Global Beat Fusion: 49 Hours in Toronto

13 11 2008

By Derek Beres

I’m not sure why Toronto is called “T-Dot”. Oh, I’m sure there’s a very simple reason, but sometimes things remain more powerful when a mystery. I had made the mistake of referring to it as “T-Town” at one point, and was nearly assaulted by my friends. I supposed it’s like when tourists call New York’s Houston Street as if it were a city in Texas—if one can imagine the political and social distance between Manhattan and the state that spawned George W. Bush, there is no mercy in our reply.

Yet my friends were lighthearted in their scolding, and I noticed during my short time in Toronto that everyone I encountered had a similar attitude. Maybe it was the gorgeous architecture of the seasons—a slight, crisp chill surrounded by pockets of sunshine, a not-very-bitter drizzle that gave way to the lingering scent of autumn. I had made my way 90 airplane minutes north to attend and perform at the 7th Annual Small World Music Festival, one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching global music gatherings in North America. Rivaled by (and piggybacking) Chicago’s seminal World Music Festival, the Annual Small World Music Festival provides Toronto with a nearly two-week influx of amazing talent from across the planet in an ambitious feat of cross-cultural programming

I was invited by CIUT radio DJ Richard Martin, aka medicineman, whose show “No Man’s Land” is one of a handful of world music programs that have sustained and prospered in a radio market that focuses on anything but international sounds. We met in Montreal nearly five years ago and have since stayed in touch, often trading band names and mp3s in an attempt of giving innovative artists access to the very few media outlets dedicated to international music. He also led me to some things I would have never even imagined possible, like the world’s largest rodent (a guinea pig-looking creature the size of a pig) in residence at the zoo inside High Park, and a restaurant dedicated to fusing, of all things, of Hungarian and Thai cuisine.

After a surprisingly smooth flight into Toronto (on Continental, no less; my luck would not persist on the way home), I ended up at the Drake Hotel Underground to DJ alongside Eccodek. The party was in celebration of their new CD, Shivaboom (White Swan). I first met Andrew McPherson, Eccodek’s founder and keyboardist/producer, when he sent me a copy of the independently released More Africa in Us while I was working as an editor at Global Rhythm magazine. Despite the fact that I had never even heard of Guelph, I was immediately taken to the record. It fused tasteful elements of African music into a lightly textured electronic palette. His follow-up, Voices Have Eyes, did more of the same, only expanding into Turkish and Indian elements, along with flourishes of dub.

Read the full column on PopMatters.

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Eccodek Live in Toronto

10 10 2008




The Dusty Foot Philospher Kicks Up America

29 08 2008

By Derek Beres

It’s rare that I can say that I’m walking to see a Radiohead show. In fact, the last time I attended any show without the assistance of a car, subway, or bus was in 2001, when Liberty State Park hosted its last concert: Radiohead. Seven years later and the state reopened the land—a beautiful park edged on the cusp of Jersey City, overlooking Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Bayonne, as well as offering the closest view to the Statue of Liberty—for the inaugural All Points West festival.

Seven years seems to be my cycle with the boys from Oxfordshire. In 1994 I saw them open for Belly at Rutgers; in 2001, they blew away 25,000 fans; again in ‘08, to 30,000. The year 2001 also marked my introduction to a Somalia-born refugee poet/emcee named K’Naan, also on the bill at All Points West, on a compilation called Building Bridges produced by the great Senegalese musician, Yossou N’Dour. It was a fundraiser for African refugees, and featured two tracks by K’Naan, the global-minded “This Is My World” and the sweet tribute to the female half of our species, “Drain My Grey Away”.

Rooted in Toronto, K’Naan has made quite an impact on the Canadian music scene. When I first saw him perform in Winnipeg, he stood on stage, drum in hand, a full band accentuating his philosophical lyricism with an urban edge, focused on the two instruments that comprise and compose the totality of African storytelling: the voice and the drum. When his first American release compiled a number of older songs from his Canadian My Life Is a Movie earlier this year, The Dusty Foot Philosopher was eagerly embraced by hip-hop fans seeking something that feeds the world, lyrically, and does not simply rely on beats and inane verses to carry the music through.

“When you have music that has some message in it, a lot of the time people wonder if it works,” K’Naan told me after his one-hour set at the festival. “Audiences are predominantly the same anywhere—they’re just people. It’s how you say what you’re saying that counts. It’s also a responsibility. If you have music with a message, you still have to make it beautiful enough so that people appreciate it regardless of the message. It’s not saying something first that counts.”

Read the full article on PopMatters.