Ensemble all about world music

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Music: Sultans of String performing for Beneath the Arch March 11

A Toronto ensemble will have listeners feeling like they’re traveling the world at this weekend’s Beneath the Arch Concert Series’ performance.

Award-winning multi-genre group Sultans of String will perform Celtic, flamenco, gypsy-jazz, Arabic, Cuban and south Asian rhythms at the Flare ‘n’ Derrick Community Hall in Turner Valley March 11 at 3 p.m.

The ensemble, which consists of Chris McKhool on violin, Drew Birston on bass, Rosendo Chendy Leon on percussion and Kevin Laliberte on guitar, won three Canadian folk music awards and was nominated for the Juno Awards three times. It also had songs hit No. 1 on national radio charts.

“We’ve been exploring world music rhythms for the past 10 years together and our albums have been very eclectic,” said McKhool.

“Usually we get standing ovations by people who have never heard us before because there is something about the music that we play that touches people very deeply.”

McKhool, a recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work creating community through music, said Sultans of String brings music that’s both personal and fun to listeners.

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but also we’re playing songs that have meaning to us and everything comes from the heart,” he said. “If I don’t feel the heart connection with it I usually won’t bring it to the band for rehearing and performing.”

McKhool said the ensemble has a special treat for listeners this time around.

Sitar master Anwar Khurshid will join the ensemble as a special guest. Sultans of String composed and recorded its fifth album Subcontinental Drift in partnership with Khurshid, who moved to Canada from his homeland of Pakistan two decades ago.

For the first time, Khurshid was able to express himself musically.

“He wasn’t permitted to play music in his home village in Pakistan so coming to Canada was really a place where he could find the freedom to be the person he is,” McKhool said. “He’s just such a musical guy and really lives for music.”

Khurshid’s story was the inspiration behind the music the ensemble wrote for Subcontinental Drift.

“Together we started writing songs about the freedom we have in Canada and stories of some of the band members,” he said. “This is the first time that we created a whole body of work with a special guest, which was a different process for us. To actually compose with the guest an entire album and create a whole world around where our music meets with the guest was really a much larger scope than anything we’ve done before.”

One musician would play a note with another responding to that note, McKhool said.

“We would come up with these hour-long movements of music and then we would have to figure out how to put them into four-minute song forms,” he said. “It was a really good chance for us to go deeper into one style of music or joining our inherent styles growing up in Canada with Anwar’s style.”

Sultans of String albums typically have multiple musical influences, but for Subcontinental Drift the musicians delved deeper into one style of music to find an intersection between eastern and western music, McKhool said.

Those planning to attend this weekend’s concert will get a blend of both.

“There are some songs, which it wouldn’t feel like a Sultan of String concert if we didn’t play them,” he said. “We will play some of our hits like Sable Island, but a big part of the show will be the intersection where our music meets with Anwar.”

When it comes to performing, the vision is to bring music from around the world to Canadians to showcase incredible music and musicians they find along the way. The other is to tell Canadian stories.

“There’s almost always as much storytelling as there is music,” he said. “Even when we’re playing instrumental music each song tells a story and usually we introduce a song with a story to place it in people’s minds and have it make sense. My favourite thing is when people come to a show who have never heard of us before be like, ‘I have no idea what kind of music it was. I really liked it.’ That’s the best reaction we can get.”

Tickets to see the Sultans of String cost $25 for adults and $10 for children ages six to 12 years. They can be purchased at the Bluerock Gallery in Black Diamond or online at beneaththearch.ca

To learn more about the ensemble go to sultansofstring.com

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