of instruments, drone, funk, verve and melody".
Distillery Jazz Festival

Apr 25 - Hugh's Room, Toronto Special collaborative performance with Iraqi-Israeli oud/violin master Yair Dalal.

June 28- July 1- Ailianat Cultural Festival and Canada Day Concert Iqaluit, Baffin Island Nunavut

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

who knew grannie: a dub aria by ahdri zhina mandiela

who knew grannie: a dub aria
written and directed by
ahdri zhina mandiela
produced by Obsidian Theatre Company in association with Factory Theatre (Toronto)
(see full cast list below)

Previews on March 16-17
World Premiere March 18 – April 4, 2010 at Factory Theatre

I can actually say, without a trace of irony, that one of my best friends is a dub poet, but if you're not familiar, it's a form of performance poetry whose underlying music is the rhythm of reggae. Dub poetry can be performed either with or without the actual music; a 'dub aria' goes one step further and replaces the reggae music with human voices and percussion.

Obsidian Theatre Company's Artistic Director Philip Akin (director of Factory Theatre's Toronto the Good in 2009 and the current remount of Intimate Apparel by Obsidian/Canadian Stage) elaborates, "What we have is a new art form that creates lyricism and music through language and chorale work. And yet this aria form is very accessible and understandable. Repetition and clarity of thought allows any audience to easily follow the story and be surrounded by the rich imagery."

The play follows several characters through one melodic voice that bounces from one to the other to many and back again seamlessly. ahdri has been developing dub in a theatrical context since the early 1990's, and her deft hand shows in a seamless flow of words and actions on stage (from the snippets I saw at a media preview) - no mean feat for either dramaturge or performers. The play combines children's games with dub poetry, elements of opera and more in the story of four cousins who go back to their childhood home of Jamaica for the funeral of the grandmother who raised them all.

The script is aided by a dimensional set that's kind've an abstracted back alley in Jamaica, with lines that run from floor to ceiling, some more horizontal and strewn with laundry. The musician, Amina Alfred, drums from above the floor in a two level treehouse where the laundry and lines cluster. Warm yellow lights and sunny costuming evoke a more tropical atmosphere than Toronto in March (although it was a damn fine day today - 15 Celsius!)

I'll be at the opening in a couple of days - review to come.

Miranda Edwards (Toronto the Good, The Madonna Painter) as likklebit, Ordena (The Real McCoy; da kink in my hair; Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God) as grannie, Joseph Jomo Pierre (Born Ready; Pusha-Man; HipHop Who Stole the Show) as tyetye, Andrea Scott (For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf; Omnium Gatherum; Kindness) as vilma and Marcel Stewart (Toronto the Good; Theatre of the Film Noir; MacBeth) as kris.
Joining them is musician Amina Alfred (blood.claat;„da kink in my hair; Capturing Freedom) representing the sankofa bird.
Julia Tribe is the Set & Costume Designer
Bonnie Beecher is the Lighting Designer
Shauna Japp is the Stage Manager
Neha Ross is the Apprentice Stage Manager
mandiela's Assistant Director is Jajube Mandiela

Photo - mine! (l-r: Joseph Pierre, Miranda Edwards, Ordena (standing as grannie,) Andrea Scott & Marcel Stewart, with Amina Alfred way above.)
(Written with material from their press release)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Nightwood announces FemCab 2010 Line-Up

This event looks to be a great night out and features some talented women I've talked about here previously on my blog, including Maude Barlow, mezzo soprano Jean Stilwell and pianist Patti Loach, choreographer Andrea Nann, and as it happens, I appear very briefly in Andrea Dorfman's 2005 documentary Sluts! (and it's not what you think! lol)

From a press release -

Nightwood announces FemCab 2010 Line-Up… including Maude Barlow as the keynote speaker FemCab 2010 Nightwood’s 27th Annual International Women’s Day Celebration April 13, 2010 at 8:00 p.m. Brigantine Room, Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West

TICKETS: Ticket price: $30.00
BOX OFFICE: Tickets are available in advance by calling Nightwood Theatre at 416.944.1740 ext. 8
or online at www.nightwoodtheatre.net

Toronto, ON…Nightwood Theatre, Canada’s national women’s theatre, is thrilled to announce Maude Barlow as this year’s Keynote Speaker. National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and recipient of eight honourary doctorates as well as many awards including the 2005 Right Livelihood Award (known as the “Alternative Nobel”), the Citation of Lifetime Achievement at the 2008 Canadian Environment Award, and the 2009 Earth Day Canada Outstanding Environmental Achievement Award. Ms. Barlow is also the best-selling author of 16 books including international best seller Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and The Coming Battle for the Right to Water. (Image is a still from the documentary Water on the Table by Liz Marshall).

Joining Barlow and Nightwood in celebrating International Women’s Day will be: Jessica Yee, Special Address (2009 YWCA Young Women of Distinction Winner), funny-girl co-hosts Elley-Ray Hennessy (award-winning veteran of stage, radio, film and television) and Lisa Karen Cox (The Penelopiad, Royal Shakespeare Company/ NAC); comedian Sandra Battaglini (Hard Headed Woman); Andrea Nann (one of Canada’s most influential dance choreographers and performers); mezzo soprano queen Jean Stilwell and pianist Patti Loach (pictured); belly dancer extraordinaire Roula Said (Maza Meze, Sabah) and Maryem Tollar (award-winning Arabic vocalist); a short film by Andrea Dorfman (Parsley Days, Love That Boy), singer Saidah Baba Talibah (daughter of Salome Bey); and the diva of Afro-Brazilian music Guiomar Campbell leading the evening’s House Band.

For the last 30 years, Nightwood Theatre has developed, produced and toured landmark, award-winning plays by women. Since 1983, Nightwood has presented FemCab, the only cabaret in town where politics and art come together in an irreverent, humourous and shameless celebration of women’s success!

Please join us on April 13th for our raucous salute to the extraordinary achievements of women across the globe!

Nightwood Theatre – Artistic Director Kelly Thornton and Producer Monica Esteves.
As Canada’s national women’s theatre since 1979, Nightwood has launched the careers of countless leading theatre artists in the country. We have won Canada’s highest literary and performing arts awards and more than ever our success proves the need for theatre that gives voice to women and celebrates the diversity of Canadian society. We remain actively engaged in mentoring young women and promoting women’s place on the local, national and international stage.

Water on the Table - A documentary about Maude Barlow

Water on the Table
A documentary about Maude Barlow and Water Justice
Written, directed and produced by Liz Marshall
Produced in association with TVO

World Premiere on TVO's The View From Here,
Wednesday March 24, 2010 at 10:00pm (EST)
Repeated March 25 at 1:00am (EST) & Sunday March 28th at 10:30pm (EST)

Is water a human right or a commodity to bought and sold like oil or sugar? That's the essential philosphical war that is currently being waged at an international level. Water on the Table tackles that question through taking a look at Canada's international "Water Warrior" Maude Barlow in her tireless quest to give water the status that will forever protect it from commercial enterprise, and something that can never be denied anyone. (Image is of Maude at the Alberta Tar Sands.)

Maude's view of the not too distant future is a scary one - only the rich will be able to afford to drink the purest bottled water that will originate from ever dwindling uncontaminated natural sources. The rest of us will be drinking recycled sewer water. Companies will be cleaning up sewage and selling it back to us at a profit. The poor and have-not countries... well no one really says outright what will happen to them.

The idea is a strong one and the debates compelling, but does it make good cinema? The answer is yes. Water on the Table is filmmaker Liz Marshall's first feature length documentary, but it nonetheless follows in a growing body of work that focuses on talking about issues with an artistic vision. The film follows Maude on Canada-wide and international junkets, speaking to crowds, politely disrupting political meetings, doing work for the UN, where she served as Senior Advisor on Water to the 63rd President of the United Nations General Assembly (that's the full title) in 2008/2009. This is a woman whose polite demeanour masks an iron determination, who confronts politicians and security personnel in a measured voice, a proper grandmother who wears pearls and just the right shade of lipstick as she talks about revolutionary politics.

The scenes of Barlow are intercut with a visual meditation on the very essence and mercurial beauty of water. "I needed the right cinematographer," says Marshall about Steve Cosens (at work in the image below). It's shot as a poetic ode to the element, making its beauty the real subject of the film. Almost all the shots include water in some way, to emphasize its ubiquitous nature on our lives. "It was really important to me to create that poetic thread."

The film's just been released and will premiere on March 24, but the project's origins go back several years. "It goes back to 2002, when I was working as a producer for BookTV," Liz says. The book Blue Gold, written by Barlow and Tony Clarke, came across her desk one day, and left her impressed. "I was impacted by it," Liz says.

Busy with other projects for a few years, she came back to it in earnest in 2006, when she found Maude's email in her archives, and began to go after funding. It wasn't an easy project to get underway. "You really have to, as an independent filmmaker, have that undying belief that it will happen," she says. "It took me over a year to get the first green light as far as funding."

At the same time, a number of other films and documentaries appeared on the subject, like 2007's Flow. "The market was flooded with water documentaries," she jokes. In contrast, Water on the Table is character driven, distinguished by the unflappable personality of Maude Barlow, and focuses mainly on Canada and its relationship to the U.S.

While her rapport with her subject is obvious - "I just clicked with her," Liz says - the film does give a voice to the opposing position in characters who are also strong, like the Financial Post's Terence Corcoran.

It juxtaposes the ideological chasm. Part of the reason why Maude's opponents are dismissive is her insistence on adding a spiritual dimension to the debate, on making it a moral issue. She believes that all life has a right to water, that the planet itself has a right to its water. That no life can exist on this planet without water is a matter of fact and not belief - and if we value life, how can we not regard that which sustains it as sacred? But, we buy up and sell everything else, the argument goes, why not water too?

The result is a thought provoking film that's also very watchable.


If you're not convinced this is a real or immediate issue, there's a dispute currently before NAFTA regarding a claim filed by a California company called Sun Belt Water, who make the argument that Canada has an abundance of water that they should be able to access for their drought plagued SoCal region.

Check out the details here

I'll leave you with Tinariwen's Aman Iman (Water is Life).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Soulpepper's Oh What A Lovely War

Oh What A Lovely War!
Soulpepper Theatre Company
Written by Joan Littlewood, Theatre Workshop & Charles Chilton
Directed by Albert Schultz
Musical Direction by Marek Norman - see full cast list below

The Young Centre, Toronto - continues to April 10

The horrible conditions suffered by soldiers, the naive assertions by political figures of a quick and easy victory and general stupidity of the upper echelons who remain safely behind the battle lines, the cold and callous profiteering as whole nations bleed and lie in ruins - sound familiar? The study of history is often "justified" by saying that what we learn, we won't then repeat, but more often than not, serves to underline just how little we have learned. Oh What A Lovely War was written in 1963 about WWI - the War to End All Wars - but its obervations, sadly, still ring loud and clear today.

Playwright Joan Littlewood, a visionary largely credited with giving birth to modern British theatre, conceived of the project for her remarkable Theatre Workshop company in London, as irreverent and above all entertaining even as it takes a clear eyed look at the subject. Her focus is on the stories of the common soldiers as they suffered, and the show trips along from musical interlude to song and dance to more and often less serious vignette at a rollicking pace. It's brought to life by a large ensemble cast of incredibly talented performers who nimbly switch from drama to comedy to song to playing instruments without a misstep. The laughs are plentiful even as the darker truths sting, and even if it's through your great-grandma, you'll recognize songs like Pack up Your Troubles in the Old Kitbag, It’s a Long Way to Tipperary and Keep the Home Fires Burning. Musical direction by Marek Norman virtually flawless

The multi talented performers are aided and abetted by imaginative staging and highly detailed costuming, (by Ken MacKenzie & Lorenzo Savoini respectively). The base costume, if you will, was a pure white clownsuit (the laundry!) befitting the nature of the project, replaced or embellished on occasion to change into and out of a raft of characters from soldier to politician to general or damsel waving - and urging on - the boys good-bye in a way that keeps an engaging visual flow. As a tribute to its entertainment value, I was actually quite surprised to find I'd spent about 2 and a half hours in the theatre (with an intermission). (Image is of Karen Rae).

The numbers are staggering - 10 million dead, 21 million wounded, 7 million missing, and 21,000 Americans who became millionaires by supplying the goods and services that prolonged the misery (although the Americans were by no means the only nation to do so!) Our high tech modern wars claim to reduce civilian casualties, but then don't tell us the actual numbers... as Oh What A Lovely War reminds us as it bounces along, it's a part of the human experience that certainly doesn't serve us well.

Cast: Ins Choi, Tatjana Cornij, Oliver Dennis, Raquel Duffy, Ryan Field, Michael Hanrahan, Alison Jutzi, George Masswohl, Gregory Prest, Doug Price, Karen Rae, Mike Ross, Jason Patrick Rothery, and Brendan Wall. (Image is of Brendan Wall, Oliver Dennis & Gregory Prest.)

Image of Joan Littlewood from Joan's Book: The Autobiography of Joan Littlewood. London: Methuen.
Production Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann, courtesy of Soulpepper.

Also on view at the Young Centre - The Aleph - what sounds like a very interesting theatrical collaboration and workshop performance series.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

William Kentridge at MoMA

William Kentridge: Five Themes at MoMA
continues to May 17, 2010
The Nose Metropolitan Opera
continues to March 25, 2010

William Kentridge: Five Themes is a large scale exhibition of the internationally acclaimed artist's work, devoted to examining nearly 30 years of his oeuvre. The show includes over 120 works in ten media, with nearly half drawn from MoMA's existing collection of Kentridge's installations, films, drawings, and prints. A true "multimedia" artist, his works include prints, collage, books, sculpture and more, but he's probably best known for his charcoal drawings and the animated films based on them. He's often said in interviews that he simply begins with a concept, often with no idea which medium (or media) he'll use to express it in the end. Many of his animations are created by drawing and erasing and redrawing on the same sheet of paper - a method he describes as "stone age animation" - leaving the ghost impression of previous drawings to add to the new. The show is striking, often dark, often political, and leans to the expressionistic in style. (Drawing from Stereoscope 1998–99)

It may not always be immediately obvious in his pieces, but it does help in understanding his work to know that artist William Kentridge is South African. While his pieces don't typically look at the former apartheid régime directly in its subject matter, they do deal with the raw psychological aftermath of the oppressive system on South African society.

“I have never been able to escape Johannesburg, and in the end, all my work is rooted in this rather desperate provincial city. I have never tried to make illustrations of apartheid, but the drawings and the films are certainly spawned by, and feed off, the brutalised society left in its wake.” (Quotation from William Kentridge by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev (1998), Societé des Expositions du Palais de Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles.)

In an introductory note to Felix In Exile, Kentridge writes, "In the same way that there is a human act of dismembering the past there is a natural process in the terrain through erosion, growth, dilapidation that also seeks to blot out events. In South Africa this process has other dimensions. The very term 'new South Africa' has within it the idea of a painting over the old, the natural process of dismembering, the naturalization of things new."

The show at MoMA featured a sold out performance of I am not me, the horse is not mine on March 4, a remount of his solo performance piece that combines narration, video, and a vocal and instrumental soundtrack. It was originally performed at the Sydney Biennale in 2008, and is based on an absurdist story by Russian Nikolai Gogol. The short story, The Nose (1837) follows the trials and tribulations of a Russian bureaucrat who wakes up one day to find his nose has escaped his face. The Nose is also an opera by Dimitri Shostakovich, and Kentridge designed the production currently on view at the Metropolitan Opera. “The opera is about the terrors of hierarchy,” Kentridge says in the programme notes. “There’s a mixture of anarchy and the absurd that interests me. I love in this opera the sense that anything is possible.” Check out a preview, with animations by Kentridge, here. His involvement in the stage has included acting, writing, and designing productions primarily in his native South Africa. (Image - right - Drawing for II Sole 24 Ore [World Walking], 2007).

Having worked with so many artists over the years, I'm always impressed by someone who can take the simplest of media and use it to great effect, as he does with simply charcoal and paper. Drawing is an art that's not properly appreciated in this digital age, and Kentridge's work shows its still visceral, expressive power and life. The show a MoMA is the fourth stop on a world tour that began at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and will continue on to Paris, Vienna and Jerusalem before a final stop at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in the summer of 2011.

Check out an interactive version of the exhibition here.

Check out some samplings of his animation here and here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Taste of Iceland - Art, Film & Food come to Toronto

A Taste of Iceland
Iceland comes to Boston March 11-17 & Toronto March 17-20

There are only 300,000 people in Iceland, did you know that? And yet, there seems to be an abundance of arts and culture in the island country that sits in the cold seas between the coasts of Norway and the U.K., and Greenland. They're bringing a little of that culture to Toronto this month (after a stop in Boston March 11-17) - a taste of it, if you will - in conjunction with the Drake Hotel. The Drake will have a special menu and will exhibit Icelandic art, and I'll be trying to get to the Underground for Mugison on the 19th or 20th. (Image is of the coat of arms of Iceland.)

In the meantime, you can also check out two films in FREE screenings:

Thursday, March 18, at Cumberland Four Theatre (159 Cumberland Avenue)
6:30 pm - Sveitabrúðkaup (Country Wedding) &
8:10pm - Reykjavik-Rotterdam

I just checked them out myself - here's a quick look:

Sveitabrúðkaup (Country Wedding) 2008
Written & Directed by Valdís Óskarsdóttir
Starring: Hreinn Beck, Erlendur Eiríksson, Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir, Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir, Gísli Örn Garðarsson, Rúnar Freyr Gíslason

Valdís Óskarsdóttir is a well known editor who has worked on the films of Gus Van Sant, Michel Gondry, and Lars von Trier, among others, and Country Wedding is her directorial début. The film itself poses a fairly simple story - a young couple wants to get married in the country. They, their families and guests, board two buses and head out of Reykjavik for the treeless Icelandic countryside for what is to be a couple of hours' journey to a charming church in the bucolic grassy hills and fields... But as any filmgoer knows, such journeys are never that simple.

Interestingly, Óskarsdóttir chose to "write" the script à la Mike Leigh - she only gave her actors a character outline. They were then asked to come up with their own back stories, and a minimum of one secret that they might or might not choose to reveal during the filming. Rehearsals consisted only of those back story events - things that would have happened before the events that take place on screen, and the actual filming was accomplished in a mere 7 days, (in part, Óskarsdóttir says, to keep it on the cheap.)

Naturally, they get lost. The result is a comedic road flick, with the two half empty buses full of would be wedding guests lurching about the Icelandic countryside - either beautiful or starkly ugly, as debated by the characters in the film - and two families that disintegrate into a Kafkaesque maelstrom of confessions, revelations and fights both cat and otherwise. There's a granny suffering from dementia who wanders off, the weepy bride to be, a bickering gay couple, the not-so-closet drunk and more as the two families communicate via cell phones from the two buses and the situation spirals out of control. This is the family unvarnished, no glossy sentimentality here - not even of the poetic landscape. As someone points out, it's an island - you can't get away - the film is coloured with Scandinavian fatalism, if I may call it that. You may find yourself disliking most or all of the characters, but I think that's the point. The humour is definitely on point, and interestingly, the hapless engaged couple are pretty much the only ones left standing by the end of it.

Óskarsdóttir's editing background is in evidence as she keeps us interested in what is essentially a bunch of talking heads in a bus, contrasted by the beauty of the sparsely populated Icelandic countryside that's almost a character in itself. The film screened at TIFF in 2008, along with the Chicago International Film Festival, London Film Festival and more.

Check out the trailer here - the film will be subtitled in English for the screening, of course.

Reykjavik-Rotterdam 2008
Written by Óskar Jónasson & Arnaldur Indriðason
Directed by Óskar Jónasson
Starring: Baltasar Kormákur, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Lilja Nótt Þórarinsdóttir, Jörundur Ragnarsson

Reykjavik-Rotterdam is a taut, expertly paced thriller that will keep you guessing as to its resolution right up to the end. In the first scene, we see some kind of shady deal going wrong, with a violent end for one of the conspirators. Arnór, the one left standing - or running away, as it were - high tails it to his brother's place. Kristófer, older brother and security guard, is reluctant to get involved, having gone straight. But Kristófer has financial problems of his own, including two months' unpaid rent, and a "friend" who suggests that one last big job to end all jobs...

If you're Icelandic, or even European, you'd "get" what's happening right away, in fact the film's title probably says it all. Those of us not so familiar with the geography of that region of the North Atlantic may take a little longer to cotton on to the implications - island = scarcity of resources = ultra expensive booze = smuggling - but you'll get caught up in the action nonetheless. The setting is integral to the plot.

Kristófer takes a job on a ship, where apparently smuggling is pretty much de rigueur, the crew finding odd spaces and areas ont he ship where they can effectively slip through the cracks of inspection. Jónasson is a great storyteller, revealing bits as the film progresses. It effectively builds up a feeling of impending doom on several fronts - the ship, where Kristófer runs afoul of a suspicious captain, at home where wife Íris and their two children are confronted by thugs, and Kristófer's growing realization of just what he's done by leaving his pretty wife at home alone with Steingrímur, just incidentally the guy who set up this last job.

It has an unglamourized, indie feel to it that's very realistic. These are working class criminals, not the high living sort, people whose precarious finances are what keeps them in a dangerous game. We feel the tedium of their criminal work as they measure and repackage the drugs that come into their possession in just one of the many plot twists. Things fit together piece by piece to and ending that is, like Country Wedding, a victory for a couple in love - but not necessarily for law and order.

The film screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and Rotterdam Film Festival, both in 2010. An English language version is planned by Working Title Films, reportedly with Mark Wahlberg in the role of Kristófer the security guard. Interestingly, the Hollywoodized version will be directed by its original star (and also producer) - Baltasar Kormákur - at least, that's what's being proposed (according to the Hollywood Reporter).

Check out the trailer here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The National Ballet of Canada

The National Ballet of Canada
Highlights from 2010/2011 Season

With its disciplined beauty and grace, ballet has an otherworldly sort of quality about it. That appeal is only enhanced by the airy 4-balcony high environment of the Four Seasons Centre, as I was reminded when taking in the last show of 24 Preludes by Chopin & A Suite of Dances & The Four Seasons on Sunday (March 7).

The programme was an interesting mixed bag, with music from Chopin to Bach to Vivaldi and the dance from avant garde to contemporary. From lighting design to costuming to the performance itself, they delivered a polished, yet passionate interpretation of the works, with a developed dramatic sense that went from comedy to pathos. Check out a previous version of Summer from Kudelka's Four Seasons (with Rex Harrington) here.

In the five years' since she's become the Artistic Director of the National, Karen Kain has developed a reputation for putting together varied and entertaining line ups like the one I just saw. Here are some interesting collaborations I will be looking forward to - from their upcoming 2010/2011 season, (tickets on sale since earlier this year).

British Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon & Alice in Wonderland
(a North American Premiere and co-production with
The Royal Ballet)
- June 2011

Perhaps most exciting of the offerings, Wheeldon will create a full length, two act interpretation of Lewis Caroll's classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The work will have Alice a troubled adolescent who goes through a journey that's coloured with both humour and tragedy. The score will be commissioned by Joby Talbot (dance is a small world - see Wayne McGregor below!) and makes its début in London next February and in Toronto in June 2011, where it will be presented as part of the Luminato Festival.

You can hear Christopher talking about putting together Tryst, another of his works, here.

British Choreographer Wayne McGregor & Chroma
- November 24-28, 2010

Set to the avant garde music of Joby Talbot and the modern indie rock of Detroit's The White Stripes, McGregor's Chroma was a senasation on its London début in 2006 and won multiple awards that year. Recently appointed as Resident Choreographer of The Royal Ballet, McGregor's work often inlcudes multimedia components, and intersections between movement, science and artificial intelligence. The National will be the only company other than The Royal Ballet to perform this exciting and visceral work.

You can listen to him talk about it here.

Russian Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky & Russsian Seasons
- March 23 - 27, 2011

From the Bolshoi to the American Ballet Theatre, dancer and then choreographer Alexei Ratmansky has been making his mark in the world of dance in a big way. Russian Seasons was created for the New York City Ballet in 2006 and as a whole the piece is loosely patterned on the Russian liturgical calendar. The work involves 12 dancers, a soprano, solo violin and string orchestra, and includes three songs for each season, representing life in a rural village, tied to the cycle of seasons and set to the modern score commissioned from Leonid Desyatnikov.

You can check out the European premiere here.

Images by Degas

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tinariwen, Madagascar Slim, and a Meditation on the Blues

From the southern Sahara to Madagascar, there's something about the blues... For two nights in a row this past week in Toronto, I was treated to very different versions of the musical form from some of the best musicians you'll hear anywhere.

Thursday night (March 4) - Tinariwen at the Phoenix Presented by Small World Music

The place is packed with a crowd that's very Toronto mixed - all shades, all persuasions and all ages it seems, most of the front section where I was moving to the hypnotic bass and drum driven music of Tinariwen. It was impossible not to feel the rhythm through your body and let yourself be moved by it... Their playing is as accomplished as it is impassioned. You felt the sincerity of every note, the way the music simply took them over too. (video is from the 2007 release Aman Iman: Water is Life)

The enigmatic Ibrahim Ag Alhabib comes on and off stage for various songs with his slightly weary demeanour and vocals, elements that seem entirely genuine and in keeping with the music even if you don't understand the words. He lets the others in the band take a more flamboyant role, like singer-guitarist Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, bassist Eyadou Ag Leche and percussionist Said Ag Ayad (and I'm taking names from a published list - hopefully I'm crediting the right people!)

It's their conviction that gives the music its fire and makes it so compelling. Their latest CD is called ‘Imidiwan’ which is translated as companions, but means friends, companions, soul-brothers, fellow travellers.

Friday night (March 5) Madagascar Slim at the Gladstone Presented by Batuki Music Society

If Tinariwen's music is coloured by their desert home, then Madagascar Slim's is definitely a sunnier version of the blues, with catchy songs fueled by his nimble Madagasy fingerpicking style. Madagascar Slim acknowledges the influence of people like B.B. King on his whole journey into music, but its an influence that blends perfectly with his Madagasy polyrhythms and sweet, singing guitar.

He's got a great band took including Ebenezer Agyekum on bass, Aisha Wills on flute & vocals and Rakesh Tewari on drums, (and someone I couldn't get a name for on guitar). Each had space to shine in three sets that had people swaying where they stood, along with a group on the dance floor. Another very mixed crowd.

In looking up references for both Tinariwen and Madagascar Slim, most of the descriptions cite some kind of "blend" of both African and American blues influences. But isn't the Blues African in the first place? The blues scale itself is an adaptation of the African 5-note scale into the 7-note European scale via the addition of two blue - or flattened - notes. Sure, it developed in the U.S., but directly from the displaced African diaspora and actually mostly from and about the conditions that enslavement engendered. (And there were slaves in Canada too, in case anyone's feeling smug at this point.) There is an American blues, to be certain, but it just seems to me more like they're two branches of the same tree - not different influences. If any continent and its people knows the blues inside out, it has to be Afrika.

The other thing I wondered about, seeing packed and noisily enthusiastic houses at the Phoenix and Gladstone, is that the market for what we call world music (a term I dislike but is at least easily understood - and searchable) clearly exists - so why is it so absent from the world of mainstream? Why is it treated like a fringey category, so that only the few who know how to find it are exposed to it? Why do we act like everything outside of North America is somehow the same, and ghettoize it under the same "world" category?? Even talking about "African music" is a misleading concept, since the styles vary so much from region to region, far more than in North America. There's an obvious answer for all this, of course...

Images are courtesy of John Leeson of TO-MusicPix.ca - Ibrahim Ag Alhabib from a 2005 concert in Toronto, and Madagascar Slim & band at their CD release in September 2009.