Vas vocalist Azam Ali; Axiom of Choice’s multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian; and producer/remixer Carmen Rizzo joined forces to create a globe-spanning sound that the trio calls “folk music for the 21st century.” Known collectively as Niyaz, the trio represents the best of both traditional world music and electronic music.
With an ethereal beguiling sound that evokes centuries of women’s voices from medieval Europe to the modern Middle East , Azam Ali was half of the best-selling duo Vas (with percussionist Greg Ellis). Her singing has been heard in several major motion pictures including The Matrix: Revolutions and on many television programs such as Alias and The Agency.
Loga Ramin Torkian, whose band Axiom of Choice won much critical acclaim is deeply involved with the music of his homeland Iran. He is accomplished on the guitar the Turkish saz and electric guitarviol (a 14th century European bowed guitar) a traditional Persian lute as well as other Turkish and Kurdish instruments. Loga also uses the Persian classical repertoire known as the radif within his own compositions.
Carmen Rizzo has collaborated with a diverse range of artists including Seal, Alanis Morisette, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Khaled, Ekova and Cirque du Soleil as well as Paul Oakenfold, BT Esthero, Jem Alpha, Tiesto and Grant Lee Phillips.
For these three artists Niyaz represents a real departure from their usual avenues of artistic expression. Their first joint album weaves together ten beautiful mystical poems written by some of the greatest Sufi poets of all time with music accessible to a contemporary audience. Azam who was born in Iran but largely raised in India, sings in both Farsi (the Persian language) as well as in Urdu a language widely spoken in India and in Pakistan.
The music too represents cultural combinations of the highest order crossing back and forth over centuries of musical expression to combine ancient instruments rhythms and tonalities with brand new sounds. Mingling the textures of traditional acoustic music with new electronica Niyaz represents a finely-tuned balance that ushers in a new era of artistic possibilities for Iranian music.
Niyaz’s second CD, titled Nine Heavens came out in 2008. Nine Heavens was released as a double CD (featuring one disc of electronic and one disc of acoustic versions of the tracks).
Continuing to bridge the gap between traditional and modern world music Niyaz follows up 2005’s critically acclaimed and highly successful self-debut album with another recording of traditional sounds balanced tastefully with modern electronics.
Nine Heavens reveals a much more complex body of work featuring nine intricately carved original arrangements and compositions of traditional folk songs and mystical Sufi poems from Iran the Indian sub-continent and Turkey. With a strong emphasis on composition Niyaz centers on the deep interconnectedness between the music of Iran India and Turkey and delves further into the traditional melodies of these regions with outstanding performances by its core members as well as guest musicians of the highest caliber from these three traditions.
The lyrical framework for Nine Heavens once again features beautiful Persian and Urdu mystical poems by some of the greatest Sufi poets two original interpretations of traditional folk songs from Khorassan Iran and one soulful folk song from Maras Turkey. For the Iranian portion of the album Niyaz shift their focus from the beloved Sufi poet Rumi onto another great Iranian 13th century mystic/poet/musician Amir Khosrau Dehlavi who was born and raised in India and went on to become an iconic figure in the cultural history of the Indian sub-continent where he is revered to this day by thousands. ForNiyaz Dehlavi?s work embodies the very spirit of their music which focuses on the timeless exchange between these two cultures. For the Urdu portion of the album Niyaz features Ghazals and Rubaiyats by renowned 18th century Sufi poets Khwaja Mir Dard and Hali.
Their 2012 album Sumud expands on the theme of the music and identity of Iranians living in exile while adding their new experiences and worldviews learned during their heavy touring through the Middle East in the past seven years. “We have now travelled across the world and those experiences have affected the journey that we are on and the direction we’ve taken on this album,” Ali said from her new home in Montreal. “We’ve performed in the Kurdish parts of Turkey during times of major conflicts as well as other parts of the Middle East. Obviously that has affected this project. We wanted to focus on the ethnic and religious minority groups in these regions because they have really struggled to maintain their identity. It started from us wanting to tell our story and it has evolved into this humanitarian social message embracing regions around Iran.”
La Bottine Souriante first appeared on the Quebec music scene in 1976. This remarkable group has released in just twenty three years ten albums; three are certified Gold (meaning that over 5 copies have been sold) and one is Platinum (over 1 sold). Altogether they have sold over half a million albums! On top of all this the group has won dozens of awards and headlined festivals around the world. La Bottine Souriante is no longer simply a Quebecois/Canadian musical phenomenon. The group and their explosive sound have crossed borders the world over and left in their wake countless enchanted audiences. The group has developed a distinctive sound all its own that successfully allies its homage to tradition with a dash of jazz, salsa, and pure folk while at the same time perfectly representing the symbol of vitality and pride of its mother culture. In addition the music identifies strongly with the current World Music movement.
La Bottine has developed an exceptionally tight cohesive sound with a music that celebrates. These two elements music and celebration characterized by pulsating rhythm breathtaking sound and exuberant spirit have been inseparable since time immemorial. And it is directly into this turbulent energy that La Bottine Souriante sweeps its rapturous public.
Comprised of nine solid musicians traditionally-rooted group members include : Michel Bordeleau (foot-tapping drum mandolin fiddle guitar vocals); lead singer Yves Lambert (button accordion harmonica); and Andre Brunet (fiddle guitar) with jazzmen Regent Archambault (acoustic and electric bass) and Pierre Belisle (piano piano accordion) taking up the swing. Since 1990, a four-piece brass section has added an even more exciting dimension to La Bottine’s incomparable sound featuring Jean Fr?chette (saxophone and arrangements) Robert “Bob” Ellis (bass trombone) Andre Verreault (trombone) and Jocelyn Lapointe ( trumpet).
La Bottine Souriante took part to numerous Folk Festivals around the world among them Tonder Festival and the prestigious WOMAD. The group appears on many compilations notably with Irish Paddy Molony and The Chieftains (Fire in the Kitchen). After a worldwide deal with EMI La Bottine Souriante is developing an international career.
Aiming and encouraging the inspiration of traditional music La Bottine Souriante in 1993 created their own company. Les Productions Mille-Pattes is a leader in the transmision of traditional music in Quebec and a example to be followed for a younger generation of musicians. The label Mille-Pattes proudly represents groups such as La Bottine Souriante Michel Faubert Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer Yves Lambert Les Batinses Daniel Roy Entourloupe le trio Marchand-Ornstein-Miron as well as Danielle Martineau & Rockabayou.
Y’a ben du changement (1978)
Les Apousailles (198)
Chic ‘n Swell (1982)
La Traversee de l’Atlantique (1986)
Tout comme au jour de l’An (1987)
Je voudrais changer d’chapeau (1988) Jusqu’aux p’tites heures (1992)
La Mistrine (1994)
En spectacle (1996)
Xieme (1998) released in the United States as Rock ‘n Reel
J’ai jamais tant ri (2003) Appelation D’Origine Controlee (Borealis Records, 2012)
The Duhks is a group of musicians and singers from Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the Canadian prairies. The first lineup included Leonard Podolak on banjo and vocals; Jessee Havey on lead vocals; Jordan McConnell on guitar; Scott Senior on percussion; and Tania Elizabeth on fiddle and vocals.
Since 2003, The Duhks’ music was hard to define. Some called it “contemporary acoustic,” “progressive soulgrass,” and rock-folk fusion. The group’s fascinating fusion appeared on the band’s self-titled CD, The Duhk (Sugar Hill).
With the album The Duhks, the band won widespread acknowledgement as a rising neo folk-rock band. The band won a JUNO award (Canada’s top music award), and successfully toured the world.
Environmental issues are a passion for The Duhks, inspiring the band to create The Duhks Sustainability Project (www.greenduhks.com) in October 2007. Led by Tania Elizabeth, The Duhks goal was to “tour on as sustainable a basis as possible; fueling our vehicle with Biodiesel, supporting local organic farmers wherever we go, wearing sustainable eco-conscious clothing, using earth-friendly shampoos, soaps and cosmetics and offsetting remaining CO2 emissions with carbon credits.”
“As a band, it’s something we feel very strongly about,” said founder and banjo player Leonard Podolak. “We just want to reduce our carbon footprint as much as humanly possible.”
Fast Paced World was released in 2008, recorded in Jay Joyce’s Nashville studio. “Jay’s basement studio was like something out of the Star Trek Enterprise,” said Podolak. “Joyce was very open to our ideas and very easy to work with. I also think he learned as much from us as we did from him about combining the acoustic and electric elements of our songs in a studio setting.”
In 2016, The Duhks announced that they would no longer be touring.
Tanya Tagaq is a performer and improviser of Inuit throat singing. Born and raised in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Tagaq left her community at 15 to attend Sir John Franklin High School. Continuing her education, she attained her Bachelor of Fine Arts and the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design. During her final year of school, weary of `southern’ culture and yearning for home, she began emulating tapes of throat singing sent by her mother.
Inuit throat singing has traditionally been a two-person voice game using vocal multiphonics and vocal percussion techniques. While studying at a Nova Scotia university with no other Inuit women to play with, Tanya Tagaq began throat-singing solo. She found soloing a good way to express herself, her culture, and her art to her new colleagues. It was also a fine way of teaching Inuit throat singing to others, thus creating singing partners and introducing a growing number of people to a little known art.
Tanya Tagaq can perform solo but prefers to improvise with other capable musicians. She is able to present workshops and seminars on Inuit throat singing and a number of other things.
Since the release of her debut CD Sinaa (meaning ‘edge’) in 2005, the Canadian Nunavut-born singer has not just attracted the attention of some of the world’s most groundbreaking artists, they have invited her to participate on their own musical projects. Recently recording once again with Bjork (on the soundtrack for the Matthew Barney film Drawing Restraint 9), having appeared on Bjork’s Medulla CD and accompanied her on the Vespertine tour.
In 2007 the acclaimed Kronos Quartet invited Tanya to participate – as co-writer and performer – on a project aptly titled Nunavut, performed across North America since 2008.
Sinaa was nominated for a Juno Award (Best Aboriginal Recording) and won in three categories at the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, including Best Female Artist.
“Traditional throat singing is a game between two women that is an emulation of the sounds from the land. It is a very complicated game where you are making two sounds and you have to go back and forth alternating the sounds. The leader can change the song to the next verse anytime they want to, so you have to be able to follow them. It is not emotional, although it may sound that way. It is a game, you giggle afterwards.” Tanya Tagaq
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.