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Angélique Kidjo

Angélique Kidjo (Benin / New York)

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Benin-born, now New York-based Angélique Kidjo is one of the biggest African musicians on the world stage today. She’s been called “Africa’s premier diva” (Time Magazine) and “the undisputed Queen of African Music” (Daily Telegraph). The BBC has included Kidjo in its list of the African continent’s 50 most iconic figures, The Guardian has listed her as one of its “Top 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World,” and Kidjo is the first woman to be listed among “The 40 Most Powerful Celebrities In Africa” by Forbes magazine. Her other accolades include two Grammy Awards, the latest earlier this year for best World Music Album for Eve, an epic recording that pays tribute to Africa’s women, a 20-year discography, and thousands of concerts around the world.

Kidjo is a dynamic and charismatic performer and a stunning vocalist. NPR Music says, “The power of Kidjo’s unflappable voice, the range of her emotional expression, the stellar, genre-bending musicians who back her and the infectious, activist energy that courses through her songs all transcend any native tongue.” Her eclectic musical influences include Afropop, Caribbean zouk, Congolese rumba, jazz, gospel and Latin sounds. She is fluent in Fon, French, Yoruba and English – and sings in all four languages.

The 54-year-old singer is also known for her activism. She has pressed for action on climate change and for a more sustained effort to improve public health in West Africa in the wake of the Ebola crisis. As a Goodwill Ambassador with UNICEF since 2002, she has traveled to many countries in Africa, working in a variety of ways to improve conditions for those living in dire poverty.

In accepting her 2015 Grammy, Kidjo said “”For me, music is a weapon of peace, and today more than ever, as artists we have a role to play in the stability of this world.”

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The Lowest Pair

The Lowest Pair (WA) 

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The Lowest Pair, their name taken from a John Hartford poem, features Arkansas-born, Kendl Winter and Minnesotan Palmer T. Lee. The two alternate between picking banjos and strumming guitars while singing sweet harmonies over each other—no other musicians or instruments needed. “So with their bare-bones instrumentation and country-inspired, heartstring-tugging narratives, The Lowest Pair might be one of the best under-the-radar Americana duos today“. (Paste)

The rootsy twosome’s debut album, 36¢, was released through Team Love Records and was recorded and engineered by Trampled By Turtles member Dave Simonett. Draped in Kendl’s high lonesome harmonies and Palmer’s Midwest croon, their debut was hailed by many outlets and American Songwriter praised their ”earnest, earthy songcraft.” 

After a year of traveling the country playing clubs, house shows, back yards and street corners, the duo found their way back up to Minnesota, where they sat down to record their follow-up album, The Sacred Heart Sessions, in an old church. The album allows the listener to enter the space that surrounds its creation. One can virtually feel the walls and vaulted ceiling of the old wooden church rising up, creating a natural reverb and warming the air. Their follow up album was released this past February.

Be it Kendl’s punk roots, her talent and admiration for the traditional American songbook, the gravitational pull that drew her to Olympia combined with Palmer’s creative impulses, Midwestern charm and the strange moment of fate that left him with two inherited banjos as a young man, along with the long winters spent listening to Townes Van Zandt and John Hartford recordings, that have spawned the unique and original sounds that are The Lowest Pair.

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Ivan Tucakov & Tambura Rasa

Ivan Tucakov & Tambura Rasa (BC)

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As the globe stresses and strains along artificially drawn borders, Ivan Tucakov and Tambura Rasa pick up the musical threads that bind us all and weave them into a tapestry of discovery and delight.”
– Cal Koat – World Beats Radio Canada

Tambura Rasa is an eclectic assembly of performers and cultures from all corners of the globe. The group incorporates sounds and dances from the Balkans, Spain, Turkey, the Middle East, and beyond. Along the way, they’ve become BC’s favorite caravan of vivacious globalistas, filling everything from intimate soft-seat theatres to large dance-filled festivals bringing joy, vigor, and dance to the world around them.

The band is led by composer-guitarist Ivan Tucakov. Of Serbo-Croatian descent, Ivan was born in Belgrade, spent the first eight years of his childhood on the plains of central Turkey, then moved back to Serbia. Over the years since, he traveled extensively in pursuit of artistic inspiration. Since moving to Vancouver, he formed the Tambura Rasa collective with the aim of expanding the boundaries of world-fusion music.

The ensemble has released six collections of original compositions, the latest, Ambada, in late 2014.

Close your eyes and take a journey across cultures. “More than just world music, this is positively global in its reach, with flamenco and Middle-Eastern music fusing with Balkan, gypsy and Afro-Latin, all performed with great skill and verve” (The Province)

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Trampled by Turtles

Trampled by Turtles (Minnesota)

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“There is something generous about the way they play. They make room for each other, they serve the song, yet at times seem to ride the chaotic edge of stringed oblivion. It is the sound of joy; the kind of joy that the truth gives you, even when it’s a hard thing to hear.” – Alan Sparhawk, Producer

Duluth, Minnesota’s Trampled by Turtles (AKA: TBT), is likely best known for its unbridled passion, fast-paced songs and plaintive ballads. Their organic sound pushes the band into a grey area between genres that defies pigeonholing, though Wiki describes it as “bluegrass/folk-rock”. Each member has a part in the arrangement that leans on and enhances the others, always serving the song. The message is not about individuals – it’s about what can be done when people get together, apply their heart and soul, and make a little room for each other.

Erik Berry says of the band’s chemistry, “From the earliest times we started playing, there has always been a real hard-to-define quality about our chemistry, something special. It’s been a treat to find that more than ten years in we still can turn new corners, at least new-to-us corners, together in the way we approach a song or a sound and still with that quality. That something that makes us, us.”

The band members have referenced inspirations such as Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Ralph Stanley. Their fifth release, Palomino, held a Top 10 position on the Billboard bluegrass charts for 52 straight weeks.

Their last release, Wild Animals is the sound of a band that continues to grow and reach new heights after a decade of touring together. The album captures the intense nature that goes with being alive, melding the universal and the personal.

Their high-energy concerts have attracted an ever-growing word-of-mouth legion of diehard fans to their must-see-to-believe live shows.

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The Wilderness of Manitoba

Wilderness of Manitoba (ON)

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Contrary to appearances, The Wilderness of Manitoba hails from Toronto. It’s a band that embraces change, challenging themselves and expectations. And with every album they’ve released, the Wilderness has edged further out of the forest and deeper into the urban landscape.

Their lo-fi folk debut, Hymns of Love and Spirits, sounded like it could have easily been recorded in, as the band’s name implies, an isolated cabin somewhere in the Prairies. By comparison, Between Colours, the group’s fourth album, feels like it comes from a completely different band, and, in some sense it has, as the original five-piece is now a trio.

The band characterizes itself as an evolving entity. From their inception, they have virtually redefined themselves with every album. The evolution of their sound has run the gamut from four part harmonies and chamber folk to their current more cinematic style and arrangements.

To address the wider range of dynamics on the songs on their latest album, Between Colours, they introduced special guests into the mix. The expanding instrumentation and layered guitar and synth effects combine to create an adventurous sonic exploration. And as they move forward, the Wilderness of Manitoba continues to prove they can craft a quality tune, regardless of whether it’s played around a campfire, blasted from the stage of a crowded downtown bar, or on the gentle green of an urban seaside park.

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The Strumbellas

The Strumbellas (ON)

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Lindsay, Ontario’s The Strumbellas are the definition of small town gumption. They are also a success story. Their dark, mostly death-inspired lyrics, gussied up with blow-the-barn-doors-off ruckus alt-country fused with folk and bluegrass music, sometimes dubbed “folk popgrass”, has brought them a stellar reputation for brilliant live shows. 

2014 was the break out year for The Strumbellas and their sophomore album, We Still Move On Dance Floors. The group won the JUNO Award for Roots & Traditional Album Of The Year, Canadian Folk Music Contemporary Album Of The Year, Ottawa Folk Festival’s Rising Star Award, SiriusXM Indies award for Folk Group Of The Year, and CBC Music Rising Star Award, as well as receiving a long list nomination for the Polaris Music Prize. 

It proves that since the release of The Strumbellas’ eponymous 2009 EP, which was peppered with accolades, they continue to be “a band to watch”. This six-piece group has been selling out several cross-country tours, playing a plethora of festivals, and even dipped their toes in the waters south of the border (to great success). And now, in a weekend in July, we get to watch them ourselves!

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The Sadies

The Sadies (ON)

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Since their formation in 1994, Toronto’s Sadies have developed, even perfected, a style of music that is uniquely their own.  Possessing a deep fondness and reverence for the best of country, bluegrass and blues (CBGB!), they are equally informed and influenced by everything from 60s garage and psychedelic rock (Pebbles, Nuggets, et al) to surf instrumentals and punk rock. You’re as likely to find an enthusiastic fan of Negative Approach or Crime as one of Santo & Johnny or Merle Travis within their ranks. It’s all relevant and it all fits and that sort of depth goes a long way in helping to understand how they came to develop such a broad platform from which to launch their own musical explorations.

The Sadies have consistently pushed themselves forward into new areas while refining their approach to what they do – creating a constantly evolving catalogue of work and picking up legions of new converts with each successive tour.  Their concerts, legendary since their earliest days have only gotten better over the years. Though the three-hour marathons of yore may happen less frequently, The Sadies have always prided themselves on a well-paced live show, starting off strong and gradually building things up to fever pitch then bringing it back home (often with a nice surprise or two along the way), before sending everyone home with a smile on their face. The live experience has it all, blistering instrumentals, country rave-ups, super-human guitar interplay and mind blowing psychedelic expeditions that can end up anywhere. There are not many bands that have been together nearly two decades that are truly making the best music of their careers, but The Sadies have definitely established themselves as one of the leaders in that very uncrowded field. 

These fellows thrive by a simple rule, if you make a mistake in the studio, you do it over – but you don’t make mistakes onstage. The live show has to do everything the records do (just a little faster and a little drunker).  They’re ready to hit your town in support of the release of the remarkable new album “Internal Sounds” this fall.  If you’ve never seen them live, the time to change that is now – if you’ve seen them before, it’s time to take another look.

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The Once

The Once (NL)

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While coming out of Newfoundland’s Celtic-inspired traditional music community, The Once draws upon a range of influences. They weave together an array of musical strands in a natural and cohesive way, from the Newfoundland standard Sonny’s Dream, to an enchanting rendition of Elvis Presley hit Can’t Help Falling In Love, to member-penned originals like You Lead I Will Follow and The Town Where You Lived.

The glue that binds all the songs together is the singing. Lead vocalist Geraldine Hollett, who the Globe and Mail hailed as a “pure-voiced starlet,” is a captivating, compassionate singer who has inspired comparisons to such iconic Americana stylists as Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris. Her take on Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares To You” will make you weep. Just as important to the band’s sound are the wonderful harmonies that band-members, and multi-instrumentalists Andrew Dale and Phil Churchill form with Hollett.

In fact, it was harmonizing that first brought the three together. While part of a summer theatre company in 2006, they started singing around a kitchen table. Their chemistry was so immediate – a “light-bulb moment” according to Dale – that it led them to keep singing, and making music, together.

Over the past few years, The Once has been making a name for themselves across the country. The trio has collected a trio of Canadian Folk Music Awards, been named Newfoundland & Labrador Art Council’s Artist of the Year, and earned a JUNO nom for best Roots/Traditional album. Now, the rest of world is discovering their incandescent, harmony-rich acoustic music. They are in the midst of a staggering world tour in support of Departures, their 2014 release – taking on dates in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the UK, and across Canada.

Don’t hesitate to get on The Once band wagon. As one pundit said, “Simply put, they’re a joy to witness.”

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The Jerry Cans

The Jerry Cans (NU)

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Welcome to Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut. It’s a little more than 2,000 kilometers north of Montreal, more than 3,500 from Vancouver. Twenty minutes by small plane south of the Arctic Circle. Three days by dogsled from the closest community. Insanely high food costs. A few less than 7,000 people, and pretty well everyone has access to a truck or a snowmobile. And everyone has jerry cans full of gasoline.

Iqaluit is home to the The Jerry Cans. Some down-south writers have described them as a cross between the Clash and the Pogues — and that’s not too far from the mark. Try to imagine Inuk throat singing mixed with the fire and energy of a Celtic band in a packed bar, and then add a hint of reggae, the gruff passion of Johnny Cash, powerful fiddle parts and rough-hewn vocals in Inuktitut and English.

Their “politics” expresses hope and encouragement for young people in the North, and the need to preserve a distinct culture. And the “message” is that you should dance, and that you should get to know more — a lot more — about Canada’s north. This truly unique band will take you on a stroll through the streets of Iqaluit to share a glimpse of Arctic life.

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The Downhill Strugglers

The Downhill Strugglers (NY)

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“pulling their bows deftly across the best numbers in the old-time songbook with more grit and style than just about any group fiddling away today.” – Nathan Salsburg, Curator, Alan Lomax Archive.

The Down Hill Strugglers (formerly known as the Dust Busters) is an old time string band based out of Brooklyn, NY.

They carry the music of the old rural America forward with verve and creativity, extending the legacy of the New Lost City Ramblers by bringing archaic sounds into the present, challenging audiences to reject a dystopian future animated by disco beats and their ilk.

The band formed while hanging out at the home of their mutual friend, Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders, where they also met friend and mentor John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers. 

Today, Cohen says, ““The Down Hill Strugglers bring back the true spirit of Old Time Music, where every singer invented his own performance. Besides being excellent musicians on fiddle, banjo and guitar, pump organ, harmonica, etc., they sing with the high voices that echo the sounds of young artists heard on the old 78s, evoking the spirit of the ‘Golden Era’ of recording… They have built their repertoire from some of the best music of the past and they keep it alive and lively. They have found resonance with the intensity of rural music, while delighting in the nuances that preserve the individual uniqueness of the genre. This is music that will keep your mind dancing.”

The Strugglers have released an album on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, are featured on the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, produced by T-Bone Burnett, and have have been “kicking musical ass all over the landscape” from the Borgas International Folk Music Festival in Bulgaria to Hillbilly Days in Pikeville, Kentucky.

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