Sunday, May 16, 2004

Aay Wha' Kinda Indian Arr U? and other WORD Reviews circa 1997


One of the highlights of the just concluded Asian Liberation Month was the launching of Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta's "Aay Wha' Kinda Indian Arr U?"(Up Press) a 40 minute cassette of epic poetry interwoven with South Asian and North American Indigenous mus
ic. Krisantha is a Toronto artist, born in Sri Lanka. His new work covers an incredible span of history and satire on what it means to be South Asian/Black living on First Nations' land in the Americas. Krisantha continues in the best tradition of Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mutabaruka and Benjamin Zephaniah. To get hold of this independent tape, contact Arani's at 401 Spadina Avenue or call (416)929-1966.

Two of the most dominant voices in Middle Eastern music are enjoying renewed interest with the Canadian record buying public.Abdel Halim Hafez has been dead for 20 years yet he remains a cultural icon not only in his native Egypt, but wherever Arab music is sold. EMI has just put out a "20th Anniversary" compilation of his greatest songs. Some of the best include "Gana Alhawa", "Sawah" and "El Touba". Hafez was a strong supporter of Abdel Nasser progressive government and often sang of the plight of Arab people struggling for self-determination. By the time he died at age 48 he left behind a legacy of 260 songs, sixteen feature films and seventeen programmes and movies made for television.

Fairuz is the other giant. She is still alive and selling out huge auditoriums whenever she performs. The Lebanese born Fairuz (her name means "Turqoise") started singing
as a child and was a star by age seventeen. For an introduction to some of her classics, check out "Fairuz Live at The Royal Festival Hall London" (SACEM). She starts out on side 1 with "Shatty Ya Deney" followed by "Addeysh Kan Fi Nass" and "Sanarijiou Yaoumann". Most of the songs are written by the Rahbani Brothers (she was married to the late Assy Rahbani, a legend in his own right) except for "Zourouni" in which Cheikh Sayed Darwiche shares the credits. Her melodious voice note sings of love and relationships but also calls for freedom and justice, peace and social progress.

Sisa Picari's "Wardance against the Invaders (Novadisc) is a collection of Indigenous Andean music from Ecaudor and Bolivia. Sisa Picari (the name means "flower of the dawn" in Quichua) began playing together in a village in Northern Ecuador. They are familiar faces on the Toronto music scene. They use a number of traditional instruments like the Quena (bamboo flute) the Samponas and the Mangashimi. as well the drum and the charango (a small guitar made from the shell of the armadillo). The other powerful asset in Sisa Picari's musical arsenal is the impressive cache of melodious and expressive vocals of Luis Alonso Farinago, Jose Domingo Maldonado, Jacinto Anguaya and Rudy Rivera.. Sisa Picari talks of the 500 years of genocide against the indigenous people of Abia Yala ( one of the traditional names of the Americas) locating their music firmly within the collective culture of resistance. One of the most stirring songs in this 11 track CD is "El Condor Pasa," the world famous song of the indigenous people th
at expresses power, freedom and a definition of unity which respects diversity.

I saw Ismael Lo's video for "Dibi Dibi Rek" and "Tajabone" over two years ago. since then I have been searching vainly for the CD containing the songs. If you are like me, then you should be relieved to know that Lo's "Jammu Africa" (Sankara/Mercury) is finally available at the record store. Often ignored because he stands in the shadow of Youssour Ndour, this Senegalese singer is every bid as gifted and social conscious as his more famous compatriot. Ismael Lo sings of African unity, rails against racism
, reminisces on his childhood and pines after a lost love. He even does a duet with Marianne Faithfull. A couple of the tracks are obviously targeted at a commercial radio playlist. That does not take away from the overall innovative arrangements. Check out Nafanta and see what Ismail Lo can do with a dance hall tune.

Other notable releases include "Stoki Stoki"(Shanachie) by Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens and "The Dance of Heaven's Ghosts"(Hemisphere), a compilation of traditional Greek music.


By Onyango Oloo

It's a Sunday afternoon in the middle of May and I find
myself hovering on Toronto's lakeshore. I have just escaped the
scowling clouds threatening to unleash a torrent outside. Deeply
ensconced in the du Maurier theatre I watch the team of musicians
as they rehearse for the concert looming around the air.

This is Pacande at work.

Everybody here takes their vocation extremely seriously. For a brief moment it is all too easy to forget that these are accomplished artists as they labour through each technical detail in making a concert spring to life.

During a break in the sound check, Nadine, who works with
Billy Bryans in promoting the band, introduces me to the
athletic and photogenic man who has been singing lead vocals and
playing a variety of instruments.

This is Diego Marulanda, the 32 year old leader and main
inspiration behind the founding of the group.

I am ready, pen and notepad handy, to commence with our
interview. Diego suggests we put it off.

"Why don't we talk after the show? I will have more time then," he says.

A perfectionist, Diego dashes off to take care of some
unfinished business.

At eight o'clock sharp the concert begins. You can not go to
a Pacande concert and walk away untouched. No, you are engulfed, enveloped, engrossed in this powerful musical energy exuding intense commitment and the obvious affection that Diego and Pacande have for the music they play, the culture they come from and above all the people who came (some from as far away as London, Ontario) to partake of the Pacande experience.

On this particular night, Diego is doing something he has
never tried before an audience used to Pacande's contemporary
dance rhythms.

Diego, who is the main composer and arranger of Pacande's
songs, has divided this concert into two parts.

The first set, "Across Mountains and Plains" introduces the
audience to a side of Diego and Pacande that is rarely seen in
public: we see Diego the crusader fighting to preserve the rich
traditional Colombian musical heritage from creeping Top 40
commercial encroachment.

In "Lunes de Zapatero" Diego mobilizes flutes, a double bass
and a guitar to help him remember his childhood in Bogota (the
capital of Colombia). "Mi Valleton is performed in the "Bambuco"
style-seen by many as the most representative rhythm of Colombian Andean music. Six other songs follow. The most touching song is "Cancion Triste", written for the abandoned street children of Colombia.

After the intermission we come back to a complete switch.

Gone is the wistful reflective mood of the first set.

Pacande is reaching out with its collective arms
outstretched, urging us with its vigorous rhythms to arouse
ourselves to the celebration of dance, life and love that they
have just unleashed in this otherwise most sombre of Canadian
theatre spaces.

But this is a theatre that was not built for lively dancing
by the audience.

So, like the bird in the bottle of the Zen koan riddle, we
remain trapped in our seats, held back by decorum from joining
the party brewing on stage.

The second set is titled "To the Atlantic Coast". The first
song, "La Cumbia La Cumbia" recalls the birth of the "Cumbia"
rhythm from the drums that Africans brought with them when they
dragged off the slave ships to Colombia's Atlantic coast. On top
of its African roots, the "Cumbia" has a Native influence,
especially in the melody originally performed on bamboo flutes
and "gaitas".

"Palenquero" is another African based dance style. In "Por
el Sol" Diego combines this style with "Mambo" in paying tribute
to the spring sun.

As for the rest of the songs, I wrote about them with my
feet and my head. I just could not sit and clinically scribble
when such a joyful sound was unfolding.

You have to be there to experience the thrill of
well-executed beats tingling down your spine, pulsating
throughout your body and switching on ululations that, in other
cultural spaces less confined by the bounds of Western genteel
conventions, would have filled the whole building and inspired

The Pacande concert was a night of magic and wonderment. To
create this enchantment you not only need a Diego Marulanda; you
also require the powerful talent of Lisa Lindo, the classically
trained lead vocalist who is equally at home with the maracas and
guacho; you must have the virtuoso playing of musicians like
Richard Morales on electric bass; Ted Sankey on double bass;
Marcus Chonsky on tambor alegre and congas; Wilson Acevedo on
bongo and campana; Nick Ali on trumpet, Yannick Malbeuf on
trombone; Paul Le Roux on piano; Shameema Soni (moonlighting from Punjabi By Nature) on the flute and the Saldvia brothers (Claudio and Cristian) on quena, zamponas, charango, alto and soprano sax, bass guitar and other instruments.

At the end, we gave Pacande a prolonged standing ovation and
they came back to play some more to reward the audience for
appreciating the hard work they had put into this evening of

Speaking to Diego after the throng of fans and well wishers
had thinned, I asked him how he was able to assemble such a
stellar cast.

"The music was the magnet" he replied simply. In our
conversation Diego took me back to his childhood in the sixties,
growing up as a child of a theatre instructor mother and actor
father. "Our home was always full of people. There were these two
guys who were always playing guitar around the house and I
watched them all the time. That is how I learned how to play, by
seeing how their fingers moved. I did not go to a formal music

By age ten, Diego had taught himself the guitar. Eventually
he dropped acting and became totally committed to making music.
Today he can play over 25 different instruments.

I think Diego Marulanda's greatest talent lies in his leadership skills. Watching him interact with Pacande brings to mind those rare figures who are able to push you to ascend to heights you never dreamed of scaling.