Friday, March 27, 2015

21C Music Festival in Toronto: A Festival of Newly Minted Music - 8 Concerts/5 Nights/34 Premieres - May 20-24 2015

From a media release:

May 20 to 24, 2015

Kaija Saariaho, Stewart Copeland & Jon Kimura Parker, Gryphon Trio & Ensemble contemporain de Montréal, Afiara Quartet & DJ Skratch Bastid, Jennifer Koh, Don Byron, The ARC Ensemble, Soundstreams

Check it Out

After a successful launch in 2014, the 21C Music Festival returns with a new line-up of artists from May 20 to May 24, 2015. The festival will again run over five nights and consist of eight concerts, featuring music composed mostly during the 21st century, which once again crosses boundaries and genres: rock and hip hop musicians share billing with classical artists and the music of seminal electroacoustic pioneer Kaija Saariaho is celebrated.

“We are very much looking forward to the second installment of 21C, featuring close to 60 works, 34 of which will be world, Canadian, or Ontario premieres,” said Mervon Mehta, Executive Director of Performing Arts at The Royal Conservatory of Music.

In this festival of newly minted music, audiences have an opportunity to experience fresh new sounds and ideas from the greatest musical minds of today and experience works by Canadian as well as international composers and musicians who are mining new musical territories, breaking down barriers, and introducing us to new virtuosic music creations. This year The Royal Conservatory is thrilled to welcome Kaija Saariaho, one of the world’s great composers. In partnership with Soundstreams, we celebrate the Finnish composer’s extraordinary output in three different concerts, including four Canadian premieres of her works. Other highlights include Royal Conservatory commissioned compositions by Stewart Copeland (well known as a member of The Police), Vancouver composer Jordan Nobles, and eight-time Juno Award nominee Michael Occhipinti. Additional world premieres include works by Andrew Staniland, Dean Burry, Chris Thornborrow, and Raphael Weinroth-Browne among others.

Festival benefactor, Michael Koerner remarked last year: “Charles Ives, the American composer-iconoclast wrote outrageously courageous music about 100 years ago and when asked what he was up to, he would say ‘I want to stretch your ears.’ This 21C Music Festival is just about that: ear stretching.” This year’s festival features one of Ives’s seminal works heard in juxtaposition with three new works by Quebec-based composers, proving Ives’s philosophy in the moment.

The festival opens on May 20 with Off the Score, a sizzling collaboration between drum legend Stewart Copeland of The Police and visionary Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker. Works by Copeland and Parker collide with renditions of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bach, Ravel, Piazzolla, and Paul Schoenfield, for an inspiring look at a musical universe that transcends genres. The highlight of the evening will be a Conservatory-commissioned world premiere by Copeland, titled Coincidence or Convergence? The two musicians are joined by Metropolitan Opera violinist Yoon Kwon, rising star bassist Marlon Martinez, and champion of the Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI) Judd Miller.

The Conservatory welcomes the great Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho to Toronto on May 21. As part of a concert titled Light and Matter, Saariaho’s Sept papillions (for solo cello played by Anssi Karttunen) and Frises (for solo violin played by Jennifer Koh and electronics by Saariaho) receive their Canadian premieres, and pianist Benjamin Hochman performs Ballade and Prelude (for solo piano). On the same evening, The Conservatory’s own ARC Ensemble (Artists of The Royal Conservatory) will present two pieces: Jerzy Fitelberg’s String Quartet No. 2 and You are where you are, a work for piano quintet and bass (Robert Pomakov) by Omar Daniel, with text by Man Booker Prize-winning author Yann Martell. The evening concludes with the North American premiere of Saariaho’s Light and Matter, a piano trio written for Koh, Karttunen, and Hochman.

The Bicycle Opera Project is dedicated to bringing Canadian talent performing new, accessible Canadian opera works to communities across Ontario, travelling exclusively by bicycle, and, on May 21, they bring their programming to The Conservatory. To begin the evening, the world premiere of Chris Thornborrow’s Ride of the Bicycle Bells will be performed outdoors, in our Reta Lila Weston Music Court, prior to the Koerner Hall mainstage concert. Immediately following the Koerner Hall concert, After Hours #1 features Bicycle Opera’s Larissa Koniuk, soprano; Stephanie Tritchew, mezzo-soprano; Graham Thomson, tenor; Alexander Dobson, baritone; Ilana Waniuk, violin; Erika Nielsen Smith, cello; Wesley Shen, music director & piano; Liza Balkan, staging; and Sonja Rainey, projectionist, in Mazzoleni Concert Hall, located in historic Ihnatowycz Hall. They will perform works by composers James Rolfe, Cecilia Livingston, Ivan Barbotin, Tobin Stokes, and the world premiere of “The Dreaming Duet”  from The Bells of Baddeck by Dean Burry.

On May 22 The Conservatory will present the Ontario premiere of a major new multimedia work called Illusions, which is being written for the Gryphon Trio, Ensemble contemporain de Montréal, and baritone Vincent Ranallo. This 70-minute work is comprised of three new pieces by Canadian composers Nicole Lizée, Gabriel Dharmoo, and Simon Martin, interspersed with Charles Ives’s Piano Trio, one of the great 20th century trio works. The music will be accompanied by visuals created by Kara Blake and Corinne Merrell, and projections designed by Jacques Collin, a long-time associate of Robert Lepage. To open the concert, The Royal Conservatory has commissioned jazz guitarist Michael Occhipinti to write a new work for himself, the Gryphon Trio, and legendary clarinettist Don Byron, titled Street Scene at the Centre of the Multiverse. The Gryphon Trio will also play three pieces by Byron: Basquiat, Shanty, and Russian.

After Hours #2 on May 22 in the Conservatory Theatre will include six works in development by six emerging composers featured in Soundstreams’s week-long Emerging Composers Workshop. The works will have been developed under the guidance of Kaija Saariaho and French cellist and composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière, and all will include video and/or electronic elements. The composers selected for this year’s workshop are Helga Arias (Spain), James O’Callaghan (Canada), Núria Giménez-Comas (Spain), Santa Bušs (Latvia), Steven Whiteley (USA/Canada), and Tawnie Olson (Canada). The works will be performed by Canadian artists Carla Huhtanen (soprano), Leslie Newman (flute), and Stephen Sitarski (violin).

The Saariaho thread continues as Carla Huhtanen and Kwagiulth and Stó:lo First Nations mezzo-soprano Marion Newman collaborate in a North American premiere of Saariaho’s Grammaire des rêves on May 23 in Cinq à Sept / performance in the Conservatory Theatre. Also on the program are two world premieres: one by cellist, composer, and Glenn Gould School student Raphaël Weinroth-Browne, and a Conservatory-commissioned new work for chamber ensemble and soprano from Vancouver composer Jordan Nobles, known for creating music filled with an “unearthly beauty” (Mondomagazine). The Visit, comprised of Weinroth-Browne and Heather Sita Black (voice), also performs Weinroth-Browne’s Offering, a combination of classical chamber music with the intricacy of Middle Eastern and Persian music.

Spin Cycle, a three-stage, ground-breaking project that curates a 360-degree conversation with four of the hottest young composers in Canada, the award-winning Afiara Quartet (The Glenn Gould School Fellowship Quartet-in-Residence at The Royal Conservatory), and the renowned scratch DJ, Skratch Bastid, is presented on May 23 in Mazzoleni Concert Hall. During the first stage of the concert, Afiara plays the world premieres of works composed by Dinuk Wijeratne, Laura Silberberg, Rob Teehan, and Kevin Lau, which form the bedrock of the project. The works are then repurposed and re-envisioned by the scratch stylings of DJ Skratch Bastid. His ability to put together different sounds, songs, and genres, and make the works into something wholly new is one of the rarest talents in his field. The idea of remixing is not new, but rarely does the original artist or composer hear a remix and feel inspired to write a response or bring something new to the conversation. This dialogue of innovation and creation is the third stage of this project. Each composer has heard what Skratch Bastid has done and has responded by writing parts for the Afiara to play with (or against) the DJ’s remix. This innovative, 100% Canadian project bristles with new energy and collaboration, and offers a total of 12 world premieres in one concert! 

The festival closes on May 24 with Encuentros, presented by Soundstreams, a Toronto-based music presenter that commissions, develops, and showcases the work of contemporary Canadian composers and their international counterparts. Tango, flamenco, bossa nova, fandango, Afro-samba, and jazz will be heard in this afternoon of musical encounters featuring internationally acclaimed guitar virtuosos Grisha Goryachev and Fabio Zanon, Argentine bandoneon player Héctor del Curto, Colombian singing sensation Maria Mulata, and Juno Award-winning pianist and composer Serouj Kradjian. Highlights of the afternoon will be world premieres by Canadian composers Andrew Staniland and Mark Duggan. Staniland’s Choro was commissioned by Stan & Ros Witkin in honour of Martin Offman. Also on the program will be works that Kradjian and some of the performers are currently composing based on tango, flamenco, fado, and bossa-nova masterworks. These new pieces are commissioned by Soundstreams and The Royal Conservatory of Music in partnership. Also on the program will be the popular Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos.

Several pre- or post-concert talks will feature composers and performers in discussion offering further insight into the works being presented.

Avant-Garde Jazz: French-Japanese Quartet Kaze Releases Adventurous Third CD Uminari (Circum-Libra - May 5 2015)

From a media release:

French-Japanese Quartet Kaze Releases Adventurous Third CD
Two-trumpet ensemble unleashes storm of inventive sound on Uminari
Out May 5, 2015 from Circum-Libra

Coming May 5, 2015

"Twists and turns, noise followed by lyrical beauty; nuanced percussion followed by powerhouse drumming; and wild cacophonies that lead into introspective solo slots. Expect the unexpected." - Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz

"An expansive set captivating and in some instances, mind-bending pieces, sans any limiting factors." - Glenn Astarita, Jazz Review

Uminari is a Japanese word that refers to a sound rising from the sea, a low-frequency roar that portends a coming storm or tsunami. The poetic word serves as an ideal title for the third CD, available in the US and Canada on May 5, 2015 on Circum-Libra, from the unconventional international quartet Kaze. The two-horn quartet is equally adept at the calm and the storm, with expressive subtleties giving way to overwhelming torrents of sound.

Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura reunite with French trumpeter Christian Pruvost and drummer Peter Orins for the band's most evocative and inventive outing to date. The music for Uminari was developed over the course of a 12-day tour of Japan during which skeletal compositions by each of the quartet's members were elaborated and experimented on by the group as a whole.

"Every day we decided to play with different ideas," Fujii recalls. "Today we'll play the piece one way, the next day a completely different way. We wrote very simple music beforehand and developed it together."

Uminari opens at gale force with "Tioky Atsimo," the first piece to date contributed to the ensemble by Pruvost. The heady whorl of sound ultimately subsides to a stutter-stop rhythm by Fujii and Orins, accompanied by breathy rasps and brassy bleats by the trumpeters, who ultimately fall in line with the insistent beat. A second eruption ensues, as the piece becomes an exercise in forming order out of chaos.

Orins' "Vents Contraires" follows from the opposite extreme, starting from a place of shimmering stillness with the drummer's scraped cymbals and a low murmur from the horns. The piece builds gradually in intensity over half of its 14 minutes before dissolving into pointillistic shards. "Running Around," the first of two Fujii compositions on the album, begins with a circuitous melody articulated by the trumpeters, ceding to a fragmented groove from the rhythm section. At the midpoint it becomes a play of dynamics and silences among the four musicians.

Tamura's "Inspiration" - at 20 minutes, the album's longest piece - showcases the trumpeter's trademark humor with a textured array of percussion, extended techniques, prepared piano and toy instruments. The set closes with Fujii's dark, impressionistic title track combining heartfelt, dirge-like melodicism with tempestuous improvisation.

Fujii and Tamura originally met Orins in 2002 when the pianist's quartet shared a bill with the drummer's collective Impression in his hometown of Lille, France. Nearly a decade later they crossed paths again and Orins suggested a collaboration with Pruvost, inaugurating Kaze's unusual instrumentation.

"We immediately became friends," Fujii says. "We felt like we shared the same kind of musical values. And we had so much fun doing this group we just kept playing together."\

Uminari is one of three new releases scheduled for 2015 from the always- prolific Fujii, whose prodigious output is only rivaled by her remarkable drive to constantly explore new terrain. Also on tap are albums by two new ensembles: Tobira, which expands the pianist's New Trio to a quartet with the addition of Tamura; and the Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin, the fifth city-specific large ensemble she's founded, and the first group launched in her newly adopted home.

Kaze is a departure from much of Fujii's output, being a collective rather than a group led by and dedicated to performing the music of the powerful composer. "I don't have much opportunity to be a side musician," she says. "Almost all the time I'm the leader; I write and direct the music and arrange the gigs. Finally, this gives me a chance to play with great musicians who all write music and all sound different. I have so much fun playing their pieces."

One of the most original and wide-ranging voices in modern jazz, Satoko Fujii has documented her abilities on more than 70 CDs in less than 20 years. The Tokyo native relocated to the U.S. to study at Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory, where she was mentored by the likes of Paul Bley, Herb Pomeroy, George Russell and Cecil McBee. Through her touring and collaborations she's truly become a citizen of the world, most recently settling in Berlin. She's founded jazz orchestras there as well as in New York and Tokyo, Nagoya, and Kobe in Japan. Fujii has also led the quartets Ma-Do and Tobira and an avant-rock group featuring Ruins drummer Tatsuya Yoshida. In recent years she's formed fruitful collaborations with such inventive artists as pianist Myra Melford, drummer John Hollenbeck, violinist Carla Kihlstedt, and guitarist Elliott Sharp.

Trumpeter Natsuki Tamura is internationally recognized for his ability to blend a unique vocabulary of extended techniques with touching jazz lyricism. Since 2005, Tamura has focused on the intersection of European folk music and sound abstraction with Gato Libre, a quartet featuring Fujii on accordion, Tsumura Kazuhiko on guitar, and the late Koreyasu Norikatsu on bass. In 2006 he co-founded the collaborative trio Junk Box with Fujii and drummer John Hollenbeck, while his most recent quartet, First Meeting, features Fujii, drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto and electric guitarist Kelly Churko. Born in Otsu, Shiga, Japan, Tamura studied at Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory and has taught at the Yamaha Popular Music School and at private trumpet studios in Tokyo and Saitama.

A generous, insatiable and prolific musician, trumpeter Christian Pruvost has forged meaningful collaborations in jazz, improvised music and live performing arts settings. With Didier Aschour, Pruvost is a co-director of Round the World of Sound, which gathers 14 musicians from the Muzzix collective and Dedalus ensemble to perform the madrigals of eccentric poet/composer Moondog. In a new project called PCM Blat, he explores repertoire from medieval to contemporary and improvised music with Maxime Morel (tuba) and Samuel Carpentier (trombone). He is also a member of Circum Grand Orchestra and La Pieuvre, the improvisational orchestra conducted by Olivier Benoit.

From a classical music background, Peter Orins branched out to study the drums at the Conservatoire National de Région of Lille, where he studied with Guy Gilbert, Jean-François Canape, and Gérard Marais. At the same time, he studied improvisation with Fred Van Hove and composition with Jean-Marc Chouvel and Ricardo Mandolini.  Beginning in the mid-'90s, Orins played in the bands that would come to form the Circum collective: Impression, Quartet Base, and the Stefan Orins Trio. He coordinated the Circum collective until its fusion with fellow collective CRIME in 2010, and created the 10-piece Circum Grand Orchestra. He also plays in La Pieuvre, a French-Vietnamese project called Hué/Circum, and the Wei3 trio with German pianist Jarry Singla and Polish bass player Maciej Garbowski. Since the creation of Muzzix in 2010, Orins has coordinated the artistic direction of that collective.

Opre Roma/Rise Up Roma Toronto Festival a First for International Roma Day April 8 to 12 2015

From a media release:

Toronto festival a first for International Roma Day
April 8 to 12, 2015
Various Venues

• Click on the Poster for Full Details
The Roma Community Centre for tickets

Opre Roma/Rise Up Roma, a festival of Romani arts and culture, will be held in Toronto on Wednesday April 8 to Sunday April 12, 2015 in celebration of International Roma Day. Organized by the Roma Community Centre, this will be the first festival of its kind in Toronto. Due to its new presence on the Canadian heritage stage, Opre Roma/Rise Up Roma will make a significant contribution to multiculturalism in Toronto. The event will expand the public’s understanding of the rich cultural heritage of the Roma people and their history in Canada.

International Roma Day was designated at the first World Romani Congress in Orpington UK in 1971. At Opre Roma/Rise Up Roma, Toronto will join international cities in celebrating the artistic achievements and heritage of the Roma people. For Roma, April 8 symbolizes community strength, dignity, and pride. The festival features Romani musicians, visual artists, storytellers, and youth.

April 8 opens at 7:30 pm with an art exhibit at Gallery 50, 50 Gladstone Avenue. An installation by Monica Bodirsky, Riel Brown, Lynn Hutchinson Lee and Hedina Sijercic, as well as Chad Evans Wyatt’s photographs of Toronto Roma will be shown to the accompaniment of guitarist Jozsef Botos.

Award-winning jazz pianist Robi Botos gives a FREE workshop at Bloor Street United Church on Thursday April 9, 7-9 pm. On Sunday April 12 at Lula Lounge from 8 pm to midnight, Robi returns to perform at Opre Roma. Tickets for three performances—the Robi Botos Trio, the Gypsy Rebels, and Romanyi Rota Band—are ONLY $20. After each performance, the musicians will engage festival-goers in a Q&A.

Lula Lounge is also the location of a continuous slideshow about the Roma people, a photography exhibit by Toronto Romani youth with photographer Nihad Nino Pusija, and from 3–6 pm, a youth talent show and storytelling for children and adults. As sponsors, the Toronto Public Library is holding Romani storytelling at the Parkdale and Taylor Memorial branches and is highlighting Romani literature all week.

Most Torontonians do not realize that refugees make up only one segment of the Romani community, many of whom settled here over 100 years ago from Europe and the UK, who speak a dozen different languages, follow different religions, cook many national cuisines, may or may not follow traditions, and have many different occupations just like other members of other ethnic groups. The festival creates a unique crosscultural exchange improving the public’s understanding of the Roma.

“The Roma Community Centre is thrilled to host our first festival for International Roma Day,” says Nazik Deniz, festival coordinator. “The Roma have contributed a great deal to the city’s celebrated multiculturalism but many people aren’t aware of our wonderful culture. Opre Roma is a chance to share our music, our art, and our history with everyone. Come out and meet our people!”

Roma Community Centre
(416) 546-2524
Fax (416) 519-0443

Robi Botos Trio:

Classical Music: May 2015 Releases from Divine Art Recording Group - Gilbert Rowland/Handel & Peter Sheppard Skærved/Telemann

From a media release:

May 2015 Releases
May 9, 2015 - U.K.
May 12, 2015 - US

Buy/Check out a Sample MP3

George Frideric Handel: Suites for Harpsichord, Vol. 3
(Divine Art dda 21225)
Gilbert Rowland (harpsichord)

The third and last set in this series, completing the release of Handel’s Suites in a 2 CD set at mid price.

Of volume 2 (DDA 21220) the critics were fulsome:

“It is impossible to praise this new release too highly. Fabulous playing. The combination of Handel, Gilbert Rowland, Wooderson’s fine harpsichord, the recording and the recording engineer John Taylor is unbeatable providing, as it does, a collection of these wonderful suites that I will return to again and again.” – Bruce Reader (The Classical Reviewer)

“A fine instrument, with silvery, bell-like timbres in the upper register and a richly sonorous bass. Rowland’s changes of registration for repeats are judicious and tasteful, revealing fully the beauties of his instrument. A highly satisfying version of Handel’s Suites … as the final notes die away, one is simply left with a strong temptation to shout “Bravo!”. – Brian Robins (Harpsichord & Fortepiano)

Handel’s solo keyboard music has for too long been overshadowed by his operas, oratorios, and orchestral music. This comparative neglect seems unjust in view of the considerably large quantity of keyboard music which exists amongst his massive output. This third double CD set completes Gilbert Rowland’s survey of these groundbreaking works which began to free the form from the formal constraints of “Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue”. Gilbert Rowland first studied the harpsichord with Millicent Silver. Whilst still a student at the Royal College of Music, he made his debut at Fenton House 1970 and first appeared at the Wigmore Hall in 1973. Recitals, appearances at major festivals in several countries, together with regular broadcasts, have helped to establish his reputation as one of Britain's leading harpsichordists. Reviewing volume 1, John Collins of The Consort said “The standard of playing is very high indeed, with some crisp articulation, appropriately added ornamentation in the repeats ... this is a most enjoyable recording.”

From Vol. 1:

The Great Violins
(Athene ath 23203)
Peter Sheppard Skærved (the Andrea Amati, 1570 violin)

As well as being internationally recognised as a leading interpreter of music new and old, Peter Sheppard Skærved is the only violinist to have performed on the personal violins of Viotti, Paganini, Joachim, Kreisler and Ole Bull. In this new series, he plays music on these and many more instruments, many of which only he has access to. In this first 2-CD set Peter plays the incredible 1570 Amati in the 12 Violin Fantasies and 12 Flute Fantasies of Telemann. The instrument is of course gut-strung, is tuned A:416 and the bow is by Antonino Airenti. The Flute fantasies are also perfect for performance on the violin.

The series is supported by the Royal Academy of Music in London, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and many other museums and institutions. Volume 2 will present the complete solo sonatas and partitas of J.S. Bach, played on the renowned ‘Joachim’ Stradivari of 1698.

Volume 2 should be released around the end of 2015, and the series will be open-ended with at least ten volumes planned so far. The Athene label, founded originally for historic piano recordings, has been re-launched to celebrate the commencement of this series.

Peter Sheppard Skærved talks about old instruments at TEDxBergen,

New Rock, Recently Released: Winchester Revival - Burden's Landing (King of Sticks - March 3, 2015)

Recently Released:
Winchester Revival - Burden's Landing
(King of Sticks - March 3, 2015)

Buy the EP & Name Your Price

Oakland, CA based Winchester Revival is modern rock - not afraid of electronics and not usurped by them either for a sophisticated sound all their own. These are clearly experienced musicians with a lot of musical ideas at their disposal.

Their sound combines the familiar outlines of several pop/rock music genres, including 70's era pop tunes, shoegaze and alt-rock with a refreshing rhythmic complexity, intriguing lyrics and a combination of organic and electronic instrumentation that doesn't neglect or overwhelm either.

Last Night in Tokyo
Gonna melt your metal core
Palm Springs, take me down easy
Sun rise on the desert floor

It's the first single from the EP:

From Ides of January,

I get the story in fragments as I lay in our bed 
Of an infinite highway and a grey limousine
A fan is churning the air across the prow of your head
There’s a white-knuckled driver with a sweat back sheen

David Rosenheim's vocals are expressive with an appropriate rock edge to them, embellished with some nice harmonies from Andrew Lund and Amanda Guilbeaux on some tracks.

Diligence is a stand out track, seamlessly combining chiming electronic notes with sampling over a crisp drum line, with the vocals floating on top of the mix.

Keep It Together is a spacey and ethereal interlude that slides right into Salamander, the next track, where the ethereal elements are given movement by the rhythm section. There are catchy, anthemic elements that will have you humming along... then it morphs back into electronic shoegazing. It's a compelling track that epitomizes their kind of musical cookbook.

The EP ends with Ice Water, a track with more than a few shades of prog-rock in the musical mix and a dark sort of romanticism. They're an interesting group that I'll be looking for more from in the years to come.

Recorded with Justin Weis at Trakworx, San Francisco summer 2014.
All songs (C)2015 Winchester Revival - Carpal Tunnel Music (BMI)
Released by King of Sticks Recording Cooperative. Catalog # KOS024

Members/Instruments: David Rosenheim: vocals, lyrics; Andrew Lund: guitars, backing vocals; Ron Cruz: bass guitar; Kirk Snedeker: drums; Matt Glick: electronics; with guest Amanda Guilbeaux on backing vocals
Record Label: King of Sticks

1. Last Night In Tokyo
2. Ides of January
3. Diligence
4. Keep It Together
5. Salamander
6. Ice Water


Toronto Artist Jon Sasaki Wins Glenfiddich 2015 Canadian Artist in Residency Prize

Fly Away Home...
Glenfiddich 2015 Canadian Artist in Residency Prize
Jon Sasaki

On March 25, 2015 there we gathered at the Spoke Club to toast the 2015 Glenfiddich Canadian Artist in Residency recipient, Toronto-based artist Jon Sasaki.

The prize is awarded annually and grants the recipients - who hail from eight different countries worldwide - a $20,000 prize and three heavenly months to create art in Dufftown, the Valley of the Deer and legendary home to Glenfiddich scotch.

Applying for the prize was a no-brainer for this year's winner, Jon Sasaki. "I have known a lot of previous recipients," he said. "It seems a perfect and fruitful place to make art." He noted the rich history and picturesque landscape - both elements that are incorporated into his proposed project, one way or another.

His proposal? "I'm going to be building an airplane," Jon says.

Of about 100 entrants, the idea immediately appealed to curator Andy Fairgrieve (left in the image below). "I think it's the insanity of it," he says of its appeal. "The proposals gauge the engagement of the artists with the site," he explains of the judging process.

Jon adds, "There will be a working airplane. The process will help define success and failure. I began thinking about the landscape; I had the idea of taking it all in at once." Once he started doing the research, the connection with Dufftown came into focus. "I was doing my research and realized that many of these elements were Scottish inventions." He points out that braided aircraft cable, the 2-stroke engine and tubular steel were all invented by Scots.

His idea of a single seat, two-stroke aircraft actually comes from the cover of a 1981 issue of Popular Mechanics.

Along with the time, space and opportunity to get away from Toronto's distractions, creating in a community of artists is another attraction. "That's another thing that interests me - there are eight other artists and opportunities to bounce ideas around."

Jon's current work (and he has a show at the Ottawa Art Gallery as we speak) consists of video, installations, objects, interventions and performances and is often tied in with notions of invention and ingenuity. "That's probably a good umbrella for it," he agrees, adding his fascination with Romantic era notions of the solitary pioneer. "It's about making do and perseverance."

In one video, he drives with a map in his face while scenery speeds by outside the window. In another, he's furiously cycling an un-speeded old 10-speed bike in competition with traffic. 'The Romantic Journey' is a tandem bicycle, disassembled and reassembled into a solitary bike. There is a wry sense of humour to much of his work.

"It has the appearance of spontaneity but the choices are conscious," he explains of his pieces. "There is always a tension between what I can control and some things I can't. My work embraces the possibility of failure and sometimes even courts it."

Andy agrees. "I loved the idea of the single seat aircraft. In Jon's work, there's a kind of celebration of failure."

But then he adds, "We have so much confidence in Jon's work that we only bought him a one-way ticket."


From Jon's piece "I Promise It Will Always Be This Way" for Nuit Blanche 2008

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Canadian Stage celebrates the best of South African performance art with Spotlight South Africa April 8 to 25 2015

From a media release:

Spotlight South Africa
Canadian Stage celebrates the best of South African performance art with three week festival showcasing six unique productions, including the most in North America for the first time; 
April 8 to 25, 2015

Get Tickets

Toronto, ON –
Canadian Stage presents Nongogo, The Meal, Hatched, Ubu and the Truth Commission, Dominion and Chandelier in a three-week festival of South African performance as part of Spotlight South Africa. A tribute to the extraordinary vitality and originality of artistic work produced in the country, the festival will feature a variety of dance, drama, performance art and puppetry from Apr. 8 to 25 at Canadian Stage’s two homes, the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley St.) and the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E).

A biennial celebration in its third year, Canadian Stage’s Spotlight Festival series highlights work from the leading artists of a selected country, often giving Toronto audiences an opportunity to experience the work of renowned artists for the first time. Almost doubling in size since its last iteration, Spotlight South Africa is the largest Spotlight Festival to date.

• Each week of the festival will open two new productions, beginning with Nongogo and The Meal (Apr. 8 to 12). On stage the second week is Ubu and the Truth Commission and Hatched (Apr. 15 to 19), with Dominion and Chandelier (Apr. 22 to 25) closing out the festival.

 “When I made my first trip to South Africa in September 2013, I was peripherally aware of the vitality of the performing arts scene there – but admittedly unprepared for the magnificent force and determination of the artists I would meet or whose work I would get to see,” said Matthew Jocelyn, artistic & general director. “It soon became clear that our third Spotlight Festival had to centre around the theatre, dance and performance art of this great nation, now celebrating its 21st year since liberation. A true coming of age.”

Set against the vibrant turbulence of the 1950s, Athol Fugard’s Nongogo follows the township romance between Queeny and Johnny as long buried secrets are revealed. Produced by Johannesburg’s Market Theatre, the play reflects on South Africa’s history as a rich and complex tapestry that both shapes and imprisons its people.

The Meal and Hatched are two works by multiple award-winning dancer, choreographer, teacher and activist, Mamela Nyamza. Although they are presented separately, both pieces interrogate the African dancer’s body and cultural ethos, while offering autobiographical explorations of Nyamza’s own identity as a dancer, an African and a mother.

In collaboration with Handspring Puppet Company (War Horse) and directed by William Kentridge, Ubu and the Truth Commission combines puppetry, live actors, music, animation and documentary footage in a performance laced with dark and sardonic wit. Drawing on original testimony from witnesses at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and literary character Ubu Roi, an unprincipled buffoon created by the playwright Alfred Jarry, the play provides a glimpse into the devastating complexities of apartheid.

In Dominion, renowned choreographer Luyanda Sidiya presents a dance program inspired by the deep tribal energy he senses from his land and people. Presented as a double bill, the event includes performances of Umnikelo – which presents traditional African dance with a modern twist – and the title performance, Dominion, a searing contemporary work. In this program, Sidiya explores the levels of power that individuals possess, how this power is unleashed and how it can have a positive or negative impact on our society – be it in a social or political space.

Chandelier is a performance piece from Steven Cohen, an artist who stages interventions in both the public realm and in gallery and theatre spaces. In 2001, the township of Newtown in the centre of Johannesburg was pegged to be bulldozed overnight due to the living conditions in the area. Many of the residents weren’t provided with new accommodations, but were nevertheless evacuated in extremes. As both a live performance and video documentation of the public intervention, Chandelier is Cohen’s attempt to shine a light on this event.

During the course of the festival Canadian Stage will host a range of ancillary programming events designed to engage audiences in the themes of the work and create opportunities for audiences to directly interact with artists featured in the festival. This programming includes pre and post-show chats, student workshops, and special events. Canadian Stage will also debut a new Artist Panel series conceived specifically for the festival. Each session will have a unique theme, artist participants and moderator. More information about Spotlight South Africa’s ancillary programming is available at

A highlight of the festival’s additional programming is INTERMISSION: trans/formation. The fifth edition of the popular event series closes the festival on Apr. 25, and includes a performance of Chandelier followed by music featuring DJ Phil Villeneuve. INTERMISSION is Canadian Stage’s immersive event series that expands on their successful Berkeley Block Parties.  Now directly aligned with themes and ideas that stem from Jocelyn’s programming, INTERMISSION parties are live explorations of the ideas and topics featured in Canadian Stage’s season. INTERMISSION is generously supported by Make Up Forever, Steam Whistle Brewing and Tamm + Kit.

On March 30, Jocelyn hosts the third edition of Face to Face with Canadian Stage, a series of highly-curated art happenings that bring audiences together with cultural organizations from across the city. This edition, titled EXPLORE, partners with the Toronto South African Film Festival (TSAFF) and Education Without Borders (EWB) for a look at community-building and cultural expression at home and abroad. Jocelyn will facilitate a panel with Vanessa Judelman of TSAFF and Eleanor McGroarty of EWB, followed by a screening of a short documentary film from TSAFF. A $25 pass admits two guests to this final installment of the 14.15 season which includes a panel discussion, mingling and refreshments. Face to Face is generously sponsored by Steam Whistle Brewing, Whole Foods Market and Wines of South Africa.

Nongogo (Apr. 8 to 12), Ubu and the Truth Commission (Apr. 15 to 19) and Chandelier (Apr. 22 to 25) will be on stage at Canadian Stage’s Berkeley Street Theatre - Downstairs, with The Meal (Apr. 8 to 12) and Hatched (Apr. 15 to 19) being performed in the Upstairs Theatre (26 Berkeley St.). Dominion (Apr. 22 to 25) will be on stage at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E). Festival performances run Wednesday through Sunday at either 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. depending on the production. Certain productions will have Thursday and Saturday matinees at 1 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Tickets from $30 to $99 are available online, by phone at 416.368.3110 or in person at the box office. For more information about show times and tickets visit

Videos come from previous productions
Twitter: @CanadianStage / Twitter Hashtag: #SpotlightSouthAfrica

Shows and Tickets:
Tickets may be purchased by phone at 416.368.3110 or in-person at the Canadian Stage Box Office: Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E.) or Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley St.). Full details on the productions, casting and subscription packages are available online at

Art & Basketball: Changing the Game - Closing Reception March 20 2015 The LeRoy Neiman Arts Center

With material from a media release:

Changing the Game
Closing Reception March 20, 2015
The LeRoy Neiman Arts Center

Featuring the work of Art 1, Bobby Hunter, Rod Ivey, Leroy Neiman, TAFA, Boris Diaw, Jennifer Ivey, Billi Kid, Michael Singletary & Dwayne Wade

HARLEM, NY - I happened to walk by the Leroy Neiman Arts Center for the closing reception of this interesting show that looks to change ideas about what being a professional basketball player is all about. I wasn't really dressed for the chic crowd but I stopped in to check it out.

The show features works on canvas and photography by current and former pro players, including Miami Heat sensation Dwayne Wade's vibrant abstract (pictured below).

Other artists included Antonio Spurs' player Boris Diaw, former Harlem Globetrotter Bobby Hunter, Jennifer Ivey and Rod Ivey, New York artists and parents of former NBA player Royal Ivey along with NYC based artists Art 1, Billi Kid, Michael J. Singletary and TAFA.

Naturally many of the pieces were sports themed and bold in expression, like the vibrant pieces of LeRoy Neiman, the artist whose grant helped to found the Center. The arts and sports aren't all that far apart - to my way of thinking, a different end game of an equally creative process. It's something noted by the show's organizaers. "One of the motivating factors or organizing this exhibition was to make the connection between arts and sports as important dimensions of our culture - each of which has been responsible for broadening perspectives, expanding opportunities and creating environments that promote excellence, imagination and achievement," says Marline A. Martin, Executive Director of Arts Horizons LeRoy Neiman Art Center.

Other work included both figurative and abstract works of varying sizes and striking animal photography by Boris Diaw. It's too bad I only caught the last day. Part of the proceeds of sales from the show (and I saw many red dots) went to community youth empowerment organizations - Arts Horizons, Defending Your Dream and Each One Teach One.

LeRoy Neiman Arts Center
2785 Frederick Douglass Blvd. @ 148th Street - Harlem, NY

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Petersburg Eifman Ballet Returns to Sony Centre Toronto with Anna Karenina - April 23 to 25 2015

From a media release:

Sony Centre For The Performing Arts and
Show One Productions present
the Triumphant Return of St. Petersburg Eifman Ballet
Three Performances Only! April 23-25, 2015


First premiered in 2005, ANNA KARENINA quickly became a signature work for choreographer Boris Eifman and his groundbreaking company.  This presentation marks only the second time the famed St. Petersburg Eifman Ballet has visited Toronto.  In 2013, three performances of Rodin sold-out immediately at the Sony Centre, leaving Toronto dance audiences wanting more!

Eifman’s ANNA KARENINA, based on the novel by Tolstoy, is a psychological drama which focuses on the famous literary love triangle of Anna/Karenin/Vronsky. A work of raw emotions; passion, rejection and self-destruction, ANNA KARENINA offers both classical romance and modern technique in an ongoing pas de trois that sets the heroine between husband and lover.

A scorching Anna is brought to life in Eifman’s innovative interpretation with searing routines and athletically-charged performances. “A ballet world in search of a major choreographer needs search no more,” proclaimed The New York Times.

When founding St. Petersburg Eifman Ballet in 1977, Eifman broke the rules and resisted the trends to develop his own personal form of expression that combines classical and contemporary dance and theatre. He has won all the highest awards in the arts in Russia, including the People's Artist of Russia, and has been honoured with France's Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. “This production leaves one applauding the Eifman company for its passionate integrity, and Eifman himself for a gift for showmanship,” stated The Daily Telegraph, London

On Friday April 24, beginning at 6:30pm in the lower lobby of the Sony Centre, ticket-holders only are invited to join University of Toronto professor Julia Zarankin for a pre-show discussion on what makes Anna Karenina one of the most powerful, romantic and tragic novels of all time.

Sony Centre For The Performing Arts and Show One Productions present
St. Petersburg Eifman Ballet

April 23-25, 2015 @ 8pm
Sony Centre For The Performing Arts, 1 Front Street East, Toronto
Ticket prices range from $55-$145 and can be purchased in person at the Sony Centre Box Office, over the phone at 1-855-872-SONY (7669) or online at
Discounts for groups of 8+ please contact 416-916-7878 or email

Monday, March 16, 2015

Jazz Saxophonist Kyle Nasser Releases Debut Album 'Restive Soul' On March 24, 2015 - Live Dates

From a media release:

Jazz Saxophonist Kyle Nasser Releases Debut Album 'Restive Soul' On March 24, 2015
Live Dates: March 24 at Cornelia Street Café, NYC; March 25 at The Beat Hotel, Cambridge, MA;  March 28 at Wamsutta Club, New Bedford, MA

Check out his complete schedule
Buy the CD

Restive Soul spotlights the intellect and passion of Harvard and Berklee-educated composer Saxophonist Kyle Nasser was a student of Economics and Political Philosophy at Harvard University when his life was changed by an encounter with Hank Jones. The legendary pianist, then in his late 80s, visited Cambridge to teach and play a concert with the Harvard Jazz Band, making a profound impact on the young saxophonist. "Seeing him in peak form and expressing joy through music at such an advanced age was really deep," Nasser recalls. "We took him out to dinner, ended up playing a three-hour session, and then he asked us to take him home so that he could get in some practicing before bed. That left a huge impression and reinforced that I should do this. I didn't have any old investment banker friends that seemed very happy." Nasser graduated from Harvard and switched paths, leading him to another revered institution: Berklee College of Music. He's now reaching another landmark along that path with his striking debut, Restive Soul, out March 24, 2015.  A trace of the saxophonist's former pursuit remains in the title, which was drawn from a quote by French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville ascribing his pursuit of politics to his own "restive and insatiable soul." The album displays the keen intellect that landed Nasser at one of America's most hallowed schools, along with the passion that steered him away from a potentially lucrative career in business to pursue his lifelong love of music.

The compositions that comprise Restive Soul combine fervent jazz playing by Nasser's quintet - Jeff Miles (guitar), Dov Manski (piano), Chris Van Voorst (bass), and Devin Drobka (drums) - with elements from Nasser's intensive study of western classical music. But this is no Third Stream hybrid, wearing its "classical" inspirations on its sleeve; instead, Nasser seamlessly assimilates counterpoint and long-form harmonic development into electrifying modern jazz pieces. Those concepts were then workshopped on the bandstand over the course of several years during the band's regular Tuesday-night gigs at Brooklyn bar The Fifth Estate.

"I became obsessed with counterpoint at Berklee," Nasser says. "You have to take traditional counterpoint courses, and it hit me that this is what I had been looking for and missing in a lot of the jazz that I'd been listening to and playing. I got the impression that a lot of people were writing tunes because they wanted to blow over them as opposed to having a conscious compositional direction to the piece. I wanted to make a quintet sound like an orchestra."

The album opens with "For Rick B.," a theme-and-variations tribute to Nasser's most important teacher, New Bedford-area saxophonist and pianist Rick Britto, who passed away while Nasser was in the midst of writing the piece. No mournful elegy, the piece instead builds from a piquant sax-and-guitar melody over a surging rhythm. It's followed by the floating, dream-like "Angelique," a shimmering showcase for the rhythm section.

The title track illustrates that restlessness of spirit that drives an artist like Nasser with its persistent rock groove, driven by Miles' serrated guitar. The dark-tinged cinematic feeling of "Shadow Army" is captured in its evocative title, while "Gyorgi Goose" refers to both avant-garde classical composer György Ligeti and a stuffed animal that Nasser received from his mother - twin inspirations evoked by the tune's simultaneous dissonance and playfulness. The melody of "Radiator Lady" hints at the song hauntingly crooned by one of the memorable oddities in David Lynch's Eraserhead,

"Trip To Lester's" is an homage to Harvard professor emeritus and marijuana activist Lester Grinspoon, who would hold court for graduates at his home. Nasser's piece conjures the atmosphere of those sessions and their crisscrossing, disjointed but stimulating conversations. "Whitestone" and "Ecstatic Repose" are impressionistic pieces, the former an attempt to capture the sunset vista of New York City as seen from the Whitestone Bridge, the latter a depiction of how the mind can be frenetic while the body is at rest. The album draws to a hopeful close with the folk-like melody of "Rise."

While it wasn't until the end of his tenure at Harvard that Nasser determined to pursue jazz as a career, his love for it began at the age of six. Kyle's parents frequented a local restaurant in his native New Bedford, Massachusetts, that featured a live jazz band. He was immediately enthralled by the saxophone player,  who ended up becoming his first teacher. Too small at the time to hold the saxophone, he started out on the clarinet, leading initially to a more classical education before he joined his junior high jazz band. After graduating from Harvard and Berklee, Nasser moved to New York City in 2010. He has shared the stage with jazz luminaries such as Jim Hall, Hank Jones, Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas and Ben Monder, among others. He's also toured the U.S. and South America with his own music and with the collective quartet Beekman, which recently released its own debut album.

New Video from Dub Performer Michael St. George MSG

From a release:

New video from The MSG
Motivating Sounds Generator
writer ✪ recording artiste ✪ edu-tainer ✪ playwright ✪ recognized dub performance leader
a video from the latest album Fight Your Fears or Die

Buy the album

Recently returned from a very special trip to his place of birth, Michael St. George is back in town with a new video from his latest release.

MSG's conscious verse and fresh musical sound have earned him international industry awards and peer recognition. Inspired by his working class upbringing in Kingston, Jamaica, MSG's work is dedicated to justice and social equity. As a second-generation dub poet, he's continued to remain true to the ideals of the form. His message is thought provoking, positive, spiritual and seeks to incite constructive conscious change. His uncompromising, syncopated, hard-driving baselines and melodic forms are infused with reggae, ska, rhythm & blues, and jazz influences. Fight Your Fears or Die, released in 2014, is his newest album.

No stranger to forging cooperative creations, MSG has shared stages and studio across the globe with such icons as Oku Onuora, The Last Poets, Culture, Burning Spear, Brinsley Ford, Lillian Allen, Luciano, Thomas Mapfumo, Mutabaruka, Mzwakhe Mbuli, Dennis Bovell and the International Dub Band, Toots and the Maytals, Benjy Myaz, and Boukman Eksperyans.  He has also done collaborative work with prominent musicians and producers including Paul Kastic, Dalton Brownie, Orville "Wyz" Malcolm, Iauwata Selassie, Pam Hall, Ifield Paco Joseph, Amara Kante, Muthadi Thomas and Kassa Alexander.

Covers with a Difference: Fully Re-Covered, The True Groove All-Stars (March 31, 2015 - True Groove Records)

Fully Re-Covered, The True Groove All-Stars
(March 31, 2015 - True Groove Records)

Preorder/Buy the CD

This latest album by the True Groove All-Stars - house band at True Groove Records under bluesman Tomás Doncker - is chock full of pleasant surprises. Yes, they are covers but the title is apt. In "fully" re-covering these classic tracks from the 1960's, 1970's and 1980's, the True Groove All-Stars have reimagined, embellished, and invited a host of vocalists and musicians in on the fun. It's like hearing some of these very familiar songs for the first time.

Fully Re-Covered is the follow-up to their hugely successful remix debut, Funky World. The project began with a single track last November. Before recording their epic version of Brinsley Schwarz’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout ) Peace, Love And Understanding,” the members of the Tomás Doncker Band met in a conference room near the studio to discuss their feelings about the ongoing rioting in Ferguson, Missouri following the acquittal of police officer Darren Wilson in the August killing of teenager Michael Brown. The band’s response as documented in (What’s So Funny ‘Bout ) Peace, Love And Understanding, the lead song off the True Groove All-Stars‘ sophomore release Fully Re-Covered, was a nuanced ode to the anger and bewilderment, a taking of a modern anthem and transforming it into a statement of not racial solidarity, but human solidarity.

Tomás Doncker and his rich, smoky voice imbue the words with gravitas even under the upbeat vibe of the Elvis Costello original, What`s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding? - and then the band give it a proper blues finish. Fully Re-Covered features 13 tracks and Tomás has chosen a roster of great voices and musicians to bring the other tunes to life, like Lael Summer's beautifully expressive, soulful takes on Wires and the Hall & Oates song Do What you Want, Be Who You Are.

The 1st single from the release is Marla Mase's hip, funky take on Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick (featuring James Chance).

The band is fluid and the production is slick but doesn't gloss over every edge - this is blues, funk and rnb after all. There are snarly guitar lines on Wires and a version of Norman Greenbaum's seventies classic, Spirit in the Sky. The musicians have a great, organic swing and an understanding of the music that lets them play with it. Spirit in the Sky begins with a chant of Jesus and Moses, Muhammed and Krishna... The band adds a neat swing to the original, along with Kevin Jenkins' superb voice and a girl chorus. Kevin does a smooth, sexy rnb version of Wichita Lineman too.

Each song offers a different feel. The sweet vocals of True Groove labelmate Heather Powell makes a cool loungey jazz song out of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's dance club hit, Relax. Charlie Funk sings a Motown version of Tom Jones' huge it, It's Not Unusual - complete with a horn section and funky guitar line. Love My Way - yes, The Psychedelic Furs hit - featuring Touchy Feely, becomes slow and rhythmically hypnotic, with acoustic guitar strumming in the background. It's actually a rather beautiful version of the song.

There are a few electronic flourishes here and there, but nothing too obtrusive or that detracts from the songs. Why Me Black Brother (originally by the Black Diamonds) is straight up reggae with Josh David and Tomás on vocals and an electronic riff here and there to add to the mix.

They even manage to mine new territory in Hurt - already done superbly by Nine Inch Nails and then with perhaps even more authenticity by Johnny cash's acoustic version. With Samuel Claiborne's mournful Nick Cave-ish vocals, it becomes a minimalist, abstract art-rock track -  very effective and one of the highlights of the album.

The CD ends with a jazzy version of Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions' We're A Winner with Tomás Doncker, Lael Summer, Kevin Jenkins and Marla Mase sharing vocals. It's a fun ride with musicians who make the new interpretations well worth the time.

1-"What's So Funny"- By The Tomás Doncker Band (Originally performed by Elvis Costello)
2-"Wires"-Ft. Lael Summer (Originally performed by The Neighborhood)
3-"Spirit In The Sky"-Ft. Kevin Jenkins (Originally performed by Norman Greenbaum)
4-"Relax"-Ft. Heather Powell (originally performed by Frankie Goes to Hollywood)
5-"Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" Ft. Marla Mase (originally performed by Ian Dury and the Blockheads)
6-"It's Not Unusual" Ft. Charlie Funk (Originally performed by Tom Jones)
7-"Love My Way" Ft. Touchy Feely (Originally performed by The Psychedelic Furs)
8-"Why Me Black Brother, Why?" By The Tomás Doncker Band,Ft. Josh David (originally performed by The Mighty Diamonds)
9-"Do What you Want,Be Who You Are" Ft. Lael Summer (originally performed by Daryl Hall & John Oates).
10-"Hurt" Ft. Samuel Claiborne (originally performed by Nine Inch Nails).
11-"Wichita Lineman" Ft. Kevin Jenkins (originally performed by Glenn Campbell)
12-"I Don't Want Nobody" Ft. James Chance (originally performed by James Brown).
13-"We're A Winner" Ft. Tomás Doncker,Lael Summer,Kevin Jenkins and Marla Mase (originally performed by Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions)

Follow True Groove Records: and

Friday, March 6, 2015

New release from Mukanya - his 50th! Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited - Danger Zone (Chimurenga Music - February 17, 2015)

From a media release:

New release from Mukanya - his 50th!
Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited - Danger Zone
(Chimurenga Music - February 17, 2015)

Download individual songs
Buy the CD

Thomas Mapfumo, the preeminent singer/songwriter of Zimbabwe, has released hist fiftieth album, Danger Zone. Known to his fans as The Chimurenga Guru and The Lion of Zimbabwe, Mapfumo has been defining the issues of the day for his countrymen in transcendentally original songs since 1974. Danger Zone is the latest chapter, his first set of new studio songs since the 2010 release Exile. With a powerful band, blending veterans and newcomers, and a wide ranging set of new songs, Mapfumo reemerges with music and messages to suit a new set of circumstances. Danger Zone is a release from Chimurenga Music Company.

Since the beginning of his epic career, Mapfumo has stood for the rights and concerns of ordinary people facing oppression and poverty. The historical context has changed, but Mapfumo’s loyalties and focus have not. “Nhamo Urombo” (Problems of the Poor) offers a poignant recapitulation of his central theme on Danger Zone. “Chikwereti” (Credit) broadens the scope with a pointed message to African nations who accept financial help from foreign countries, notably China: “It’s not a gift. One way or another, you will have to pay them back.”

Mapfumo has often been mis-characterized as a “political” singer. In fact, while he has never shied from criticizing politicians, he has never backed a political party. The title track on Danger Zone is a survey of the world’s hot spots—Syria, Iraq, Libya. But it comes from a philosophical perspective, asking how it is that God’s children seem incapable of living in peace. Elsewhere, Mapfumo sings “Hatidi Politics” (We Don’t Want Politics), a firm declaration that people in Zimbabwe and around the world want a good life—schools, healthcare, security—not to participate in the power games of politicians. Mapfumo’s poignant new lament, “Zimbabwe,” calls on his country men to “leave politics behind and unify” for a better future.

Mapfumo over the years has reinvented his band, the Blacks Unlimited, with the core set of musicians he brought from Zimbabwe and a growing circle of American collaborators he has trained in the art of Chimurenga music. The traditional African music that has always played a central role in Mapfumo’s art remains deeply ingrained in the current Blacks Unlimited sound, especially on two bonus tracks featuring mbira, “Varimudande” (People of Dande) and “Pasi idandaro” (We Are Just Passers-by).

At the same time, this album charts new ground for Mapfumo and his band. The maestro features the lighter more celebratory side of his nature on two English language songs, “Celebrate” and “Are You Ready,” a celebration of deejays and dance floors. Extending that theme, Mapfumo collaborates with beat-maker and deejay Charlie B. Wilder to create two club-ready tracks, “Music” and a spare, punchy remake of his classic song “Shabeen” featuring guest vocals by Natalia Rollins.

Danger Zone is available at, In Zimbabwe it will be available at Strawberry boutique Harare, and selected stores in major cities.

Track listing: Chikonzero, Danger Zone, Zimbabwe, Nhamo Hurombo, Chikwereti, Hatidi Politics, Shebeen, Celebrate, Music, Are You Ready, Varimudande, Pasi idandaro

Music - featuring a dance crew from his new home of Oregon led by Mati Thomas' daughter.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

At the Bata Shoe Museum Toronto - Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels Opens May 8 2015

From a media release:

Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels Opens May 8, 2015

Never before have a few inches mattered so much…

Toronto ON
– The Bata Shoe Museum is excited to announce its newest upcoming exhibition, Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels, opening to the public on May 8, 2015.  As the official exhibition to launch the Museum’s 20th anniversary year, Standing Tall will challenge preconceived notions about who wears heels and why.  From privileged rulers to hyper-sexualized rock stars this provocative exhibition will explore the history of men in heels from the early 1600s to today, delving into the use and meanings of heeled footwear in men’s dress over the last four hundred years.

While today, the thought of a man in heels is met with disbelief and amazement, invoking images of indiscretion and being different, it hasn’t always been this way.  “When heels were introduced into fashion at the turn of the 17th century, men were the first to adopt them and they continued wearing heels as expressions of power and prestige for over 130 years,” said Elizabeth Semmelhack, Senior Curator, Bata Shoe Museum.  “Even after they fell from men’s fashion in the 1730s, there were pockets of time when heels were reintegrated into the male wardrobe not as a way of challenging masculinity but rather as a means of proclaiming it”.

Some lifestyles today continue to accept men dressing in heels; the rugged cowboy in heeled boots is the perfect example.  For most men even an extra inch on a pair of business brogues can prove to be highly destabilizing; calling their masculinity and intentions into question.  But with the advantages of height currently connected to everything from higher pay to increased desirability, the real question is why don’t men wear heels?  This exhibition will explore this question, as well as others including the controversial use of heels and lifts by a number of heads of state.

Offering rare examples of men’s heeled footwear from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, mid-nineteenth century military boots, 1930s cowboy boots and 1940s biker boots, visitors will also have the opportunity to view John Lennon’s original 1960s Beatle boot, platforms worn by Elton John in the 1970s, and recent heels from haute couture collections, all from the Museum’s own holdings.

The opening of Standing Tall will be one of the highlights of the BSM’s 20th anniversary celebrations, once again showcasing the Museum’s role as a world-renowned cultural institution dedicated to exploring the role of footwear in society. Playing on the theme of “unexpected”, the Museum will be offering a year long programme of exciting events and activities through to May 2016, including a stylish gala birthday evening, a fun community weekend festival, commissioned art installations, performances, lectures, workshops and more.  A complete list of planned activities will be available on

Fascinating and thought-provoking, Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels will be on display until May 2016.

About the Bata Shoe Museum
The Bata Shoe Museum turns 20 on May 6, 2015!  With an International collection of over 13,000 shoes and related artefacts, the Bata Shoe Museum celebrates 4,500 years of footwear history in four distinctive rotating galleries.   In addition to our popular semi-permanent exhibition, 'All About Shoes', the Museum has three galleries for changing exhibitions, ensuring that each visit to the museum offers a new experience. Through the creation of its innovative exhibitions, the Museum strives to enlighten and entertain visitors of all ages.  Exciting adult and children's programming activities and a unique gift shop complete the experience.  For every shoe there’s a story.  Discover thousands at the Bata Shoe Museum. Further information is available at

- This file was donated by Nordiska museet as part of the Europeana Fashion collaboration. This work is in the public domain in the European Union and non-EU countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years or less
- "CBGB 2009 Pinball Wizard" by Angie Garrett from Ridgely, USA - Pinball Wizard Uploaded by clusternote. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
- Georg Günther Kräill (1584-1641) - Description Svenska: Lars Kagg (1595-1661) - painted in 1623.

EP Release: Delilah Sings Sarah + 1 (A Tribute to Sarah Vaughn) (January 13, 2015 - Groove United Records)

EP Release:
Delilah Sings Sarah + 1 (A Tribute to Sarah Vaughn)
(January 13, 2015 - Groove United Records)

Buy the EP

Paying tribute to a legend like Sarah Vaughn is no mean feat all by itself. The tribute itself is held to a high standard - and the bar doesn't get much higher than with Ms vaughn.

Toronto jazz singer Delilah proves she's got the voice and the chops to take on the challenge and do it with aplomb on her release Delilah Sings Sarah + 1. She has a real feel for the music and a great facility with her voice that lets her imbue it with multiple dimensions. She's got the accomplished technique of a trained singer with the flawless grasp of the music that lets her wrap around the song and make it her own.

The EP includes three Sarah Vaughn covers along with a jazzy take on Smile, the Charlie Chaplin song originally written as an instrumental track for his 1936 movie Modern Times. Just Friends is a highlight, where her voice carries the melancholy message with a technical sparkle. She's backed up by an accomplished trio who fill out the song with tasteful hooks and solos.

Delilah was born into a musical Roma family in Budapest, Hungary and she was singing and dancing in her family's 20-member band by the age of 10. They often played with one of Hungary's best known Roma musicians, Bongo Margit and she and older brother Paul Lakatos - a guitar phenom - performed and jammed regularly with Sonny Walker, a legendary Roma violinist. Sadly Roma are often persecuted and the family emigrated from Hungary to Canada in 1998 to escape racial tensions. In her new home, Delilah quickly established a reputation as a singer before she'd left her teens and continues to cement it with this release.

1- September In The Rain,2- Just Friends, 3- Whatever Lola Wants, 4- Smile

Ethiopian Music: Batuki Music presents Sounds of Saba featuring Fantahun Shewankochew with Netsanet Mellesse on March 7 2015 in Toronto

From a media release:

Batuki Music presents Sounds of Saba featuring Fantahun Shewankochew with Netsanet Mellesse on March 7, 2015 at Alliance Francaise Theatre at 24 Spadina Rd.

Buy tickets

Fantahun Shewankochew is Toronto-based musician who is an acoustic krar player (five or six-string harp), vocalist, composer, arranger and instrumentalist.  He started his musical career at a young age often singing at school performances where he imitated older established singers like Muluken Melese and his idol Tilahun Gessesse.  The latter is one of the finest and most beloved singers that Ethiopia has ever produced, and whose career spans over 50 years.  A graduate of the Yared School of Music in Addis Ababa, Shewankochew is well experienced in the unique tunings of Ethiopian music.  Before moving to Toronto he worked as the music department coordinator of the Ethiopian National Theatre in Addis Ababa.   Shewankochew has toured widely in Africa, Europe, Asia, South and North America with various bands such as the Medina Band and the Sounds of Saba.

Shewankochew has released various albums while in Ethiopia and also collaborated with many musicians on projects and tours.  Since his arrival in Toronto in 2011, he has performed at Harbourfront Centre, the Music Gallery, Gladstone Hotel, and most notably with an all-star collective at the Glenn Gould Studio for CBC’s Canada Live and the Luminato Festival.  Currently he is working on a recording and plans to release an album later this year.  Fantahun Shewankochew is regarded as one of Ethiopia’s finest acoustic krar player, vocalist and composer.   

Netsanet Mellesse is a talented Ethiopian vocalist whose repertoire covers many genres that include traditional, gospel, Ethio-jazz and contemporary music.  She grew up in a religious family and therefore, part of her upbringing involved taking part in church activities such as singing in a choir, a practice that helped to hone her skills as a singer.  Mellesse had a chance appearance on a radio show run by her older sister where she sang on a Sunday show.  Her melodious voice was heard by many including the ‘Walias Band’, a popular group at the time who invited her to perform with them at the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa.    She has shared the stage and recorded with various popular Ethiopian groups as well as toured with Aster Aweke.  Netsanet Mellesse has recorded and released more than five albums since her debut hit album “Yelal Doju in 1983.   
The music of Ethiopia is very diverse as it has more than 80 ethnic groups, distinct regions and climate.  Traditional music of Ethiopia remains popular and sometimes uncorrupted by foreign influence since the country had little contact with the outside world except for a brief attempt by Italy to colonize it.  Ethiopia’s music uses an essential modal system (pentatonic scale), which is called "qenet." There are four main modes of qenet; tezeta, bati, ambassel and anchihoy.

The Sounds of Sheba ensemble is led by the talented vocalist Fantahun Shewankochew on acoustic krar, Daniel Barnes on drums, Tom Juhas on guitar, Simeon Abbott on piano, Tyler Emond on bass guitar, John Maclean on saxophone, Steve Dyte on trumpet, Paul Turosov on trombone and guest vocalist Netsanet Mellesse.  Be ready to be impressed by this band, which would no doubt win you over to the complex, diverse and yet beautiful music of Ethiopia.

Event: Sounds of Saba
Date:  Saturday March 7th, 2015

Location: Alliance Francaise de Toronto, 24 Spadina Road, Toronto
Time:  Doors open 7:00 pm.  /  Show at 8:00 pm.
Tickets: $20 advance, $25 at the door

Advance tickets online:
And at these locations:
Soundscapes – 572 College St.
African Drum & Art Crafts – 618 Dundas St. West
New Bilan Restaurant – 183 Dundas St. East


Batuki Music Society gratefully acknowledges the support of Canadian Heritage, the Ontario Arts Council and Alliance Francaise de Toronto (AFT). Thanks to the Royal Conservatory of Music and CIUT 89.5 FM for promotional support.