Red Chamber is a Chinese music supergroup based in Vancouver (Canada). The ensemble includes four renowned instrumentalists, Mei Han (zheng), Guilian Liu (pipa), Zhimin Yu (ruan), and Geling Jiang (sanxian).
On the album Regrass, the group performs stringband music wizardry exclusively on plucked instruments. The repertoire on the Redgrass CD includes Imperial Court classics of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) as well as contemporary compositions that include bluegrass, eastern European horo, jazz and other genres.
Although Mei Han moved to the Nashville (Tennessee) area in the United States, the group is still active.
Anita Katakkar is a Canadian percussionist who specializes in tabla. Her ancestry is Indian and Scottish. She grew up listening to Indian music through her grandmother.
Anita studied tabla with Ritesh Das in Canada and later in India with Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri. She spent 10 years as a member of the Toronto Tabla Ensemble.
In 2009 Anita formed Rakkatak in Toronto. It started as a solo project with Anita on her tabla, a laptop, and a sequencer to create a decidedly personal mix of classical Indian music and electronica. Rakkatak became a band with the addition of bassist Oriana Barbato and sitarist Rex Van der Spuy. Rakkatak’s style changed, concentrating on a less electronic form of Indian fusion.
In addition to her Rakkatak work, Anita teaches tabla, collaborates with yoga instructors and frequently DJs for Yoga classes in Toronto-area studios. She created music to link breath to movement with her Yoga Trax project.
Rakkatak (2010) Open (2014)
Small Pieces (Rakkatak RA017, 2017)
Rakkatak is a Canadian duo led by tabla master Anita Katakkar and bassist Oriana Barbato. Their album Small Pieces came out this week. It’s a remarkable mix of percussive Indian classical music and western musical forms, including rock and jazz-rock fusion.
Small Pieces contains original pieces by Rakkatak along with some surprising versions of well-known songs. The most famous is “Norwegian Wood,” the Beatles’ song composed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The other unexpected song is Rush’s “YYZ.” Rush is one of Canada’s most famous rock bands and Anita Katakkar found connections in its rhythmic structure and odd time signatures.
In addition to the familiar tabla, Anita Katakkar adds other percussion instruments to her arsenal such as the western glockenspiel, creating an unpredictable partnership between the tabla and the bell sound of the glockenspiel.
On Small pieces Rakkatak is joined by sitar player Rex Van der Spuy as well as several other guests on Indian-style vocals and other instruments.
The last track on the album, “Riffing On 9,” takes Rakkatak in yet another direction, This timer it’s an example of the work Anita Katakkar did in the past, mixing Indian percussion with electronics, inspired by the Asian Underground movement.
The lineup on Small Pieces includes Anita Katakkar on tabla, cajón, glockenspiel and harmonium; Oriana Barbato on bass, shaker and cabasa; Rex Van der Spuy on sitar; Sina Bathaie on santur; Randolf Jiménez on drums; Samidha Joglekar on vocals; Joanna De Souza on manjira; Jessica Deutsche on violin; Steve Oda on sarod; Philippe Tasci on guitar; Reza Moghaddas on keyboard; and Joanna Mack on sitar.
Battle of Santiago – La Migra (Made With Pencil Crayons, 2017)
Canadian band Battle of Santiago’s style has evolved towards a vibrant mix of Afro-Cuban rhythms, post rock, dub, cumbia, Cuban Yoruba chants, funk and beyond. The band became more “Cuban” as more musicians from the Caribbean island joined. Battle of Santiago is based in Toronto, which has a large Cuban expatriate community.
The title of the album is La Migra, which is the name Mexicans and other Spanish-speaking immigrants give to the border patrol or immigration officers. Another evolution of the band is that they’ve added vocals. The classic Cuban-style vocals mixed with the post rock influences makes the experience unique. There is also a little bit of rapping which doesn’t fit that well with the band’s forward-thinking sound.
The Battle of Santiago’s name could have several different meanings depending on what part of Latin America you’re in. Battle of Santiago’s founder, bassist Michael Owen, indicates that it reflects how the band’s music can change and also the sound clash between the Anglo and Hispanic sections of the band.
La Migra showcases the talent of Battle of Santiago, a band developed in Toronto’s melting pot, who have developed a dazzling mix of Afro-Cuban music, electronics and post rock.
Times are changing. And yet, we still gaze backwards at ancient musical traditions and continue preserving the cultures of our lineages. In British Columbia, Canada, musicians from varying musical and religious traditions share an orchestra and stage. The musicians perform on modern European and traditional instruments from Asia, the Middle East and beyond. We can only wonder the types of non-musical conversations occur as the musicians exchange and share their backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences. They are a microcosm of how the world could become.
Recently, the recording, Mystics and Lovers crossed my path. The album featuring the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra (VICO) and Vancouver’s Laudate Singers (a chamber choir) bridges a large gap between the Islamic and Jewish worldviews via the exploration of ancient music and poetic or prayerful chants. Now, anyone who has listened to “world music” for several years, if not decades, has come across Sufi poetry performed by Iranian musicians and heard Jewish prayer songs and chants. We have heard fusion groups featuring songs from major religions. VICO goes beyond these scenarios in that you will find a Chinese zither player sitting next to a Middle Eastern dulcimer player.
Recently, as part of my new YouTube channel, Whole Music Experience, I interviewed Moshe Denburg who plays an integral role with VICO. In fact, he composed Ani Ma-amin (I Believe) which appears on the recording. It is based on the Jewish faith tradition. However, Denburg spoke of more than his composition or religious upbringing. I’m including the podcast of that appears on the Whole Music Experience channel. You can also find it on the Whole Music Experience blog.
Similar to VICO, I have a mission to unite musicians and musical practitioners (as in music therapists and sound healers, ethnomusicologists and researchers) to join together and usher in peace on the planet. I also have a Go Fund Me campaign to get the ball rolling. You can learn about this on my YouTube channel and blog.
Loreena McKennitt was born and raised in Morden, Manitoba, a town of Irish, Scottish, German, and Icelandic inhabitants in the middle of the Canadian prairies. The most vigorous Highland dancer in her rural community, she was raised by her mother, a nurse, and her livestock-trader father. “It was a very modest community. People came from immigrant stock. Survival was the order of the day and in some ways broad cultural exposure was limited. Although my family’s ancestors on the most part came from Ireland, there was very little overt ‘Celticness’ to my upbringing in the sense of music or storytelling.”
After an adolescence spent in Morden, McKennitt was eager to move into a wider world. She was first exposed to the Celtic folk boom in a Winnipeg folk club. “The first step for me was Celtic music. The whole sound drew me in an almost instinctive way and it became this vehicle to pursue history in a way I could never have imagined,” she recalls.
In more cosmopolitan Winnipeg, she briefly studied to be a veterinarian, before moving on to finally settle in Stratford, Ontario, where her composing and performing skills were soon appreciated in the lively scene around the city’s internationally renowned Shakespearean Festival. McKennitt still makes her home there, living in a rural farmhouse.
Already in love with Yeats and the music of Breton harpist Alan Stivell, Planxty and the Bothy Band, McKennitt could sense the lyricism of Irish folk music. When she made her first journey to Ireland in 1982 she was to find a similar lyricism in the contours of the land and the spirit of the people.
Back home, she put her newly stirred Celtic fervor into an interpretation of Yeats’s “The Stolen Child.” Inspired by a D.I.Y book called How to Make and Sell Your Own Recording, by Diane Sward Rappaport, she set up her own record company, Quinlan Road, in 1985, and recorded Elemental, a nine-song cassette. She ran off copies and began selling them from her car while meeting the public on the most immediate level, as a busker.
As McKennitt’s mailing list grew, word of mouth in cafés and bookshops built her a significant audience. Her growing audience empathized while McKennitt explored the traditional canon, always seeking the reverberation that would make an ancient voice harmonize with her own. She’s particularly proud of tracking down “Bonny Portmore,” included on The Visit. An obscure ballad mourning the loss of ancient British stands of oak, once worshipped by pre-Christian tribes, it has a contemporary relevance to today’s fight to save old-growth forests.
McKennitt followed Elemental by cutting a seasonal perennial in the Christmas carols of To Drive the Cold Winter Away (1987), and made her first steps towards cross-cultural fertilization in the subsequent Parallel Dreams(1989). It was at this time she was commissioned to score music for the National Film Board of Canada’s acclaimed film series “Women and Spirituality.”
A pivotal moment for McKennitt’s evolution occurred in 1991 in Venice, Italy, at the largest ever exhibition and collection of international Celtic artifacts. “Until I went to that exhibition, I thought that Celts were people who came from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany,” recalls McKennitt.
Seeing the unimagined riches and variety in the centuries of Celtic art gathered from as far afield as Hungary, Ukraine, Spain and Asia Minor, she recalls, “I felt exhilarated. It was like thinking that all there is to your family are your parents, brothers and sisters, and then you realize there’s a whole stretch of history that is an extension of who you are.” That epiphany transformed McKennitt’s music.
The primeval sounding tambura drone that introduced her next album, The Visit (1992), announced a new direction with its bold, cinematic interpretations of Shakespeare and Tennyson, and an unusually edgy take on the Henry VIII-penned ballad, “Greensleeves.” This process reached a dramatic flowering on 1994’s The Mask and Mirror. McKennitt’s new staging post on the voyage was in Galicia, the Celtic corner of Spain, and then on into 15th-century Spain itself when the cultures of Islam, Christianity and Judaism merged to produce what is still remembered as the Golden Age, a time of profound cultural influence on the evolution of Western civilization.
The distinctiveness of McKennitt’s musical vision is matched by the independence with which she has approached the music business. “I think coming from a farming and rural background gave me the insight into being self-sufficient. You become familiar with creative problem solving. If you want something badly enough, you will roll up your sleeves and start chipping away.”
When McKennitt decided the time was ripe to move toward the industry establishment, she signed a unique deal with the Warner Group for the world. It is a deal which has been very fruitful indeed as her recordings have gone on to sell in the millions in over 40 countries. Beginning with The Visit, Warner distributed her work, while she controlled every aspect of creation and promotion.
Her album The Book of Secrets was conceived over several journeys, including one taken via the legendary Trans Siberian Express, in which the self-managed singer and record company head found the quiet she needed to reflect and prepare the album.. Finally, she had the time to read Dante’s The Divine Comedy, echoes of which appear in the album’s closing track, Dante’s Prayer. “As with the last three recordings, this one is also a document of my own path of exploration through the vehicle of music and history. There are a lot of mechanisms within our contemporary society that seem to dilute and diminish our sense of identity. As a result, I think there is a heightened need to understand who you are, what your roots are, and where they are connected.”
Her seventh full-length studio album, An Ancient Muse, was released on Quinlan Road in November 2006. An Ancient Muse was produced by Loreena McKennitt and co-produced by Brian Hughes, and was recorded at Real World Studios in England. Its nine tracks continue her exploration of Celtic themes on a journey that sweeps across time and musical genres, from the British Isles to ancient Greece and Byzantine- and Ottoman-era Turkey.
Musical collaborators include Brian Hughes, Donald Quan, Hugh Marsh, Caroline Lavelle, Stefen Hannigan, Rick Lazar, Hossam Ramzy, Annbjorg Lien, Nigel Eaton, Manu Katche, Charlie Jones, Ben Grossman, Jason Hann, Tal Bergman, Tim Landers, Clive Deamer, Ed Henley, Haig Yazdjian, Panos Dimitrakopoulos, Sokratis Sinopoulos and Georgios Kontogiannis and percussion ensemble Krotala.
In celebration of the 2008 holiday season, Quinlan Road released Loreena McKennitt’s A Midwinter Night’s Dream. The holiday themed album features eight new songs alongside five tracks from McKennitt’s 1995 EP, A Winter Garden: Five Songs For The Season, that were completely re-mastered for the new release. This holiday collection features an array of influences ranging from Celtic to classical to Middle Eastern. McKennitt’s eclecticism shines through in the mysticism of “The Holly and the Ivy,” the exotic Eastern arrangements of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” the Latin-sung “Emmanuel” and “Noël Nouvelet!” sung in Old French.
McKennitt recorded A Midwinter Night’s Dream at Peter Gabriel’s Real World recording studio near Bath, England following a highly successful European tour. With McKennitt providing vocals as well as accompaniment on the piano, accordion and harp, the record features a diverse instrumentation that includes oud, fiddle, cello, viola, percussion, hurdy gurdy, Greek lyra and Greek lute.
“Not only did I want to recapture some of the frankincense and myrrh in this music,” McKennitt explains, “but the process was a fresh reminder of the diversity of so many traditions when it comes to music of the winter season. The songs are rich with abundant references to the natural world and connections to our spiritual and religious bearings; it is clear that people have used winter as a time of reflection.”
In 2009 she released A Mediterranean Odyssey, a two-disc collection that commemorated Loreena’s 2009 Mediterranean tour and combined newly recorded live performances of audience favorites with previously released studio recordings, all inspired by the tones, textures and rich cultural heritage of the Mediterranean.
The first disc, From Istanbul to Athens, features 56 minutes of concert highlights from the tour, including several songs that have never before been recorded live. It also includes a 24-page booklet with lavish illustrations and photos from the tour.
The second CD, The Olive and the Cedar, consists of 11 conceptualized studio versions of songs personally selected by Loreena from her catalog. The disc focuses on her musical travel writing approach to the studio recording process and her inspiration in relation to the history of the Celts around the Aegean, the Mediterranean, North Africa and the near East.
As a composer, McKennitt has written music for productions at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario and the National Film Board of Canada. She has three feature length film scores to her credit and has contributed to several soundtracks for both film and television, the most recent being Disney’s fall 2008 DVD release Tinker Bell.
In 2007, McKennitt was nominated for a Grammy Award and was the recipient of a North American Folk Alliance Award. She has also won two Junos, Canada’s premier music award, in addition to a Billboard International Achievement Award.
As founder of The Cook-Rees Memorial Fund for Water Search and Safety, she has been recognized for her civic and community service, raising nearly four million dollars through the sale of Live in Paris and Toronto to advance water safety education and research. McKennitt has also established The Three Oaks Foundation, a fund which supports cultural, environmental, historical and family groups.
Éric Beaudry was first exposed to traditional Quebec music in Saint-Côme, a village in Quebec’s Lanaudière region. Raised by a family entrenched in music, he began singing and playing guitar at the age of 10.
In 1992, he founded La Galvaude, followed-up later by Ni Sarpe Ni Branche and Norouet. Éric’s passion for music also helped foster an interest in song, which led to several awards including a 2002 Prix Mnémo for his role in producing the album Musique gaspésienne, featuring violinist Édouard Richard.
In 2003, Éric became a member of acclaimed band La Bottine Souriante. Éric’s love of music also spurred a passion for enlightening others and, following the completion of a Bachelor of Arts in pop guitar and jazz, Éric began teaching traditional music at Joliette’s CEGEP régional de Lanaudière in 2002.
Composer, virtuoso fiddler and skilled step dancer Natalie Ann MacMaster was born on June 13, 1972 in Troy, Nova Scotia, Canada. She was raised in a musical family steeped in Scottish heritage.
Natalie began playing at age 9 after having been given a small fiddle by her great uncle. From the early days, she was encouraged by her father and musically influenced by her uncle, Buddy MacMaster, an undisputed master of the Cape Breton fiddle.
Natalie’s career flourished rapidly. From a small beginning playing at dances and concerts in and around Cape Breton to representing Nova Scotia on the world’s stages. Natalie has become a musical ambassador for a new musical generation of Cape Breton musicians. Whether performing with a small format or with her full band, Natalie’s concerts are a dazzling blend of musical virtuosity and lively step dancing.
Natalie’s first three recordings gained major nominations and awards from the East Coast Music Association. In 1992, she won the Roots/Traditional Artist Award. In 1994, her third album, Fit as a Fiddle, earned Natalie the Instrumental Artist of the Year Award. In 1995, she was nominated as Entertainer of the Year.
Natalie’s phenomenal stage presence has led to considerable media attention. She was profiled by various TV shows. In June of 1995, Natalie won over a crowd of 80,000 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as opening act for Carlos Santana. A broken fiddle string couldn’t keep her down as Natalie continued playing using only her bottom two strings.
Natalie has headlined in cities such as London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Brussels, and Tokyo. And for several years, she has acted as guest instructor and performer at the world renowned Mark O’Connor Fiddle Camp in Nashville.
In March of 1996, Natalie received a phone call from Ireland’s The Chieftains requesting that she open for them on a four-week tour of the United States. The Chieftains obviously saw something in Natalie that their audiences would soon come to appreciate. MacMaster capably and expertly delivered the goods. The highlight of each performance had to be Natalie joining The Chieftains at show’s end to fiddle and dance.
Natalie’s first two independent recordings, Road to the Isle and Four on the Floor, have each sold in excess of 12,000 copies each … and that’s on cassette only. Her third Indie release, Fit as a Fiddle, racked up sales of more than 30,000 copies on CD and cassette.
In the spring of 1996, Warner Music Canada negotiated a major label deal with Natalie for the album No Boundaries. Produced by Chad Irschick (The Rankin Family, Loreena McKennitt, Susan Aglukark), No Boundaries is exactly that. Natalie’s diversity extends to places her fans could have never imagined. From beautiful classic pieces through ragtime and country music, Natalie continues to step across musical lines. Special note should be made of guest appearances by Cookie Rankin on “Drunken Piper,” Bruce Guthro on “Fiddle &Bow,” and a host of Canada’s best musicians.
In 1997, Rounder Records made No Boundaries available in the United States and also re-released Fit As A Fiddle. The success of these releases led to the re-release of A Compilation in 1998.
A good example of MacMaster’s energy during her live performances was documented in a double album recorded live, released in 2002. The sessions were made at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga (Ontario) and at an old hall in the woods in rural Glencoe, Cape Breton Island.
Blueprint (2003) was Natalie MacMaster’s first studio recording since 1999’s In My Hands. On Blueprint, MacMaster mixes Celtic, Jazz, and Bluegrass. Special guests include Bela Fleck (banjo), Jerry Douglas (Dobro), Sam Bush (mandolin), and Edgar Meyer (bass).
Natalie MacMaster collaborated with cellist Yo-Yo Ma on the Grammy-winning album “Songs of Joy & Peace” (2008) and artists as diverse as Alison Krauss, Jesse Cook, and Béla Fleck.
Fiddle album One, released in 2015, features Natalie MacMaster and her husband Donnell Leahy. In addition to the familiar Celtic sounds, the album features distorted electric guitars, two players on one piano, and a drum kit made of paint cans and a cardboard box.
In 2016, Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy released A Celtic Family Christmas accompanied by an outstanding group of musicians and their children. The album features classic Christmas songs seasoned with the duo’s style of Celtic tradition. “We have celebrated Christmas in a big way our entire lives and finally have recorded the music,” said Natalie MacMaster.
Natalie MacMaster is a recipient of the Order of Canada. She has won two JUNO and 11 East Coast Music Awards.
André Brunet was born in Lacolle, in Quebec’s Montérégie region. Growing up, it was his parents who first noticed his keen interest in music and encouraged him to follow his passion. André’s first love was for the violin and, at the age of nine, he began taking lessons. Along with brother Réjean, he created Les Frères Brunet and went on to record several albums and perform at various concerts around the world.
In 1997, André’s unwavering energy and refined style earned him a spot with La Bottine Souriante, with whom he toured more than 15 countries over the course of 10 years.
Although his journey with La Bottine Souriante came to an end in 2006, André remained immersed in traditional music. At the Grand Masters Fiddling Competition in August 2008—an event showcasing more than twenty violinists from across Canada— André took home top honors as “Grand Master of Canada”.
It was the first time a Quebecer had won the prestigious award since the competition’s inception in 1990. Whether he’s accompanying his wife Martine Billette for a piano duet, or playing alongside fiddle stylists Kevin Burke (Ireland), Christian Lemaître (Brittany) and Ged Foley of Celtic Fiddle Festival, André feels right at home on any stage.
Today, his passion for traditional Quebec music continues to pave the way for dance and swing enthusiasts the world over—a true journey of musical discovery.