Afrodizz – Quebec
Montréal has a pretty good rep as far as urban centres go: so much style, diversity and joie de vivre, that people talk about the weather second. We may have more hard-core bicycle riders and better skiing, but Montréal has more clubs, live music and dancers and lots more.
So when a Montréal band has a good club rep there, and can become the talked about band at their jazz festival, you know it’s a band that can rock whatever house, party or park they turn up at.
Their music is inspired by Fela Kuti, the Nigerian poet, musician and community leader whose music was so original and so powerful that he practically defines a genre, Afrobeat, with a groove that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Bo Didley. Afrobeat is the spirit of resistance, coming to us through horns, guitars, voices and drums. Part James Brown, part Noam Chomsky, and a whole lot of Africa, these rhythms have evolved over centuries, bringing people together to feel the energy, to dance, to love and to take action. It speaks to and inspires those beyond the secure perimeters of global finance where trade is a weapon. Small wonder Fela’s Afrobeat music captured the ears and imaginations of people around the world. It’s a global groove, a sound and a style that can take root anywhere and embrace the musical and social realities of the people who make it, and the people who move to it.
Fela died at age 59 of complications due to AIDS. He was, and still is, an inspiring artist and, like Bob Marley, many young musicians have found themselves drawn to Afrobeat all around the world. Fela Kuti, Marley, and Miles and Mingus, were all working in racist environments. Anger was the energy fuelling their creativity. The groove continues, but few bring to it the fierce passion in Fela’s lyrics.
Afrodizz creates music and lyrics that stay true to these roots while also reflecting their current realities, roots and understandings, all informed by life in a cosmopolitan Canadian city, with influences from different kinds of great music. Inevitably and naturally, their groove draws on jazz, punk and joie de vivre. This is their first trip to Vancouver. -DS
Najma Akhtar – UK
In 1987, a young English woman who had been trained for a conventional career, but who had also taught herself to sing, released a record called Qareeb (Closeness). The songs fused jazz and ghazals into music made for a voice to soar over – and it did – captivating listeners and critics on two continents.
No one had ever heard music like this before. Twenty years later, it is still just as true. Her collaborators through the years, in the studio and on stage, have included Peter Gabriel, Phillip Glass, Jah Wobble, Robert Plant, Jimmy Paige and dozens of others. But even though she continues to practice for hours each day, music is only one part of her life. She is also a playwright, an actor in theatre and film, a teacher in vocal technique, and a music programmer. Najma’s personal history speaks to working hard and a lot of courage, two qualities that I am sure she must draw on when she leaves all these possibilities behind to go and help where help is needed.
She went to Bosnia in 1996. At a school for women and children, she taught English, listened to their stories and shared her own about living in a poly-cultural world. Her time in Bosnia included Ramadan, and as word spread about her trip, Muslims around the world sent her some of their earnings. The money was to be distributed to those in need, in keeping with the spirit of the holiday. In 2005, she was in Pakistan during the earthquake. She stayed for six months, organizing the distribution of supplies with the UN. Again, her actions inspired action and generosity, and proceeds from benefit concerts arrived to buy blankets, clothing and food. Recently, she’s been working on a new record in Paris, which is, she says, “a little more daring.” No doubt, once again, our ears will never be the same. –DS
Lillian Allen – Ontario
There were no open mics for spoken word in the ’70s, and there was no slam either. Far from the madding crowd, poetry was imprisoned in ivory towers where it could be parsed and parcelled for the discreet pleasure of professional appreciators. Dub poets and DJs, in the Caribbean and in the Jamaican diaspora to the UK and Canada; deserve a lot of the credit for bringing poetry back to the rest of us. Lillian is one of those poets.
Lillian was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica and grew up there during the revolutionary musical rise-up of rock-steady reggae and, of course, dub. Too young to stay too late at the local dancehall, the rhythms and rhymes of hard times echoing from the sound systems would follow her home and all the way to dreamland. She came to Canada in 1969 and by the late ’70s she was bringing her rhymes to club stages, demonstrations and other community events in Toronto. Like many of the roots-reggae generation, she was inspired by Jamaican artist, poet and storyteller Louise Bennett, who is known and loved as the artist who showed the world that we were not dependent on the Queen’s English for a cultural life.
Lillian’s first book of poetry, Rhythm an’ Hardtimes, was published in 1982. Then, as now, her words tell the stories of the streets of Canada, the joys and the ugly sides of racism. Her words are infused with the heartbeat, dynamics and rhythms of both reggae and the voices of the family and others around her. When she started working with musicians, the results were two Juno Awards and tours in Canada and Europe. She has published books of poetry for young people, produced plays for the stage and for radio, as well as a documentary film about Mutabaruba.
She works as an artist, an activist, a teacher and is a regular consultant to arts organizations. Knowing the importance of establishing a solid foundation for the dub tradition, she also led the founding of a Dub Poets Collective in Toronto. She is here this year both as a poet and as a member of the Dub Lab, working with Jacob Cino to create a special live set for this Festival. -DS
The Angel Brothers – UK
Early last year, in the dead of winter, the Angel Brother’s album, Forbidden Fruit, was passed on to me. After just one listen, that dark day was illuminated by the sound of Angels. A year and a half later, they are here to illuminate Jericho Beach Park with their music.
This all-acoustic, bhangra-delic funk-folk fusion ensemble is an eight-piece group based in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, England, a vigorous, coal-mining-turned-industrial town. The Angel Brothers play equally vigorous music: North Indian, Afro-Caribbean, Iraqi and Andalusian influences mixed with English folk grooves that results in a fascinating, eclectic and very original mash-up.
Their first incarnation in 1997 was multi-guitarist/composer Dave Angel, his bother drummer/percussionist/producer Keith, percussionist Satnam Singh and a few others. Almost 10 years and some new players later, they are getting a rep as one of the UK’s most innovative groups. As yet unknown to listeners here in North America, their sound is sure to be embraced as world fusion grows more popular, especially in such a diverse and multicultural city as Vancouver.
Other current members include Dave Formula, thought of as one of Britain’s national artistic treasures. Dave plays keyboards, organ and piano and composes soundtracks on the side. There’s also Harprit “Happy” Sahota on tablas and cajón (a wooden-box hand drum that originated in Peru), who studied music in India and at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA). Jim Lockey (bass) and Jim Adnitt (percussion), who were both music students at Doncaster College, were recruited by one of their instructors, Dave Angel. Becki Driscoll (fiddle) is the youngest member of the group and met Harprit while also at LIPA. Debuting on this tour is Bombay-born, London-based vocalist Sandhya Sanjana.
The Angel Brothers are sure to delight you with their heartfelt, down-to-earth groove and rich cultural connections as far-flung as all the continents of the world. You will be moved! -SK
Ari up vs Dubblestandart – Jamaica/Austria
Looking back 25 years later, it seems natural. Rare are the boys who will ever be as punk as most 15 year-old girls. But when Ari and her friends formed The Slits, the first all-woman punk band in the UK, few were ready for them. Music was a boy’s town inside a class system so ingrained it was at the heart of the English identity, based on an Empire recently departed forever. That’s quite a context in which to deal with racism and sexism, especially when the head negotiator for the forces of darkness is Margaret Thatcher.
The Slits’ songs, sounds, and live shows were full of the edge and attitude that comes with being 15 and female. Their first road trip was the White Riot tour, opening for The Clash (Joe Strummer had taught her some guitar). They continued to tour, and released two albums that are still fresher and freer than any major music today. Their music was more tribal and yes, more dub-inflected, than their peers. Unsurprisingly, when The Slits called it quits, Ari moved on to the pioneer posse that became OnU Sound. Ari sang on the first single OnU released, and was part of a grouping known as The New Age Steppers. OnU poured punk and industrial music into the dub stew. The reverberations influenced the music that would be made in Manchester and later trip-hopped in Bristol. Like Stax and Muscle Shoals Studio, black and white artists created brilliant new music for a few brief years, showing what could happen on the other side of fear and hate.
Angry at the boys in the music business and frustrated with life in the UK, she went away, spending years living in Borneo and Belize, usually naked in the jungle. Eventually Ari and her family relocated to Kingston, and she has been living in both Kingston and Brooklyn since then. Her rhymes and her songs continue to reflect the world she lives in: motherhood, children, calling out politicians, ism-schisms, and guys acting like jerks. She is still a warrior for the right to simply be. -DS
It’s a long way from Kingston to Vienna. It’s closer than Tokyo, though, and there’s wicked good dub there, too. Like hip hop or rock ‘n roll, dub has become a global culture and if you’re prepared to learn your history, work your butt off and bring it forward with respect, there will be ears listening and heads bobbing.
Dubblestandart began in 1990, working as a collective to craft a new style of dub. In the day, not many would have. Creating dub music in the hometown of Mozart and Haydn, a part of the world where race has been a flashpoint for decades, is a political action. Dubblestandart’s music honours the roots of dub, speaking to the world and broadcasting resistance from Vienna. All of which would count for little if the music was weak. This music is not weak; it is deep. Dub with a dash of Bristol, a spoonful of OnU, more than a nod to electronica pioneers Kraftwerk, and 16 years in the studio and on the road, all bubbling into a distinctive sound style, founding their own planet of Dub.
Throughout all is a positive, positive message. Just as the echoes spread across the world from Studio One and Black Ark in Kingston, the echo comes back from cities around the world, up and down tempo, deep, sweet and hard. -DS
Beats Without Borders – BC
Another year has passed and the members of Vancouver’s Beats without Borders collective are certainly making a name for themselves. They have been invited to play at numerous events and festivals, including CelticFest Vancouver, Asian Heritage Month and the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration. They toured the BC Interior, and played the San Francisco Bay area this spring as part of the Dhamaal Sights & Sounds Festival. Their experience, production, music collections, and versatile DJ abilities give them access to a range of dance floors, demographics and age groups, just as their name implies.
The secret of their success? There are four musical stalwarts behind BWB: Adrian, Lady Ra, Nils and Tarun. Following their individual and collective aspirations, they create and share monthly musical journeys with their growing audiences. In addition, Adrian Blackhurst is producing new material with a new album due later this year (www.bionicsoundsystem.com), and started a monthly dub night, DubTempo, in addition to his BWB involvement. Lady Ra has been on musical journeys to Tunisia and San Francisco this year, playing at parties and belly dancing events, and continually inspires those around her. Nils, the mastermind behind Telepaphone Productions, brought ethno fusion producers and DJs to Vancouver and produced the seventh anniversary Faeries and Fools Costume Carnival on the Sunshine Coast (www.faeriesandfools.com). Tarun Nayar continues to impress with his DJ and tabla-playing abilities. This year, he invented a rig he named the ‘intergalactic space tabla.’ By wiring his tabla through a computer interface and using foot pedals, controllers, and loopers, he warps the ancient sounds of the tabla into an entirely new dimension. His new album will be out in the fall.
Beats Without Borders in action is a multi-dimensional cultural experience. Their performances incorporate gorgeous visuals, beautiful dancers from different schools of movement, a wide assortment of musicians, DJs from all over the globe, and a DJ dance party that goes OFF! If you want to dance all night, you’ve come to the right place, my friend. This collective continually introduces audiences to the next generation of musicians, dancers and artists, while themselves fusing tradition with the waves of the future. -SK
Ridley Bent – British Columbia
Imagine if Eminem was Canadian, read Steinbeck and Louis L’Amour, and then connected the dots from hip hop to a few of the great global grooves that began when everything was still ‘unplugged.’ That’s Ridley.
At the heart of his work is one of the world’s older professions: the teller of stories, the bard, the troubadour, the folksinger. Some may find the action gets a little rough sometimes, but it’s that kind of work. I felt the same way reading the Old Testament at an impressionable age, and I’m told that if you get deep into Beowulf, it has some pretty funky scenes too. But if anyone has heard a better song about a strike lately than “Fruit Pickers,” I’d love to hear it. Or one more cheerfully carrnal than “Pastures of Heaven.” “Bad Day” is an odyssey set in a world that is chillingly close.
Outsider hick-hop might describe the genre. If you know artists like Coop, Ed Roth or Robert Crumb, imagine those drawings and paintings could sing. Put a hip-hop groove to it, and a big country-western style, a country that includes Alberta, Hee Haw, the Merritt Mountain Festival and the downtown Eastside, and a west that stretches from pulp westerns to Pulp Fiction.
Mr. Bent is one hell of a writer, and live, he’s a sly charmer. One day, someone in New York will tell us all he’s cool and his fortune will be made, I guess. Just as I believe to my bones that if Beethoven was born in 1982 he’d be making beats today, so Mr. Bent tells the tales of our times in the lingo of the lives we’re living. -DS
Dan Bern – USA
Dan’s first performance here was his first at a Canadian festival, and it was my first year as an artistic director. Introducing him that year, I wrote, “I was so new at artistic directing it took me a while to realize that if someone is so good they scare you, you should probably book them.” For quite a while after that, there seemed to be two kinds of festivals in the world: those that hired Dan Bern and those that didn’t.
Mr. Bern is not a “safe” performer. He will get up some people’s noses and he will bring others to tears. He’s quite liable to rouse rabble if there are any around. He’s a pilgrim in the Kristofferson style, an apple-cart up setter, a writer, a visual artist, songwriter, pain in the butt, tennis menace, band leader, baseball geek and brother. He’s got authority issues and a bullshit detector that updates daily.
Growing up, he was the only Jewish kid in that small town in Iowa. His parents escaped the Holocaust, but many in his family did not. He read books, played sports, almost turned pro, didn’t, and then hit the road. Now he’s hip deep in the big muddy of a passionate tradition in writing that includes artists like Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson and Jonathon Swift*. Some might say he’s “anti-folk” but I have never really understood what in the name of Pete that’s about, exactly, so it wouldn’t be me. Even if I knew, I’d still say it sounds like folk spirit to me. Did minstrels only bring happy news? Isn’t there a passing resemblance to what Woody and friends got up to here?
Ten years down the road, he’s passed through the fiery furnace of Big Label Here-We-Go and he’s indie again. The last we heard, he was living out in the desert somewhere, but that’s probably old news by now. We can all catch up when he gets here. -DS
*Anyone who finds Mr. Bern extreme should read Swift’s satirical essay, A Modest Proposal, published in 1729.
Bethany and Rufus – Ontario/USA
Hearing their music and being completely blown away by the impact, it is astonishing that there are only the two of them. While minimal in instrumentation – they use only cello and vocals – this duo is on the up and up in many musical circles for their deeply soulful and luscious groove sound.
Growing up in Hamilton, Ontario and playing since the age of three, Rufus Cappadocia is becoming one of cello’s leading voices. Playing his self-designed five-string electric cello, Rufus has toured the world with various ensembles, musicians and vocalists, perhaps most notably Aretha Franklin and Odetta. The diversity of these experiences gives him an intimate familiarity with many different rhythms, genres, modalities and styles.
Bethany Yarrow’s story is of a drummer playing a different beat. The experience of growing up in the USA with a father who was a major musical activist in the ’60s and ’70s could be expected to affect your world view. When she was six, Bethany donated all her allowance to women’s equality at a rally supporting an equal rights amendment. At 14, she was arrested, along with her father, at a peaceful protest. In her 20s she was a documentary filmmaker, winning awards from Sundance to Bombay. Deciding to use her voice to tell the story of the people, she began retelling the classics whose lyrics still remain applicable to today’s conditions. Following in the generation of the elders she grew up with, she sings with passion and fervor, and brings a new generation of audiences to ‘listen up!’
Meeting seven years ago through a mutual friend, this duo is transforming American folk music with their captivating, haunting vocals and serene, addictive accompaniment. Their latest self-titled album is a gorgeous, modern incarnation of the folk classics. Peter, Paul & Mary approve, and so do we. -SK
Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Salil Bhatt – India
“Music is the language of God, created for the benefit of mankind. To me, music is the medium to talk to God.”
It is a beautiful thought. The man who expressed it was a civil servant, briefly, before a woman from Germany brought a Spanish guitar to a music school run by his father.
Vishwa Mohan Bhatt first studied music under his father. In a reversal of the same old, Bhatt continued his studies on sitar and violin while entering the Indian civil service because it seemed secure. At the same time, he kept modifying that guitar, trying to create an instrument on which he could play the music he could hear. He created the mohan veena (veena is Sanskrit for stringed instrument). It’s clear when you look at it that there is a fusion of east and west at work. Made of pine, mahogany and rosewood, the body resembles the arch top, a familiar guitar here. The mohan veena has 19 strings: three melodies, four drone and 12 sympathetic, which exert considerably more pressure than the six on a guitar. It’s played with the same mizrabs (wire picks) as the sitar, but the other hand holds a polished steel rod, reflecting the influence of the Hawaiian guitar and, like the National Steel guitar, it is built to be heard.
It has already been added to the list of Indian classical instruments and was featured in Meeting By the River, a CD that captured Bhatt and Ry Cooder playing together one evening and won the Grammy Award for World Music. Ry was the first of many encounters with Western string stars. Since then Bhatt has made beautiful music together with Tal Mahal, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas and Eric Clapton.
His son Salil is the 10th generation of Bhatts to pursue music, a heritage that one suspects could be a blessing or a burden. He, too, had his moment of doubt about music – even considering military school – before realizing there was music he wanted to hear that wasn’t being made yet. Like his father, his solution was to create an instrument. The satvik veena is a variation on the mohan veena, built from a single piece of oak with a pine top. He continues to study with his father, while his father continues as the foremost disciple of Pt. Ravi Shankar. They are active teachers, composers and performing artists and it is an honour to have them with us this weekend. They will be accompanied by R.K. Mishra. -DS
Big Bass Theory – British Columbia/Jamaica
Have you ever felt sound, the rumblings of the bass and drums in your body? If not, then let us introduce you to Big Bass Theory. In the fall of 2005, I first caught this Saltspring Island-based dub group performing live and it was a transformative experience. What’s the theory? Solid rhythms with serious bass frequencies totaling heavy, heavy, bass dub sounds.
With some of their members originally from Jamaica, Big Bass Theory truly has the dub in their blood. Their music lifts the soul with positive sound. Replete with soaring horns, steady bubble and skank, drums, keys, and stellar percussion, the music is dubbed-out with multiple delays, analogue effects and old-school mixing techniques. The bass lines are massive and the modern beats are original and moving, with a definite dancehall feel and reggae groove. They are one of the best examples of a live group taking original dub folk ways and fusing them with present day modalities and sound. Their recently released album, Dub Universe, is a fine case in point.
The mastermind behind Big Bass Theory, SirBassa, king of the bass, spent many years living and studying music in Jamaica with the heavyweight players from the 1970s. Never lacking a good story or a good sound, he is taking live dance music to the next level, coining the term ‘trancehall’ to describe his unique style of electronic dub. SirBassa is also part of the Interchill Records tribe, an internationally renowned BC-based record label, releasing organic electronica of all flavours as a resident DJ, event coordinator and recording artist.
Dance or sit back and groove while Big Bass Theory takes you on a warm sonic dub journey. -SK
Jacob Cino and Third Eye Tribe – British Columbia
Host of the Jericho Dub Sound System
Jacob Cino has been an active man in the Festival community for more than a decade. We have seen him grow and evolve on stage, from his first appearance in 1996 alongside Kinnie Starr to playing with his own Third Eye Tribe. He’s been a Festival favourite because of his versatility and solid groove productions. His work in the Collaboratory last year, and his experience with many other instrumentalists, producers and vocalists, made him a natural choice for the master alchemist’s role at the heart of the Dub Lab that has been cooking up a live set specifically for this Festival weekend.
Jacob fuels his audience with his lyrical drive-bys of socially conscious rhymes and production quality that has led some to tag him “the audio-alchemist.” He is a skilled producer of techno, breaks, drum, and bass and dub rhythms. With Third Eye Tribe, beats are mixed with live vocalists and musicians, creating an infectious dancehall/Celtic/reggae sound. A DJ, emcee, producer, dancer and musician, his artistic dexterity has led him to creating sound designs for modern dance productions and tracks for TV and film, including the awareness-raising documentary, The Corporation.
The Dub Lab is a special project created especially for this Festival. Think of it as a Collaboratory with a heavy dub emphasis. As a first step, Jacob built new dub tracks using source material from the music of other artists performing this weekend. The next step, in the days before the Festival, involves Tanya Tagaq, Lillian Allen and Clifton Joseph rehearsing with Jacob and Third Eye Tribe. Starting with the tracks Jacob created, the artists prepare a live dub set to debut at the Festival.
We don’t know who else might turn up with the co-dub-ollators when the Jericho Dub Sound System arrives live, but we do know that it will be uniquely and proudly ours. This is the first live dub collaboration with artists from different communities. Respect to the Music Section at the Canada Council for the Arts for their help in bringing this to the stage. It’s projects like this that make these days in the Park so special every year, and we are thrilled to be presenting the Jericho Dub Sound System live and direct, in full effect. -SK
Corquieu – Asturias
When most people think of the music known as ‘Celtic,’ the first places that come to mind are usually Ireland and Scotland. This weekend, Corquieu, pronounced kor-cue, may well alter that perception.
They’re from Asturia, an autonomous region in northern Spain. The descriptions of it sound a little like BC: mountains covered in trees, fast-moving rivers, orchards, and ocean fishing. There were Asturians in those valleys even before the arrival of Romans, Moors, Visigoths and General Franco. The Asturians are still there, and growing numbers are again speaking Asturianu (also called Bable), as well as Spanish. They were, and are, Celts. Musically, Corqueiu’s Celtic connections are clear from the very first notes of the first song. Their lyrics are in Asturianu, written for them by the poet Xandru Martin. You may not understand Asturianu, but you are sure to get the sense of what they’re singing about: passion, pride and a timeless pleasure in a living tradition.
They play only acoustic instruments, including the gaita, the bagpipes of Asturia and Galicia. If you love acoustic music, you may experience aurally-induced transports of rapture. If you don’t think acoustic can kick butt, you’re going to learn something. The band began in 1998 with some friends who wanted to play music together but had nowhere to practice, so they took to meeting on a beach. They played 37 concerts across northern Spain in the next two years, before locking themselves in a garage with their instruments and enough traditional cider to record a great debut CD. In the past few years they’ve been invited to the cream of Celtic festivals from Bratislava to Shetland, and created an even more stunning second CD, called Salia.
This is their very first North American appearance, and you can catch them again next weekend at the Mission Folk Festival, our partners in bringing this great young band to BC. -DS
Ivan Coyote and Spread the Word
In the world of word, Vancouver is the new Paris. Performance poets, storytellers and writers here are connected to an unbroken tradition that goes back 50 years and beyond to people like Al Purdy and bp Nichols; to places like the Classical Joint and Tongue of the Slip; to small presses and open mics; and ultimately, to us, people who buy more books per capita than any other province, and have nurtured gardens of verse and bushels of tales. The Festival has been working with word artists since 1996 to present some of the contemporary voices here. It’s indie, it’s folk, and you know it’s for love, because it sure isn’t about the money. -DS
Ivan Coyote was born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon and is the son of a welder and the daughter of a government worker. Ivan is the author of three collections of short stories, a monthly columnist, and a CBC love child. Ivan’s work has appeared in The National Post, The Georgia Straight, Geist, Shared Vision, Nerve and Curve magazines. Ivan’s first and truest love is live storytelling and over the last 10 years she has become an audience favourite at music, poetry, spoken word and writers’ festivals from Anchorage to New York City. The Globe and Mail called Ivan “A natural-born storyteller” and Ottawa X Press said, “Coyote is to CanLit what kd lang is to country music: a beautifully odd fixture.”
This year, Ivan Coyote will be presenting stories and some old friends, as well as some voices that may be new to you.
Richard Van Camp is a proud member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation from Fort Smith, NWT. He is the author of the novel, The Lesser Blessed, and Angel Wing Splash Pattern, a collection of short stories, as well as two children’s books created with George Littlechild. He is CBC Radio’s North by Northwest writer in residence, and he teaches Creative Writing for Aboriginal Students at UBC.
Bill McNamara was born in Vancouver March 1, 1950. He has lived here, in Hendrix Lake and Calgary all his life. He has worked as a trucker, miner, plumber, film animator and then went back to trucking. His cartoon strip, 84 Dan, ran in Canadian Biker Magazine for 20 years. He graduated from Emily Carr College in 1988.
Billeh Nickerson is the author of The Asthmatic Glassblower and Let Me Kiss it Better: Elixirs for the Not So Straight and Narrow, and is a founding member of the performance troupe Haiku Night in Canada. He is also the editor of Event magazine and a programmer for the Vancouver International Writers Festival.
Barbara Adler – see Collaboratory
Lillian Allen – see Lillian Allen
Curtis Clearsky – see Collaboratory
Clifton Joseph – see Clifton Joseph
Dyad – British Columbia
The acoustic music that evolved from contact on through the days of slavery, the Civil War, and the struggle for civil rights in the southern US was not, and is not, about buff. It is hard music out of hard times created by, and for, people who saw more trouble than pleasure come calling. Their music had to hold a lot of pain and some kind of hope, even if the best on offer was dying to get to a sweet bye and bye.
Likewise, it wasn’t, and isn’t, about speed, flash, serious cash or ringtones. It’s the high lonesome you hear in Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Mahalia Jackson, Otis Redding and sometimes, even Elvis. Racism looms large in the histories of the South, but music was perhaps the least segregated part of life for both blacks and whites. Artists could and did trade licks, tricks and melodies to create new sounds about life in the new world.
“I see a relationship between punk and folk. Both have always been grassroots music, played by poor people, ” says Kori Miyanishi (vocals, banjo, guitar, fiddle, jaw harp). It was no big jump from hardcore in Winnipeg to the True Vine in Vancouver. Leah Abramson (vocals, guitar) is also a songwriter and touring artist when not playing with Dyad. Shiho Mizumoto (fiddle, octave fiddle) has not abandoned classical music, but they all find something special and unique in creating this music together. This is a special-ness you can hear: drones, keening, frailing and wailing resolve into blue note harmonies while fiddles bow trancing riffs that sometimes sound like more like Turkey than Tennessee. It’s really good, but it is also haunting, conjuring that lingering chill some folks attribute to someone walking on their grave.
Dyad form part of what seems to be The Most Folky community around. It’s built on respect for those who have carried the traditions, for teachers, for players, dancers and the young ones who turn up crazy to learn. Everybody plays with everybody else, all over the US and Canada, sharing the knowledge and the love of a sound that still speaks to the human heart.
Few could tell you what plantation owners danced to in their parlours, but lots of people know the blues, gospel and country music. The music Dyad play has been called Hillbilly, Appalachian, Old Time, Roots, Americana and dozens of other names over the last 100 years. Whatever the name and hip quotient, the songs and the melodies just keep rolling along. -DS
Feist – Ontario/France
In any given year, I talk with a lot of people about music – grey beards, no beards, young women, their mums, music freaks and ringtoners – and there is a sizable constituency out there who, like me, still have Feist’s CD, Let It Die, in heavy home rotation.
Appealing to such a broad range of people for more than a year is worth remarking on when so much music seems designed for disposability and narrow demographics. It speaks to a richness and depth in both her music and her performances. Her music presents solid sonic evidence that the past really didn’t go anywhere and, in turn, that perhaps too many musicians focus far too heavily on the flavour of the month at the expense of drawing on the deep wells of both traditional and pop music.
In her music, one can hear traces of great singers like Peggy Lee and Jane Birkin, and echoes of everything from classic French pop to New Wave and dub. The songs are built like the proverbial brick facilities. Their structure and the quality of the arrangements are a revelation of musical literacy and a unique voice, in every sense of the word. Her music and her singing are so delightful that one can, even while singing along, lose sight of the fact that her lyrics have a poetry to them that is almost as rare as her musical imagination. When was the last time you heard a love song about the subtle joys of starting and raising a family, or a song about making love that had anything more going on than the f-word?
Feist, like her friends in Broken Social Scene, Stars, and others, have put Canadian music back on the map in a way we haven’t seen since Joni, Lenny and Neil. Her appearance here last year was a delight. A few months later, she packed the Commodore for one of the best shows of the year. Songs heard just a few months earlier had evolved into something both familiar and new. That’s the sign of an artist whose musical visions are evolving at the speed of sound. -DS
Ruthie Foster – USA
This weekend will not be the first time Ruthie’s raised the proverbial roof on Jericho Beach Park. Each time she comes back, it gets harder to imagine a Festival without her. No one has ever made so many people want to buy their CD here. Second and third-highest CD sales are also Ruthie’s. It’s a whole other kind of musical connection when it’s heart to heart.
Ruthie definitely sings from the heart, with so much love so deep-seated in that heart, you know where she got it. It was also her mother who told her, “Open up your mouth and sing, girl!” Some might call that an excellent mission statement. Add the will to be an artist to that commandment, and bless it with a voice drawing from deep wells of inspiration in gospel and the blues… Well, that’s a powerful combination.
Ruthie grew up in Texas, got out of Texas, and now she’s back in Texas. She was living in New York, trying to get her music heard, and moved back to care for her mother in her illness and passing. She’s never stopped singing, she just started singing in another kind of way. And each time she sings in this city, it’s clear she’s gone a little deeper still into the music. The history, the beauty and the love in Ruthie Foster’s music come from a good place, and the good place in each of us hears something calling in her singing. That, as the other Mr. Morrison sang it, “is a real heavy connection!” -DS
Ga Gi – Quebec/Mexico
It used to be pretty common in folk music for people who wanted to play it to make their own instruments. These days, it’s not that common, but Ga Gi, comprised of musicians Ganesh Anandan and Gibrán Cervantes, found they just had to do it. Both were already accomplished musicians on a wide variety of instruments, but none were capable of playing the music they could hear in their minds. There were always notes between the notes that couldn’t be played, and so the two began to create instruments that could.
Gibrán created the urukonglo. Its departure point is the berimbau (mouth bow, as in arrow), which has to be one of the world’s oldest instruments. Gibrán has arranged the strings in such a way that they can be made to vibrate by sticks, hands, brushes, e-bows, metal slides and other tools. This weekend, Gibrán will be playing a smaller, airport-friendly version of the urukonglo.
Ganesh works in a world of percussion instruments, many of which he built or modified: polytimbral frame drums such as the bodhran, bendir and daff; a metallophone (Indian mallet keyboard); kanjira and kanriqq tambourines; the cheng (Loation mouth organ); bansuri and kural bamboo flutes from north and south India respectively; the moorching mouth harp; and a Chinese reed instrument called the baou. His voice reflects the harmonic approaches and traditions he has studied around the world.
Their music is a magic combination of composition and improvisation. They create a musical space of trance and dance, rhythm and melody. They can scratch it up like a DJ or give a shape to the silence, take it down to a drone and then to a primal high. Listening to their music, looking at their instruments, one can’t help but wonder about some of those notes between the notes and just how ancient they might be. Who were the first to hear these notes? What did music conjure for them in a world where most of the sound was made by nature?
Voice, drums, bows. These are not just the deep roots of folk music. These are the deep roots of all music, of music itself. Ga Gi is a window of sound and the view might just take your breath away. -DS
Ganga Giri – Australia/British Columbia
There is always a variety of musical styles and traditions at the Festival each year to ensure there’s something for everyone to enjoy. As new technologies are discovered, more and more musical groups are incorporating them into their music and using them to fuse older traditions with new sounds. Ganga Giri is one of the groups who are doing it exceptionally well.
Ganga is the founder and leader of the group. Originally from Port Fairy, on the southeastern coast of Australia, Ganga began his musical journey playing kit drums at the age of eight. Now a didgeridoo virtuoso, percussionist and producer, he has created his own unique and contemporary sound, combining ancient traditions and modern dance grooves. Raising It Up is the newest Ganga Giri album, just released this summer.
This weekend Ganga Giri features didgeridoo, percussion, drums, keys, bass and a DJ. The group’s core performance team includes Big Bass Theory’s SirBassa and Yasmine Amal from Saltspring Island. Other members hail from Byron Bay, Australia. For larger shows they incorporate groups of Aboriginal and/or African dancers and stadium-screen multimedia visual shows as well. In every configuration, their music is infectious, and reflects multicultural elements and traditions of both Australia and Canada.
Explosive and pulsating, at times ambient and flowing, Ganga Giri’s music is a pumping percussive, multi-layered experience of complex grooves and raw, deep natural sound, with the beat mimicking the heartbeat of the Earth and its people. It is a modern/primitive multi-cultural celebration of life, and an acknowledgement of humankind’s ancestral roots. Their dynamic energy will certainly make you groove. And just as music and sound are an integral element of many cultures, dancing is encouraged! -SK
Eliza Gilkyson – USA
If you were here last year, Eliza needs no introduction. Her weekend last year came to a close with her version of “Man of God” for her Evening Concert stage encore. It’s a helluva song – literally chapter and verse, game, set and match on the hypocrisy and spin-doctoring of the corporate Christians in Washington, DC, as personified in the US President.
Like all of her songs these days, it hums, wails and sometimes snarls in a very special way that speaks of spirit and experience. She writes as a mother, a neighbour, a lover, a friend. And unlike the hordes of pouting pop ingénues strolling the strip in Music City everywhere these days, hoping to get lucky, this woman ain’t gonna lie to you. These songs are not kids’ stuff. She’s got a lifetime of experience in her music, her words and her way. Eliza can craft lyrics and melody and tempo that fit one of the most sensual voices you’ll ever hear. When she sings in Spanish, she sounds more natural than Ronstadt or Baez. And when she sings Woody…Well, let’s just say Texas is a lot closer to Oklahoma than a lot of other places.
That’s partly why “Man of God” kicks so hard: it’s the full Texas. Every note in that song is an All-American – from the Hammond organ, to the angriest guitar solo I’ve heard in years outside of Neil Young (played by her brother Tony, formerly of ‘X’), to the churchy invocations on the chorus by the Cracker Choir. This is the real red, white and blue and they’re singing just up the road from the Commander In Chief’s ranch. The anger in “Man of God” is balanced by “When You Walk On,” a song about changes, especially the Big One, that soothes with wisdom, beauty and grace usually associated with monks, not musicians. I hope when my time comes, there’s someone to press play.
At the Festival last summer, I had a notion about an idea. Given that she and Ruthie and Ray Wylie all have an Austin connection, that maybe it could be fun to do some songs together with a few Texas players backing them up. She thought it was worth talking about and 11 months later, on Saturday night, we’re all going to be in a big open-air club just outside Austin (in a dry county) and, as Ray sings it, “We’re going to have us a time.” -DS
The Grande Mothers – USA
One of the nicest e-mails that came in after last year’s Festival was from a Grande Mother. It spoke fondly of their time here and how they’d love to come back sometime, and went on to mention that, by the way, we have 26 more songs in our repertoire that we didn’t play on the weekend. Bingo! A lot of people didn’t know they were coming last year. Others didn’t believe it and there were, no doubt, others who didn’t think these guys could cut it anymore. Now there are a few thousand people who can tell them: “Wrong!” And so, these three Frank Zappa-tistas and their companions are back. The music they created with Zappa over two decades is too much a solitary pleasure these days, played mainly on your CD at home. It wasn’t radio-friendly when they created it, and now with Clear Channel? Not likely. The songs are too long and too weird.
Napoleon Murphy Brock, on sax and vocals, started singing in a Baptist church when he was five and he’s never stopped. His sax playing reflects years of listening to, and playing with, jazz masters, but it comes with a Mother of an attitude, energy and a rare spirit.
When Roy Estrada was 10, his parents started him on two years of accordion lessons. By 13, he was a bass man and he’s been the heartbeat of the Mothers of Invention, Little Feat, the Magic Band and a lot of legendary recordings and performances.
Keyboardist Don Preston’s dad was composer-in-residence for the Detroit Symphony, but Dan was still expelled from school – for hypnotizing a nun. Two years before the first Moog was released, he was performing and recording with a synthesizer he’d built himself. He’s performed with Zappa, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Lou Rawls, Al Jarreau, Nat King Cole, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, John Carter, Nelson Riddle, Herbie Mann and scores more. You may also know his work from more than 20 feature film soundtracks, including Apocalypse Now.
Rare are the musicians who can even play Zappa’s music, let alone make it live and breathe. The Zappa estate seems more interested in preserving Frank in legal formaldehyde than making sure his music has a life beyond CD sales. So thank the Lord for The Grande Mothers. The people who loved their music last year ranged in age from 16 to 60, and it’s safe to say that a fine time was had by all. -DS
Hamell on Trial – USA
If you can handle in-your-face, outspoken commentary on the world today, then you will definitely appreciate Hamell on Trial. An outraged, ranting, string-slamming singer/songwriter, Hamell holds no bars when it comes to voicing his views and concerns about religion, war and conservative attitudes. He presents them with passion, intelligence, energy and a wicked sense of humour, incorporating comedy, theatre and spoken word into his performances.
Born in Syracuse, NY, Ed Hamell started his career in music playing guitar in rock ‘n’ roll bands. Like many before him, he was drawn to Austin, Texas, America’s singer/songwriter haven. Even in a town where singer/songwriters abound, his combination of attitude and ability to communicate serious issues stood out. He landed a weekly residency that attracted sizeable audiences – as well as the attention of Mercury Records – and found himself with a new recording contract.
In 1997, Hamell moved back to New York, started his own label and continued to work, tour, record and be an all-round general bad-ass. His album Choochtown is a collection of songs about drunkards, criminals and the shady characters he met while tending bar in those days. A serious car accident in 2000 sidelined him from touring, but gave him time to work on a one-man play. Within a few years, he was performing it to sold-out audiences in Europe.
Now he has seven CDs under his belt, the last two on Ms di Franco’s Righteous Babe Records. On his newest album, Songs for Parents Who Enjoy Drugs, we hear about the ups and downs of being a father to his four year-old son, Detroit, who appears on the album as a guest vocalist. Hamell addresses the issue of “How do I raise a child in today’s world?” with humour and truth. In press interviews, he’s adamant that the media is full of lies so open-minded lefties need to breed. “There’s too much breeding going on with the Right. If you got a brain we need more like you. Raise some readers and thinkers. Raise some that will question authority.” We couldn’t agree more. Be prepared for anything when this one-man acoustic punk show takes the stage. -SK
Angela Harris – British Columbia
For someone who lived and breathed the Nashville experience for 10 years, Angela Harris has sure kept her feet firmly planted on her ever-evolving roots. From her small hometown in BC she headed to the big city of Nashville in 1993. Travelling back and forth, she recorded, performed, showcased, collaborated and built a network of fellow artists in that Mecca of country singer/songwriters and beyond. After a while, the constant travelling and the money-making, hit-making Nashville attitude could not fuel her further, so Angela moved to Vancouver with her accumulated repertoire and life experiences, and continues to gain success in Canada and abroad.
What strikes one about her music is how real it is, and how it hits home. The music is less about being complex than being an accompaniment to her vocals, while the words and stories she shares are alive and hard-hitting. She brings grace and an impressive vocal range to her fusion of bluegrass, country, folk and blues. She writes about her thoughts and emotions for her family, the powers of greed, and her compassion for those who are downtrodden, which makes it easy to relate to her lyrics.
Her second and most recent album, Roots, was an independent release that really made people sit up and take notice. It was quickly picked up by Maximum/Universal in Canada, and in the UK and Europe by Rounder Records. She was nominated for three BCCMA awards, and offered a track in an upcoming major Canadian film. Also a music business educator and consultant (and a secret yodeler), we are blown away not only by her music, but also by her multitasking abilities. She is a socially-driven mover and shaker and Performer Services Coordinator on the Festival Dream Team. All of us at the Festival are extremely proud to call her a folk sista. -SK
Ray Wylie Hubbarb – USA
In a part of the world where outlaws are held in the regard others reserve for minor saints, Ray Wylie’s well on his way to icon. His peers include artists like Townes van Zandt and Stevie Ray Vaughan. A song he wrote as sort of a joke became an anthem in Texas for a while and he’s done serious time on the other side of what many would consider ‘the edge.’
So how did an honest-to-god, full-on Texas outlaw picker and singer come to be in a band called The Cowboy Twinkies? That’s one of many mysteries about Mr. Hubbard from way back in a history that’s sometimes a little hazy. There was a time when the lifestyle choices he was making were getting more attention than his music. It was love – from his wife, his buddy Stevie Ray, and his new son – that made him decide to make some changes and stick with them. One of the first things he noticed, as his vision cleared, was that despite a double decade’s worth of gigs, his guitar playing wasn’t up to scratch. He couldn’t play the music he was hearing now, so at age 40, he started to take guitar lessons. His playing has come a long way and it’s getting better all the time.
It’s the same with his songs. They reflect years of listening and reading and writing, and that view of this mortal coil only comes to those who’ve made it back from that far side of the edge. It’s a warm sound that comes from understanding how one thing can lead to another, so cut yourself and others a little slack. There’s a spiritual side to many of them, part humble, part grateful, part seeker, that would never presume to preach but might have something to share or to teach. He’s definitely got his groove back, writing better songs than ever while finding a sound that he and Gurf Morlix just call “greasy.”
It takes a songwriter with a genuine love and respect for the craft to record an album featuring other songwriters just when his own hard-earned gifts are running hotter than ever. Delirium Tremens ranges from David Wiffen’s “Feel Like Some Old Engine” to a duet with Eliza Gilkyson on “Beauty Way,” to a song by Rosalie Hill, who was Mississippi Fred McDowell’s next door neighbour. It concludes with a song by J. McMurtry called “Choctaw Bingo,” an epic tale from the trailer park that ranks right up there with the one about the guy with the seagull around his neck. In my experience, it’s worth 40 or 50 listens, easy. -DS
Clifton Joseph – Ontario
When Clifton’s voice last roared out over Jericho Beach Park it was 1987, but he may look and sound very familiar anyway, because his work has him on radio and television quite regularly. In recent years, he’s produced a TV series and highly regarded reports for CBC’s Marketplace, including an hour-long special on hip hop called, Rhyme Pays: Hip Hop and the Marketing of Cool.
But long before he was riding the airwaves of the nation, he was turning heads as one of Canada’s founding dub poets. First on stages in Toronto, then in the Caribbean, the UK and all over North America, Clifton brought word/sound power to thousands. They have heard his words describe how the world looks, feels and sounds from downtown TO. You can read dub poetry on a page, but to feel it finely, you have to hear it. You’ve got to be with the poet. Dub poets use the rhythms of reggae and the sounds of their voices to give words wings and poetry a pulse. That pulse and those rhythms, go back to the drum and, ultimately, the heart beating. Like dub music, dub poetry never loses touch with the heartbeat.
Clifton’s poetry dubs further into jazz than other dub poets in Jamaica or the UK. To him it’s no stretch between Miles, Monk and Marley. Jazz is a natural to a poet who grew up closer to Chicago and New York than to Kingston, Jamaica. His poetry and perspective has always seen freedom in the distance, and named those obstacles standing in the way. Love, rage and laughter are just a few of the passionate flavours in Clifton’s writing and live performances. His fine feel for language, written and spoken, won him many well-deserved awards in film, video and radio. Clifton is currently producing stories for The National on CBC. We can only hope that one of these times when Peter needs a break, it will be Clifton we see seated behind that familiar desk, bringing us the news we really need to hear. -DS
James Keelaghan (with Oliver Schroer) – Alberta
An appreciation of history often comes to us later in life, perhaps in response to accumulating more of our own. James’ appreciation certainly pre-dates my own: he majored in history at university and it has been an ongoing theme in his work as an artist. Songs about his life come to us in a context of songs about other times and other lives, and they make it pretty clear that no matter what your situation, the odds are a human has been in it before. They may even have written a poem or a song about it.
James often includes others’ songs in his repertoire, an artistic choice that many contemporary songwriters seem to regard as akin to some weird sin. Whatever, it all works for me, big time. And we haven’t even gotten to the music yet, or his presence. I don’t know if James’ big picture also has something to do with living under the big sky beyond the mountains or not, but it’s a lovely CanLit sort of metaphor. Maybe it’s partly the decades spent touring three continents, with special emphasis on the second widest country in the world.
He’s a big guy, but that isn’t why you notice James walking into a room or onto a stage. It’s presence. He writes great songs and his records are very good, but live James is the real James. Like Lightfoot in his prime, James connects with everyone in the audience. The man can sing; filling a hall with music or drawing you forward in your seat to listen close. He brings us songs and stories about the extraordinary lives of people who sound a lot like us. He is an artist and a master craftsman, and inherent in the work of a master is respect for those for whom the work is created. History and art connect in his work. Our emotional states, and even our mistakes, may bear a striking resemblance to those of humans born centuries before us but, like them, we too can listen, learn and write our own history. It’s not something we hear nearly often enough, but Keelo is back, so we’ll hear it this weekend for sure. -DS
Lal – Ontario
Lal’s music generally comes with a lot of hyphens. Even by the standards of a poly-cultural country where everyone’s got one or two already, “funky-jazz-Desi-dub-urban-ambient-colder than Bristol kind of thaang” stands out.
It’s not surprising that old-world labels don’t fit and can’t get a grip. The old world is just that and comes with a lot of fait accompli, especially when it comes to identity. In Canada, identity is a process. Those hyphens of ours reflect our great, unspoken, inalienable right and opportunity to define our own identity and contribute our own sense of what it might mean to be Canadian. Everyone in this group knows where they’re from, but that’s not where the journey ends. It’s where it begins.
Their sound is stripped down to the essential audio to create a mood or a groove. There’s much more space in it than most Bangladeshi or Desi music, to the point where one magazine accused them of misrepresenting themselves as a South Asian group. That perspective says a lot about stereotypes, outside and inside communities, but precious little about their music. Lal’s music is global and it’s personal. It’s a musical leap of imagination and a meditation on change. It’s made and played down on the corner where history dances with the right now, reflecting their roots and expressing their passions for hip hop, jazz, Bangladeshi music, and then some. It’s cool in a way hipsters from the ’50s would recognize, and hot like anybody who likes to go out dancing wants to hear it. It is city music for people who really do work all hours, the ones who are getting home from church, when others are just waking up for theirs.
In True North ‘us on a good day’ style, Lal are listening globally, hanging locally and jamming on a future that’s about everybody. It’s no surprise they don’t fit in a musical box, but if we have to have one, how about ‘Downtown Canadian’? As to what that sounds like, well, that’s what we’re here to find out. -DS
Leaky Heaven Circus presents Giant Consortium – British Columbia
There’s poetry in their name that should give even the uninitiated a sense that this is not a circus in the sense of a great big whoop-de-do just passing through. This circus has roots, right here in Vancouver. It began with a friend talking to a friend and then some friends getting together and getting together again, until one day these friends had a deadline and a map.
Fast forward a few years and they have become one of Vancouver’s treasures. They’re not a ‘circus’ circus. Rather they are artists of all ages, shapes and sizes, bringing together comedy and drama, dance, dialogue, myths, music, sideshows, love and attitude with an audience ready for anything, and holy doodle Houston, we have a circus. They don’t so much draw the circus from life as they pour life into the circus. When they take your breath way, it’s definitely not big budget production values doing most of the work. These are neighbours and friends of friends and people who, in short, are very much like us. This closeness is at the heart of their work and their relationship with the audience. It’s what made them such a natural for our weekend in the Park: their belief that the audience is a creative partner.
In 2004 it was Ziggurat, a Greek myth seen through the lens of East Vancouver, performed first under their own big top (okay, medium top) just off Commercial Drive, then here in Jericho under the big willow tree. There was ranting and tumbling and hip hop and much laughter from deep in the belly, because they are ours, not a remote and perfect circus ‘from away.’ Last year it was Happyland, wherein the circus morphed toward carnival and even side show. This year Leaky Heaven loses the tent and trappings entirely as it roams Jericho with the fruit of its collaboration with young and emerging artists, presenting Giant Consortium in Aristophanes’ Peace. Expect music and mask, a little Greek myth and a measure of chaos for which Leaky Heaven is renowned. -DS
The Mammals – USA
When I saw first The Mammals perform in the wee hours of a long weekend at the North American Folk Alliance Conference in 2005, they knocked me out. It was as if Shooglenifty had started out in North Carolina instead of Edinburgh. It was hard-core, high-energy mountain music with a solid rhythm section, behind original lyrics about what’s really going in America.
Of course, that was in 2005. With The Mammals, we can be sure they will have progressed since then. They are artists who believe in change: personal, musical and in the world around them. Even their album titles, Evolver and Departure, signify their interest in continually moving forward – artists in the old-school sense of the word. It was just over five years ago that Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Michael Merenda and Ruth Ungar first pulled out their instruments together during a rum-infused soirée at Tao’s house. From the get-go, there’s been a distinctly Appalachian influence in their music. From that same get-go, it also reflected their passion for change in their work as artists and in the world.
The band began as a trio and has grown to include a kick-ass rhythm section. The singing and songwriting have found that common ground that comes from time and miles on the road together. But for all the high-speed evolution in their music, some things haven’t changed a lick. Many of their songs reflect the band’s political awareness, and you’ll hear their songs take a stand about which side they’re on. They also sing songs written by others, what some would call ‘covers’ and others would more rightfully call folk songs.
The Mammals range over a vast musical terrain, from traditional ballads to Morphine and Kurt Cobain. So much variety has the potential to be a musical disaster zone, but The Mammals are not only unscathed, they’ve developed a distinct sound all their own. -DS
Erynn Marshall and Chris Coole – British Columbia/Ontario
One album that definitely stood out in the Appalachian and fiddling folk tradition last year was Erynn Marshall’s Calico. In this hour of mainly traditional songs, both Erynn’s personal studies and those of her elders, it is loud and clear that an old tradition remains alive and well into the new generation.
Originally from Victoria, BC, Erynn grew up surrounded by music and learned to play the violin when she was only eight. She wanted to study fiddling traditions and eventually moved to Toronto to enroll in ethnomusicology at York University. She was excited to move east because it also meant she would be that much closer to West Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina and the music she loved. Erynn travelled, lived, worked, researched and played in the South for five years. She met, listened to and learned from, many elders in their 70s, 80s and 90s, who had learned the songs and stories from their friends and elders and who were, in turn, keeping the folk traditions alive by passing them on to Erynn. Her research is documented in her book, Music in the Air Somewhere: The Shifting Borders of West Virginia’s Fiddle and Song Traditions, which was adapted from her Masters thesis. The liner notes for her Calico CD are like a mini-encyclopedia of Appalachian history and names, including pictures of fiddles and banjos from the 1900s.
While studying at York, Erynn met Chris Coole, another musician fascinated by old-time Appalachian traditions. Chris was influenced by these traditions as a teenager and, when he got his first banjo at 17, set out to master the claw hammer style. It’s a finger picking technique where only the thumb and one other finger are used, flicking the string with the back of the fingernail with the motion coming from the wrist rather than the fingers, hence the name claw hammer. Chris also plays with a bluegrass group from Toronto called The Foggy Hogtown Boys. Together, Erynn and Chris use fiddle, banjo, guitar and voices. Bassist Oliver Swain joins the duo on stage this weekend. By collecting, preserving and passing down the stories and songs, through teaching at fiddling schools and camps, they too are helping to keep this tradition alive. -SK
The Mighty Popo with Urunana rw’ abadatana – Ontario
Why is it that the news media will only show us the immediate horrors of war, the right-now destruction and deaths, but never the aftermath, the effect on the people in those war-torn areas months later? The media cameras and reporters rush like thrill-seekers from war to war, spoon feeding us the latest crisis and shamefully neglecting real stories from those left after the front lines have moved on. Did you know that the 1994 genocide in Rwanda left less than 1 per cent of the Batwa people – Rwanda’s first inhabitants – alive? Had you even heard the Batwa people mentioned before?
Five BC folk festivals, including ours, teamed up to bring Urunana rw’abadatana, a small representation of the Batwa, to Canada to show you their culture and share their real-life stories, face to face, which is the only way you can share these things. It was a huge undertaking, made possible thanks to the generous support of the Music Section of the Canada Council of the Arts and the indispensable help of Mighty Popo.
Mighty Popo’s parents escaped Rwanda in an earlier period of strife, and he was born a refugee in the neighbouring country of Burundi. Growing up in the capital, Bujumbura, Popo was strongly influenced by all kinds of music while he was young: West African juju and highlife, South African township jive, Caribbean reggae, calypso and soca, and American blues and R&B. With a head full of musical influences and guitar learned from his uncle, Popo moved to Ottawa at 19 and chose music as his career. Twenty years later, he has released several albums and toured extensively in North America and Europe. Yet it was going back to Rwanda that had the greatest effect on him.
In 1998, four years after the mass genocide, Popo returned to play at a peace festival in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, where he met his grandmother for the first time. After that, his songwriting began to reflect the emotional impact of Rwanda, and it continues to influence him to this day. On another visit to Rwanda last year, Popo met and spent time with a group of Batwa performers, Urunana rw’abadatana (the circle that can’t be broken). While watching them perform, he had a revelation. “It was the first time I experienced anything like this-my own musical culture. Their sense of rhythm has no equal. It is simple and raw but amazingly complex in details.” He described it in an e-mail that was eventually read by a number of festival programmers. One thing led to another and, after months of overcoming obstacles, they are with us this weekend.
The Batwa are people of the forest. Song is the principal way they communicate with the forest, the all-powerful parent. The emphasis is on sound, not words. The sound awakens the forest to the needs of its children. They are accompanied by the inanga, a zither-like stringed instrument, and the ikondera, a cow horn with a haunting sound. Deforestation and warfare have forced the majority of Batwa out of the forest and they now live in and around cities. Leaving the forest meant losing their livelihood. They no longer have access to the medicinal plants that were their main source of healthcare, and forest knowledge is no longer being passed from generation to generation. Without the resources for producing their once popular pottery (now replaced by metals and plastics), some Batwa found work as day labourers, servants, and tenant farmers, but the vast majority, some 80 per cent, were forced to turn to begging.
The common perception of these forest people as savage, uncivilized, ignorant, unclean and above all, sub-human, seems to have legitimized their exclusion from mainstream Rwandan society. It is socially taboo to share food, sit on the same bench or socialize with Batwa in public. While other citizens are issued birth certificates and identity cards free of charge, Batwa must undergo an involved bureaucratic process. Without these cards, it is difficult to enroll in schools or receive government-funded healthcare, which is guaranteed to other vulnerable people in the country. With traditions rich in song, dance and music, the Batwa were once an integral part of the country’s culture. With their traditions denied, Rwanda is poorer for their loss.
We are honoured to have the Mighty Popo and Urunana rw’abadatana with us at the Festival. We thank them for showing us that despite war, poverty and discrimination, love, faith and music do prevail. By their example, you will be inspired to keep hope alive. -SK
Mihirangi – New Zealand
Mihirangi (me-hee-rung-ee) is an angel. A one-woman show, her smooth, soulful R&B voice is filled with courage, conviction and grace. And her music is politically charged, yet authentic and original.
Born and raised in Aotearoa (aka New Zealand), land of the long white cloud, she is deeply rooted in the music and dance traditions of her Maori heritage, clearly evident in her two recordings and her live performances. Singing in both English and Maori, she draws upon her ancestral spirits to give her integrity and strength for her live shows, which are said by reviewers to be “captivating and entrancing,” leaving them “feeling refreshed by her raw energy.”
Being brought up in a touring musical family naturally led her to use her voice to represent the trials of the past, present and future. Using loop pedals, she layers her vocals into intricate harmonies with vocal bass lines and beat boxing. (She even won an award to study beat boxing.) Add in some hand percussion, traditional flute and acoustic guitar, and you’ve got one multi-talented singer/songwriter. On her latest release, Kulcha Nation, she produced all the sounds, using her voice with the odd guitar and percussion instrument added in. The lyrics on this album are compelling. Singing about inequalities, freedom, the war in Iraq and her Maori ancestors, she takes on subjects, however distressing they may be, and transforms them with hope and empowerment.
We are inspired and excited to see what will transpire when Mihirangi makes her debut at the Festival this weekend and takes the stage. -SK
The New Lost City Ramblers – USA
It’s just about as hard to describe the artistic history, pursuits, creations and lasting influence of this band as it is to describe how exciting it is to have them here. As a band, and as individual artists, they have sparked more fuses and encouraged and inspired more young artists, while presenting and documenting more traditional masters than could be told in a shelf of books. Even then, you’d need another shelf for all the music they have recorded, both their own and recordings from the field, DVDs of films and videos, songbooks, festival program books and the rest.
John Cohen was a working artist in the Village before becoming a founding member of the Ramblers, working with Robert Frank, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. He plays guitar, banjo and mandolin and is also a renowned filmmaker, writer and photographer who produced many albums for Folkways.
Mike Seeger is from a musical family. Like his sister Peggy and his half-brother Peter, Mike has been listening and performing traditional music since the 1950s. He began playing the autoharp at the age of 12, and soon after came the banjo, fiddle, dulcimer, mouth harp, mandolin and dobro.
Tracy Schwarz is the newest member of the Ramblers. Joining in 1962, he has become one of the finest fiddlers in traditional styles in the US. Inspired by country music on the radio, he taught himself the banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass fiddle and fiddle. His current project began 16 years ago, performing and teaching with his wife Ginny Hawker.
A brief survey of the literature reveals that the New Lost City Ramblers are credited with:
- introducing the idea of performing traditional music in traditional styles.
- bringing many traditional musicians into greater public awareness, including Doc Boggs, Elizabeth Cotton, Clarence “Tom” Ashley, Arthel “Doc” Watson, the Stanley Brothers, Maybelle Carter and Roscoe Holcomb.
- profoundly influencing many young musicians, including Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia and Ry Cooder.
- introducing many ‘new’ instruments to the folk revival, including fiddle, autoharp, mandolin and, through the work of Mike Seeger, the jaws harp.
- introducing old-time country music to urban audiences in 1958, when virtually no one, with the exception of “hillbilly” record collectors, knew or cared about it. Within 15 years, however, interest in such traditional music had grown until state and federal governments regularly nurtured it.
- presenting music with a social conscience while adding guts, reality, humour and reverence for the music to the folk movement.
- sparking the return of old-time music to popularity in the South.
Quoting Philip F. Gura, Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of North Carolina:
Expressing an idea about musical style that Alan Lomax himself promulgated in the 1950s – that style, more than anything else, is the hallmark of traditional art. They treated old-time country music as performance rather than as a desiccated body of lyrics or music. Considered in this way, banjo-fiddle duets or the Cajun ensemble were as significant as anything else in the Western musical tradition – as, say, chamber music or opera – and thus as intrinsically worthy of attention. Stunning in its simplicity, this insight marks the NLCR’s radicalism and their claim to uniqueness in American cultural history.
Their promulgation of “old-time country music,” work now entering its fifth decade, has saved for future generations a part of southern culture that, were it not for their efforts, would exist only through the haze of memory and scratchy 78s. And through that act of recovery, they have awakened people around the world to the inherent worth of their own folk cultures.
John Cohen relates a story that captures it well: “Not long ago, sharing a tight elevator in lower Manhattan with a guy delivering messages, the silence was getting big. So I asked him, ‘How ya doin?’ He replied, ‘I’m going down the road, feeling bad.’ Since I knew a song by that name, I asked him, ‘Where’d ya hear that?’ ‘Jerry,’ he said as we left the elevator. I don’t remember what he looked like, but I was glad to know that the song was still alive and that the tradition goes on.” -DS
no luck club – British Columbia
A lot of this Festival is about listening. So is the instrumental hip hop created by no luck club. That’s why brothers Trevor and Matt Chan, and Paul Belen were part of last year’s Collaboratory. For a group that had never worked with acoustic musicians before, or even attended a folk festival, agreeing to take part was a great leap of faith that said a lot to me about their creative approach as artists and music lovers. Over the winter I went to see them perform several times and was more deeply impressed each time with the depth, complexity and full-on groove they could throw down. (Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that my Muse is bonkers about nlc. We started talking about a special project for this summer’s Festival. For more on that, see Folk 109 below.)
Their parents watched Trevor and Matt, and Paul, head off to university, hoping they would apply themselves studiously to becoming doctors, lawyers or accountants, but didn’t factor in the unique attractions of campus radio. Trevor and Matt started spending more and more time around the station, working on shows and listening to the latest hardcore, hip hop and every other kind of music on offer. Ultimately they fell under the spell of the Bomb Squad, the production team of Public Enemy, who were in the process of changing the sound of hip hop forever.
You can still hear some Bomb Squad in their work today. nlc’s music is a dense sonic wonderland where scratches, samples and melody lines roll together with a love of old-school funk. It’s smart, it’s fun and it kicks. There’s a big difference between a beat and a groove, and nlc draws on a groove 40 years long, reaching back to Stax, Sly, Say It Loud, and all the way up to the state-of-the-art right now. It’s a groove that has never forgotten its roots in the rise of hip hop: the sound of the dance parties in the Bronx that went out to all kinds of chocolate cities and those vanilla suburbs.
You’ll also find other history in nlc, rare sounds plucked out of a North American popular culture where Asians appeared only as caricatures drawn from racist ignorance. Having grown up in that hyphenated-Canadian way, they can also drop Asian film and other popular culture into the mix to create instrumental hip hop that has a lot to say about our city in 2006. -DS
One of the formative musical experiences of my life was the night The Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. It wasn’t the music or the performance; it was my Dad’s reaction. The words, “What’s that racket?” and, “You call that music?” stayed with me. Somewhere along the line, that Sunday night transmuted into a personal commitment to make an honest effort to listen to new music coming up from under my demographic.
So far, so good. I’ll cop to a certain crankiness when anything since about 1983 is called punk. And there are a few kinds of music that I can’t be in the room with, but I’ve also been well-schooled in whole new worlds of music in recent years by Sarah and the artists we work with.
So it pushed a few buttons for me last year when some long-time Festival-goers had negative reactions to turntables in the Park. Once I got past the Dad buttons, it inspired a lot of discussion over the winter. This Festival is centered on a love of music, and that involves deep listening. The same holds true for both the artists and audiences for scratch and sampling. How could we build a musical bridge? It struck me that one of the challenges for some folks could be that they are unfamiliar with the music used in these new areas. To some extent, that will always be the nature of the beast. Artists in this zone invest serious time and money in their sonic sources and tend to be very secretive about them. Yet part of the fun in listening, and dancing, to the music is catching some of the references.
So, what if no luck club used some “classic folk” in the mix? It might give those of us who aren’t clubbing so much these days some reference points to draw our ears in deeper. And wouldn’t it be an interesting new sound source for Trevor, Matt and Paul, and the people in their usual audiences? Scratching is something of a mystery for many, even those who frequent the natural habitats of this music. What if we also created a session that would demonstrate – and perhaps even allow people to try – scratching? Questions like these led us to commission the no luck club to create a one-hour original composition for the Festival and Scratch 101. The excitement meter went off the scale when our application to the Canada Council for the Arts for commissioning funds to support the project was successful.
We can’t tell you what music and sounds this piece will include. We don’t know, and have it on good authority that if we did and told, nlc would have to take us out. What we can say is that one grey afternoon, they let their fingers do the walking through several boxes of my old vinyl and that I am betting heavily on their professional assurances that scratching does not, in fact, hurt the record. We did however, reserve the right, as the “Commissioner,” to have two tracks of our choice appear somewhere during the set. We chose “Four Strong Winds” from Ian and Sylvia’s Greatest Hits and The Traveller’s Canadian remix of “This Land Is Your Land.”
That’s all we can say. The rest will be live and direct this weekend. -DS
Nucleus – British Columbia
At last year’s Festival, Nucleus was a bit of a secret. If you were at the invitation-only after-party on Saturday night, chances are you had a glimpse of their magic. Aerial silks indoors and fire spinning in the garden outdoors made it the best after-party a folk music festival ever had. This year we’re unleashing Nucleus in the Park and looking forward to their latest creations.
Nucleus evolved as a collective of performance artists that began in 1997. They incorporate circus arts, physical theatre, movement, costumes, props and masks to create a dream-like world that is passionately playful, humorously macabre and amorously raw. Fire dancing, acrobatic balance, juggling, shadow arts, stilt walking, aerial silks, clowning, mask work, martial arts, butoh, contact improv and creative dance, open and frame – but does not contain – their dance performances, alternative circus presentations, and movement-based theatre productions.
The players include Rup, a multi-instrumentalist, producer, dancer, choreographer and poet, also a participant in this year’s Collaboratory 2.9. Candice Curlypaws, inspired by rhythm and vibration, deeply explores music, dance, performance and art through character and emotion. Dee draws inspiration from the world of storytelling and myth to eloquently portray the hope and tragedy of our human drama. Nayana is a thespian, a versatile performer who explores the balance between expression and introspection. Sara Kendall is a facilitator of arts-based activism with youth and community groups. In Nucleus, her passions and skills are spoken word, mouth percussion, juggling, and acro-balance. Alison is an interdisciplinary artist with a background in classical, contemporary and ethno cultural music, ritual theatre, dance and costume. Gabrielle Martin has been exploring the range of her body language through the ongoing study of diverse dance forms such as contact improvisation, butoh, modern, ballet, and various somatic approaches. And Tarran the Tailor is a soloist who plays instruments from around the world and finds a home in a banjo tuned as an Arabian fiddle.
As Nucleus, they offer a dramatic and inspired representation of the human experience as circus. And in this Nucleus circus, the Park is the stage, and the audience becomes actors. Be ready to participate in the dream! -SK
Ndidi Onukwulu featuring Madagascar Slim – Ontario
I continue to be surprised by the CDs that are released these days. Sometimes there is a real winner, and discovering that musical gem is such a thrill one cannot help but be inspired and want to tell the world all about it. Ndidi Onukwulu’s debut album, No, I Never, is a recording that has deeply moved me and given me hope for the future of the blues. Influenced by John Lee Hooker and Big Mama Thornton, Ndidi is the newest generation of roots and blues artists, writing and singing about modern-day trials and tribulations, a similar struggle to her predecessors singing for a better world.
With parents of Nigerian heritage, both the drive to overcome oppression and singing as a means of resistance are in her blood. “Blues is the music of the people, of the earth, of the oppressed,” she says. The sentiment is clear in her voice as she sings of love, poverty and discrimination. Ndidi was born in BC, lived and worked in NYC, and now resides in Toronto. She performed with different hip hop, rock and jazz outfits, but returned to her first musical love, the blues, and hasn’t looked back. She’s written blues songs since she was 13, and her struggles and pain shaped some of the most beautiful, heartfelt music coming out of this country.
Playing alongside Ndidi, and no stranger to this ground, is blues guitarist Randriamananjara Radofa Besata Jean Longin, aka Madagascar Slim. Mr. Longin grew up in the capital city of Madagascar, Antananarivo, took up the guitar in his teenage years and was heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix and BB King. He came to Canada in the late ’70s and after college, immersed himself in the music scene and has been a tour de force ever since.
After hearing her perform, Slim was quick to work with Ndidi on her album and live tour. They are a multi-talented group, with bass player Tom Sertsis and percussionist Rakesh Tewari rounding out the band. We are fortunate to have this rising star with us this weekend. Be sure to catch her before she shoots off into the far reaches of the musical universe. -SK
Kelly Joe Phelps – USA
Mr. Phelps is pretty much a one-man musical all-star team. Raised in a Christian home, he started out playing free jazz on acoustic bass. Then he got turned on to country blues, the songs and compositions of Mississippi Fred McDowell, Lightnin’ Hopkins and other masters of the art. He found his calling. As a guitarist, he’s created two distinct voices, first as a slide guitarist and then finger picking. He’s that kind of player, the kind you know that there are kids out there studying, trying to figure out how he does that. To sound like nobody else, especially given how many guitars are being played in the world these days, is a very hard thing to do on such an instrument. Once in a while, there is a Fahey or a Jansch or a Phelps, but mostly there are people trying to play like them.
When Kelly Joe sings, you instantly know who it is, too, part blues moan, part prayer drone, part late-night and all feeling, echoing the years he played so much slide guitar. Those blue notes come from somewhere deep, deep inside. Kelly Joe brings a powerful focus to his music. Over the last 10 years, he’s worked hard on each element of his art and his craft. His music can break your heart, redeem your soul and/or make you want to snuggle up. He’s like the guy next door, only cooler. It ain’t blues, it ain’t jazz, it ain’t poetry, but it is all of the above – and something more. -DS
Utah Phillips – USA
“You’ve got to mess with people.” Words spoken by a true legend.
Mr. Utah Phillips has been part of this Festival since the beginning, earning him the nickname ‘Godfather of the Festival,’ and rightfully so, as his ideas and philosophies have had a profound effect on the way our Festival has grown up over the years.
Twenty-nine years later, it is inspiring to see an elder have as much rapport with older folks as it is to see his appeal and respect from those in their teens and 20s. He remains accessible to all generations because his message of unity, resistance and love are timeless and borderless. The struggle of the human race remains the same, even as the technologies and environments around us evolve. And Utah at 70 years-young is still at the forefront, tearing down the walls.
While other singer/songwriters can only write about the past, Utah has lived it and shares it through his songs and stories. He has ridden the rails and hoboed across the USA. He’s fought in a war and on picket lines. He was arrested for his anti-war activities and was even a candidate for the US Senate. A raconteur, a labourer, an activist, a friend, Utah is sure to tell you about what he’s seen and been through. While most his age would be comfortably retired, he forges ahead spreading the message to the masses because he knows how important it is to keep the flame of hope alive, and to educate younger generations.
He isn’t one to shy away from embracing newer sounds like hip hop and electronic music. Educating himself on turntables as instruments, and listening to the new emcees and singers, he knows that in the tradition of storytelling, these emerging artists are sharing their messages of resistance and struggle as Utah was 50 years ago with a guitar. While you’re watching Utah this weekend, remember that he is passing down traditions to us, the listeners, so that we may use our voices, minds and hearts to keep the struggle for unity and peace alive.
To the ‘godfatha’ we raise our hats. It is a sincere pleasure and honour to have Utah with us again. –SK
Any musician, any artist, will tell you intuition is a powerful thing.
Allison Russell and Awna Teixeira started crossing paths back in 2000. They’d run into each other at gigs, or with friends, singing together into the night in a living room somewhere. Awna had moved out from Toronto to Victoria and joined an old-time band with an edge called The Derby. Allison was working with Tim Readman in Fear of Drinking in Vancouver, singing and playing music centred in the Celtic. Both Allison and Awna knew that there was a connection, but it was a full four years later before they sat down, just the two of them, to see about that connection and what sort of music might come out of it. By then, Awna had started a band called Barley Wik that was generating a lot of talk. Allison had teamed up with Trish Klein, who was in The Be Good Tanyas and taking a break while a band member gave birth to her child. She and Allison became Po’ Girl, and audiences at their gigs were growing all the time.
Despite their other commitments, there was no denying their musical connection when they finally hooked up, and suddenly there was Salt. Awna and Allison both bring a lot of experience to their music, including the ability to play clarinet, guitar, banjo, washtub bass, electric bass, accordion, tin whistle and harmonica. There is also singing. Anyone who heard their version of “Stand By Me” that closed the Festival last year, including me and my muse, will testify about the singing.
Salt’s music is centered in old-time, the blues, and jazz, but in the way of music made by emerging artists now: there are lots of other acoustic flavours in the mix. They are part of an extended new acoustic music community that has spread all over North America and seems to be growing all the time. It’s folkie in all the good ways: a passion for making music, sharing it around and introducing each other, friend to friend, to help each other along the road. Speaking of which, joining Salt for these performances is Anna Egge, a singer and songwriter who started out in Saskatchewan and whose musical path has taken her down the road to New Mexico, Austin and lately, Brooklyn. -DS
Tim Readman and Shona Le Mottée Band – British Columbia/UK
There are a lot of people who play folk music. Tim Readman is folk music. He’s not from here, but he is definitely of here. Long before Main Street turned up in any developer’s vision, Tim was a driving force at the South Hill Candy Shop and his nights at the Montmarte Café are among the foundation stones of live acoustic music in the city. By birth, word and deed, he’s a Geordie (Jor-dee), the name given to someone born within sight of the River Tyne (or thereabouts) in North East England, up by the Scottish border. Once a centre for ships, steel and coal mining, it’s not now, nor never was, a fancy-pants sort of a place.
He’s been living in Vancouver for years, but Tim’s connection to back home is still strong: he tours in the UK regularly, and co-wrote 14 songs for a CD of Newcastle United tunes, a musical dream come true for a true NU fan. Tim’s music includes old ballads from that part of the world, and songs about soccer, of course, but the connection runs deeper than references. He knows which side he’s on and why. He also understands how an artist and their music can bring a room together and make everyone feel welcome.
Shona Le Mottée was born in Jersey, a small island (46 square miles) in the English Channel just off the coast of France, known for its cream and fudge and as the place where Victor Hugo lived in exile. She began to play the fiddle there when she was seven and has continued uninterrupted ever since. She was a member of the Paperboys for two and one-half years, and saw a lot of Canada and the US from a van window, one mile at a time. She also performed with Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance in Las Vegas and Disney World in Florida. Teaching has been an important part of her musical life for a long time and she’s been a key figure in BC’s fiddle explosion over the last 10 years, and has been deeply involved with music and dance communities here. Shona also continues to study fiddling with exceptional teachers like Buddie McMaster, Bruce Molsky and Alasdair Fraser.
Shona told me about the work her band, The Shona Le Mottée Band, (which includes Tim) had done with Nora Pickett and The Eire Born Irish Dancers, who are dance champions. We both got excited about how fine it would be to have the band and the dancers on the Evening Concert stage, and decided to share this chance to celebrate together. -DS
Jane Siberry – British Columbia
The last time I saw Jane Siberry on a stage was at a showcase music conference. In 20 minutes, she transformed what can be a very sad music industry ritual into laughter, wonder, beauty and joy. Everyone in the room rose to their feet when she finished, applauding with a kind of fervor more often notable by its absence at such events.
She began writing songs while studying microbiology at the University in Guelph while also working as a waitress, saving her tips to finance her first album. Three years later, a song called, “Mimi on the Beach,” written about a friend, introduced her to a lot of listeners, and more than 20 years later we are still listening.
Other songs reached even more listeners. Jane seems to understand pop music, both what is wonderful and delicious about it, and its limitations. When she creates her own music, it’s literally just one more colour among many. She’s created music in apple orchards, the back seats of cabs, clubs, churches and stages across Canada and Europe. Her collaborators have included other artists working on the sonic frontiers like Hal Wilner, Hector Zazou, kd lang, and Brian Eno. Her songs can be heard during Six Feet Under, Until the End of the World and Pay It Forward.
Her words, her voice and her way of moving through life as an artist have always struck me as distinctly Canadian. Like Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Mary Margaret O’Hara, Jane’s recordings and performances are just one part of a much bigger world. She has a unique connection to the people who listen to her music. They are often involved in presenting her, spreading the word to their friends, and she consults with them on musical and business decisions usually made in boardrooms.
No two concerts by Jane are ever the same. Her recordings can comfort, inspire and nourish from day to day, but they are also very different creations from what she brings to the stage. She is remarkably, sometimes disconcertingly, in the present. Her ability to divine a mood, a moment, and the energies we create together, always enhances my awareness of it, too, and is a gentle reminder to try and be that way more often. -DS
The Sisters Euclid – Ontario
There are a lot of bars in Toronto. I’m not talking bistros or anywhere featuring ferns, spritzers, tablecloths or wine lists. I mean bars, where you can have a drink, shoot the breeze and hear a live band. For nearly a decade, The Sisters have been appearing most Monday nights in a bar called the Orbit Room. You can hear the bar bone-deep in their music, and you can see it when they are making music together. They play the instruments that were heard first and mostly in bars: classic bass, Hammond organ, a few guitars. There are no double kick drums, no Marshall stacks, headset mics, dry ice or lasers. The music’s loud enough but no louder than it needs to be for you to hear what the musicians are really doing – the over, under and inter-tones humans both hear and feel.
This regular Monday night is a house gig, a great way for some musicians playing music together to turn into a band. It can bring the bread to the butter for musicians and it’s a place to take chances, try things out and try them again. It institutionalizes learning new things, because the set can’t be the same every week. Every once in a very blue moon in such a setting, a band finds a new level of connection, and together they enter a musical state of grace. That’s how I hear The Sisters Euclid: their music is part blue sky, part single malt and part junkyard dog, an aural gumbo that’s been simmering on the stove for years. It feels good between your thighs and between your ears.
They all have other bands and other places to be, so when they head out for a few days together it’s a choice, not a chore. During a European tour last year, they had a couple of days off so they recorded Run, Neil, Run, a very cool collection of Neil Young’s songs, including all kinds of musical ideas that slap you up-side the head on first listen. It’s smart and juicy, it’s rough and it’s gorgeous, and when you turn it up, it can sweeten a lot of sour. Frankly, if The Sisters ever went head-to-head with Crazy Horse, I’d bet on the Sisters to win it all in the free-style. Somebody ought to get a copy to Mr. Young. -DS
Supergenerous – Ontario/Brazil
“A modern garage recording. Except the engineering is perfect.”
“Fiery, joyous, highly improvisational music that is also quite mad.”
“Loco techno… freaky mambo… Sorta folk-jazz-world-bluegrass-Brazilian-old-timey-blues-cowboy.”
“Enchanted music for disenchanted times.”
These are some of the attempts to describe the music Kevin Breit and Cyro Baptista create as Supergenerous. That last one actually came from Rolling Stone, the music and lifestyle power publication not known for la tendresse. “Hillbilly Brazilian” is how Kevin described it once. He’s from McKerrow, a town in North Ontario that many people have never visited. Cyro, originally from Sao Paolo, explains, “In Brazil we play soccer, we dance samba with the feet, and the girls, they move their hips…There is a lot of activity in the south part of the body. But in the US, they play basketball, baseball. That is the north hemisphere. So this has both of those worlds together.”
Kevin also plays in The Sisters Euclid and Cyro leads a performance/percussion ensemble known as Beat the Donkey. Their musical lives also include serious road time and session work with Paul Simon, Cassandra Wilson, kd lang, Herbie Hancock, Laurie Anderson, John Zorn, Holly Cole, Bill Frisell and Norah Jones, to name a few. Session work can sure help with the rent and shoes for the kids. But the producers and big-name artists can afford to be very choosy about who they bring in. A session player has to be able to find right notes, tempo, feel and tone in a hurry. The ones that do get called often.
On Supergenerous’ self-titled CD, Kevin used 19 different stringed things – the youngest over 30 – including mandolin, mandolo, mandicello, a Nashville steel guitar, tenor guitar and something called a “guitorgan.” “I made many of the instruments myself,” Cyro explains. “I use PVC pipes that I play with flip flops, an instrument I developed in the ’70s. I use organic percussion, things I’ve made from branches, from seeds, and a lot of [native] instruments because I had the opportunity to travel.”
Supergenerous is what you might call serious fun. In their own words: “In trying to make it big and full, we play totally different than we would if we were just adding a splash of colour. We’re more like a bucket of paint as opposed to a paintbrush. It is pretty intense.” -DS
Tanya Tagaq – Nunavut
Many Canadians got their first real glimpse of the North in the ’60s and ’70s when soapstone carvings and litho prints by Innu artists first appeared in galleries and homes. It sent the kind of shock wave rolling across the country that comes when your sense of place suddenly has to expand to include something that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen in your life. The lives and dreams revealed in the Innu shapes and colours suggested a North more vast and different than any southerner could ever truly know.
As those artists were to visual art, so Tanya is to singing. Like the work of those earlier artists, her music is traditional. Yet, even if you have heard her before, it is like nothing you have heard in your life. Innu singing is one of the world’s most physical ways of singing. It ranges from soul-deep guttural drones and groans, to whispers, to melodic chants and everywhere in between. The notes between the notes are just points of departure for improvisations whose closest cousins may be jazz players, but rare are the players who can be so lyrical and so sensual. It is intimate, fun, sexy, surprising, celebratory and always, always intense. Traditionalists sometimes see her as an enfant terrible. Like Glen Gould, Tanya uses her ever-growing understanding of her art, and her singular technical skills, to create music rooted in thousands of years of tradition and completely make it about this moment.
It was 2001 when Geoff Berner and Jacob Cino returned from the Frostbite Festival in White Horse with tales of a woman, a singer, amazing. A few months later, thanks to the labours of local music lover Cameron Noyes, Tanya was singing on Stage 5 with Geoff and Jacob. She was part of the first Collaboratory. The session featuring Tanya, her cousin Celina, and Montréal’s organic beat masters, Freeworm, was one of the most vivid musical experiences I’ve ever heard in this Park. People who were there remember it still.
In the years since then, her travels make Dorothy’s tornado out of Kansas look like a trip to Tim’s. She toured the world with Björk, returned to the Festival in 2002 and met a special fella, Felipe Ugarte, whom she married not long after, then, while pregnant, toured Europe with a DJ. Meanwhile, she also appeared at London’s prestigious Barbican Centre, wrote and recorded her own CD (including some collaborations with Björk), and released it through Jericho Beach Records. Most recently, she toured with the Kronos Quartet. The family now alternates between the Basque country and Cambridge Bay, NU.
Tanya is an extraordinary artist, and the chance to be where she is singing is a chance you should take. -DS
Linda Tillery and Nina Gerber – USA
Linda is no stranger to these verdant shores. Since their first appearance at the Festival in 1996, she and the Cultural Heritage Choir have become musical family around here, as well as fixtures on the Canadian folk festival scene. Their big love for the length and breadth of African American music has schooled a lot of us in the connections between it all, and why it’s been at the heart of social change for centuries.
I asked Linda about this new project and she said, simply, “We just pick songs we like and we have fun with them.” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” as a funky, up-tempo Bo Diddly-flamenco kind of a thing? An old Kinks classic showing its blues roots when it gets all slow and slinky? It’s all part of the fun, and there’s plenty more where that came from. Drums, bass, rhythm and lead guitar, Nina can turn one guitar into a whole band where nobody ever overplays.
Those of us who know Linda’s singing are in for a sweet surprise. Away from the Choir, free of the need to lead or to fit her notes to those of four other voices, Linda is able to whisper, groan, wail and savour melodies in a way we haven’t heard before. I think there’s a lot more Sweet Linda Divine in this music, the young woman who fronted Loading Zone at the Fillmore West and gave a young woman from Texas named Janis something to listen to and learn from.
Nina Gerber’s name may be new to some, but most people have heard her play. If you’ve listened to music by Kate Wolf, Ferron, Nanci Griffith, Greg Brown or any number of acoustic artists, you know some of her work. Nina was 15 when she first saw Kate Wolf perform. She decided that night she would play music and that she would be in Kate’s band. A few years later, they performed together for the first time and continued until Kate’s untimely passing.
She is one of those artists that other artists take note of: a guitarist with great technique and a very musical imagination whose prime concern is the song, not how much people notice her playing on it. These two old friends give each other all the room to move any artist could want and they have no fear of flying. With more than 60 years of experience between the two of them, you know they have what they need to have fun. -DS
Zar – Denmark
There are signs when a tradition is being reborn. Beyond hometown pride and the buzz, there’s suddenly a band or two or three that simply arrive. We’ve seen it in Ireland, Scotland, Cape Breton, Sweden and other northern lands. Now we can see, and hear it, in Denmark. Music may be a global language, but they are definitely speaking it with a Danish accent.
It’s an accent we have only begun to hear, with Haugaard & Hoirup and Karen and Helene last summer, and now Zar. This is neither oversight nor a fluke. The beauty and the feel are so fine that it hardly occurs to one that Sine Lauritsen is singing in a language that one does not understand. Not one word. Voice can be a vivid instrument and she has one of those voices and in such circumstances, the instrumentalists can sometimes fade. Not these instrumentalists. Rasmus Zeeberg (guitar), Christopher Maack (fiddle), Steffan Sørensen (double bass and fiddle) and Andreas Rasmussen (fiddle) are busting out with musical ideas. The music loops and spins and soars inside a verse, let alone through a whole song. They have the chops, an amazing understanding of arrangements and, like so many players coming up, have assimilated whole worlds of music, from traditional to classical, to the radio, to the net.
Young musicians in Denmark can qualify to study classical jazz and folk music at formal music academies. Most of the Danish artists here last year and this are connected through these schools as students and teachers. It seems to be working. The spark that first brought Zar’s instruments and Sine’s voice together was a music initiative by the Danish government in Serbia in 2001. Jamming at a Tonder Festival celebration sealed the deal. Both their CDs won Danish Music Awards, the first, Strengeleg, for best debut recording in 2002, and Sine won best vocalist in 2004 for their second album, TusindTanker. Recognition led to travel to Scotland, Scandinavia, Italy, Germany, America, and now they’re here. Enjoy. –DS
People who are not from here will sometimes laugh at people here who believe that how you get things done plays a big role in what will ultimately happen. I can only respond by saying, “Well, that’s my experience.”
This is Collaboratory 2.9, the sixth time that artists from different traditions and communities have sat down together and explored music, strings and other instruments; words spoken and sung, and now laptops and turntables. It is a chance for them to spend more than a minute playing with what is different, and the time we give them comes with a commitment to share what comes out of their explorations.
There have been changes this year, most of them from asking the artists afterward, “So, what did you think?” So, this year artists are going to spend more time together in advance, and the time they have to present the results to you has been doubled. Ivan Coyote, Sarah Kim, Meegan Mault said and I worked together again on this project. Our sessions last year reinforced my faith in collaboration. This year we went twice as far in half the time. A project that started out about difference and connection has come home this year. All but one of the participants lives in the GVRD. There are so many amazing artists in this city that if we ran this Festival every day for a year, we couldn’t keep up. The only tension when Ivan, Sarah, Meegan and I got together came when we realized how few of the artists we admire could be included.
Anybody in Vancouver who clucks about no fun city or nothing to do is likely to be either (a) spending too much time in front of a plasma screen; (b) saying it as a beard to get your money; or (c) a Tommy wanna-be. The Collaboratory has a life of its own now. Meegan’s doing one for the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. It looks like we’ll be taking one on the theme of Working Songs to the Orpheum in November. Right now, we’re here, and so is the Home Team. –DS
Barbara Adler was the youngest poet ever to win a spot on the Vancouver Poetry Slam team – just 18 in 2002. Now a four-time veteran Vancouver slammer, Barbara’s also an experienced collaborator, having worked with composers, dancers, filmmakers and theatre artists to create what The Georgia Straight called,”Smart, funny and often deeply moving poetry.” She toured the world on her own as a solo poet as well as with spoken word and music group, The Fugitives, and she has a new CD, Flusterblush. Meanwhile, Barbara’s also been acquiring the finer points that come only from a classical education, and recently graduated from Simon Fraser University with a double major in art.
Ganesh Anandan see Ga Gi
Curtis Clearsky is a community activist and organizer who helped start both Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO) and the Vancouver Chapter of the Native Youth Movement. Born and raised in the Vancouver area, he is from the Blackfoot (Blood)/Ojibway (Saulteaux) Nations. Best known as a hip-hop artist passionate about improving the world, Curtis is putting his energy into the UN Messengers of Truth Project, addressing urbanization issues through hip hop. He also works with urban indigenous youth as the project coordinator at the Knowledgeable Aboriginal Youth Association. His educational background is scriptwriting as a graduate of the Vancouver Film School in 2002 and the Aboriginal Film and TV Program at Capilano College (2000).
Cris Derksen is a young half-Cree, who Xtra West called, “A humbly punk cellist.” She made it through the classical structure of UBC’s Music Program emerging as a versatile musician able to fit into any genre, be it hip hop, rock, folk or country. She exudes an uninhibited enthusiasm everywhere she plays – at festivals, in concert halls, under the stars, on the streets, overseas, in classy venues or crummy bars. As long as the humidity doesn’t ruin her tuning, Cris is happy to play. This is her second year as part of the Collaboratory, where she enjoys using the effect pedals on her cello to create what she calls “an intense ball of musical passion.” We like that, too.
Neelamjit (Neal) Dhillon is a professional musician, well versed in both Eastern and Western musical traditions. He has a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies, majoring in saxophone, and a Bachelor of Education in secondary music education. Neelamjit has worked with some of the great names in jazz: Bob Mintzer, Kurt Elling, Nenna Freelon and Cedar Walton. As well, he’s played with some of India’s finest musicians, such as Louiz Banks, Fazal Qureshi, Rakesh Chaurassia and Taufiq Qureshi. The tabla is his principal instrument, and he studies under the tutelage of world-renowned maestro, Ustad Zakir Hussain. After receiving his degrees, the Canada Council provided support for Neelamjit to pursue further tabla studies at the Ustad Allarakha Institute of Music in Mumbai.
Kytami is an eclectic electric one-woman violin revolution. She is talented and versatile, and she can fiddle insanely fast. She’s had lots of practice. She started playing and performing when she was four, followed by hard-core classical training. Now she’s in high demand to record and perform in genres ranging from reggae, hip hop, live electronica, jungle and drum and bass, to punk and metal. On a more permanent basis, she’s a member of four groups: hip hop/dance hall/d’n’b,Third Eye Tribe; the acoustic folk-punk band, Blackie LeBlanc; the Kytami Revolution; and an indie pirate-rock group called Lownote. She’s played festivals all over the west, burning down the house (metaphorically speaking) from fiddling at warp speed this spring at CelticFest. She has her own album, Conflation, and for the ultimate in über-cool, she’s provided the musical soundtracks for snowboarding and skateboarding videos.
Alex Maher is a multi-instrumentalist who released two full-length independent albums in the last two years, handling lead vocals, alto saxophone and electric rhythm guitar himself. East Eighth (2004), features Alex’s first collection of songs. It’s jazzy and soulful, with horn arrangements, fat grooves and smooth vocals. His second album, D&A (2004), is a hip hop collaboration between Alex and the talented MC Dosia, as well as guitar/MC/vocalist Mario Vaira, with bassist Jay Davies and Zayne on keyboards and vocals.
Allison Russell see Salt
Rupinder Singh Sidhu (aka Sunskript, aka Rupix Kube) is a dark anomaly wandering the generic wastelands of hip hop, expressing soul philosophy with a mystical edge. He provides a live experience that leaves audiences in an inter-dimensional frenzy. Rupinder’s musical palate encompasses hip hop poetics, electronica, flute, didgeridoo and live looping, along with vocal and eastern percussion. Alongside his love of rhythm and rhyme, Rupinder is a music producer and composer in many genres. He is also a community arts facilitator. Described as a social artist, Rup is deeply involved in his community, East Van-tastic!
Timothy Wisdom is an instigator of fun, slicing up the funkiest selection of breaks and beats for more than a decade. He was a headliner and founder of the Atlantic Canada dance movement some 13 years ago. In 1991, he was programming drum machines, making samples, scratching records and dropping lyrics in the hip hop group Heretic. In 2001, Timothy created the first digital force feedback turntable, D’Groove, which earned him a Masters degree. An engineer at the decks and on the mic, Timothy is a master of his art form, legendary for his crazy scratching, instant remixes, and amusing antics. He teaches kids the art of turntablism, instilling in them the same passion he has for the craft. His record crates know no boundaries and wherever he goes, Timothy Wisdom gets the movement moving.
Mario Vaira is a multi-instrumentalist trying to bring the truth in life to the forefront of his music, whether behind a mic or a mixing board. On stage, he is a mashup of freestyle emcee, singer/songwriter and guitarist, mixing the lyricism of hip hop and folk, while standing on the shoulders of funk and soul. Off stage, he’s the principal producer/designer for Five Fathom Studios.