March 2009

Routes to Peace
March 4, 2009 Lula Lounge Toronto
The Musical Road to Peace, Salam, Paix, Shalom, Pace...
by Laila Boulos with photos by Mike Colyer
Leaving Lula Lounge after a heart and soul awakening evening filled with inspiring music, the crash to reality arrived harshly upon being confronted with a TTC bus shelter advertisement encouraging people (you and I?) to fight (fight?!) with The Canadian Forces.

There are many ways to promote peace. And as Charlie Roby mentioned in his interview with Ken Stowar on Global Rhythms (CIUT89.5FM) "If people would put down their weapons and pick up musical instruments, the world would be a better place". This was Mel M'rabet's vision when he created this evening.

Draped across the stage, artist Xian's dove-adorned shawl appropriately created a heavenly ambiance. Tonight, the goal was to promote peace and, as each musician began their set, the message was clearly delivered in a variety of ways.

Jowi Taylor, most recently of CBC's Nightstream and previously of the sadly missed Global Village, and the impetus behind the Six String Nation guitar** was the impromptu host of the evening and his warmth and sense of humour set the tone for a room of people with the same vision.

From the moment that Bassalindo members, Christine Atallah and Danny McLaughlin arrived on stage, the image of earnest warrior with heart filled the room. Ms. Attalah's operatic-trained voice was an exquisite piece of tapestry set off by the wonderful fringe of Mr. McLaughlin's powerful strumming and succinct tapping on the guitar's body on their opening piece "Crushed".

Similar to Sixpence None The Richer's "Kiss Me" in its lightness and innocence, "V.I.P." drew images of dancing in fields of daisies with its blissful, jazzy guitar riffs.

Although the music was light, Ms. Attalah was not messing around with her message as she informed, "We're here to talk about peace... think about people whose lives are harrowing on an everyday basis," and quoting activist Howard Zinn with "You can't be neutral on a moving train".

"Taa Ya Habibee" (Come here sweetheart) exuded exoticism with its Arabic and French lyrics and the lively guitar effects In addition, Ms. Attalah's voice transmitted through the microphone's 'echo chamber' and its sudden blast of an ending were pearls to her listener's ears.

Christine Atallah
Relating her interview on CKLN 88.1FM's Kan Ya Makan, this captivating vocalist mentioned that the earnest hosts advised: watch the news with the sound off. It is a transforming experience when you are not manipulated by the media. Just watch, and feel with your heart.

The performance became more animated with the song "Susurro", as the melody caressed our hearts and her whispered vocals breezed over the room. "Don't think an issue doesn't touch you" Ms. Attalah warned. At this point, those of us in the audience were ready to follow this gifted and passionate singer to the ends of the earth carrying banners and spreading the message of peace.

This duo of Christine Attalah and Danny McLaughlin was very similar to that of Tuck & Patti with intertwining vocals and instrumentals that worked like puzzle pieces to effortlessly fill each other's gaps.

Dedicating songs to anyone and everyone in the world who do not know freedom and wishing for the safe return of Omar Khadr, this duo then launched into "Kaboom" which was similar to Little Willie John's "Fever" — light. Their simpler than simple arrangement of Ben E. King's "Stand by Me" with sultry guitar riff solos and intermittent growling vocals, was a gorgeous, emotional rendition of this classic.

Introducing their final piece, "Quietly Waiting" Ms. Attalah wished, "Let's wait quietly for all our dreams to come true". With urgent, at times rapping, vocals and snappy, sharp chords, the effect was anything but quiet on the audience.

Mr. Taylor once again took over the stage to introduce Charlie Roby and the Six String Nation guitar — an instrument of peace and unity — which Mr. Roby would play at points during his set.

From the moment Charlie Roby and his band took to the stage, he embodied the fervent activist. As he began with "Roots in the Air", a song about the baobab tree and the nomadic peoples of Africa — where borders do not get in the way of life — the ear-perking altered tunings of his guitar were in full glory.

Shifting to the Six String Nation guitar, Mr. Roby showcased to full effect its mulled wine pools of sound with his insistent folky-rock strumming. The exquisite warm tones of this instrument contrasted effectively with the unbearably tightly pulled string violin sensibility of Cam MacInnes on electric guitar on the subsequent piece.

Charlie Roby
Mr. Roby then switched to a vielle à roue (hurdy gurdy) to play the first of two refugee-themed songs. From the fRoots compilation, "Home Ground" spun the worlds of reggae and Latin effortlessly together with a rhythm reminiscent of Talking Heads and an 'out of nowhere' warp speed ending.

The next 'refugee-themed' piece, "Blue Waters", highlighted the billowing vocals of his daughter Tess which provided a wonderful foil for the heavy rock instrumentals and its overall "We will never surrender" force.

Inspired by a village in Burkina Faso where people only have electricity for a few hours a day, among other hardships, "Iron Ground" was a knife-sharp piece that evoked the horrors of war and turmoil as Stephen Bright's skillful bowing of his bass evoked an unbearable sensation of suffocating and eerie lyrics such as "... we wander blindly ... from a dreamless sleep ..."

The band's final piece, "Yorkshire Shuffle" with Mr. Roby's insistent vocals, although about England, possessed a distinctive uplifting African cyclical rhythm and an intoxicating buildup that pleased the groovers on the dance floor.

The third performer of the evening, Mel M'rabet, tapped into Marshall McLuhan's famous phrase of, "The medium is the message", by performing his wonderfully ethereal pieces with minimal dialogue, allowing the goal of peace and beauty through music to wash over the audience.

As he played the oud, (a fretless, half fig-shaped predecessor to the western lute), the slow, improvised set occasionally took on experimental flavours, and at times felt as if two separate bands were playing mischievously through windows into the other's performance.

Later, as Rakesh Tewari produced the frame drum from behind the kit, the Middle Eastern flavour that was previously hinted at, rose fully. And the mystical and mysterious became layered with the occasional jazz influence offered by the combined efforts of the bass and guitar.

There was the occasional inspired dueling between the darbuka and the funky guitar, which John Gzowski handcrafted. The mother-of-pearl overlay of Mr. M'rabet's soaring vocals were what one would imagine hearing upon floating through the pearly gates.

Mel M'rabet
The tumbling speed and lightness with which this oud master produces the melodies is impressive. And, although he has worked with stars such as Cesaria Evora, Cheb Mami, Steve Potts and Omar Sosa, he is unbelievably understated and appears more interested in the unity and brotherhood of producing music. It was with this sense of brotherhood that Mr. M'rabet invited vocalist Daniela Nardi to sing two of her compositions "Cry" and "The Longest Road" with his band. Expressing the wish that the road to peace not be long, Ms. Nardi launched into a gorgeous set with vocals calling to mind Everything But The Girl's Tracey Thorn, after a few scotches and a cigar. Combined with heavy percussion, alternating bass lines and guitar riffs, the ebb and flow of Mr. M'rabet's and Ms. Nardi's intermittent vocals produced a haunting effect.

What better way to end this inspiring evening than to have everyone converge on the stage to perform "Salam" (Peace) with the audience clapping and moving in time to its Latin and Arabic rhythms? Written by Ms. Attalah and featured on the Bassalindo recording Escapades (Bolero Records 2006) this song was the reason for the album being honoured in a permanent display at the International Museum of Peace and Solidarity in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

As the stage erupted freely with the sounds of hope and of love through music, a world of peace did not seem that far away or that difficult to attain.

* * Inspired by Jowi Taylor and built by luthier George Rizsanyi (who has worked with stars such as Willie P. Bennett, Keith Richards and Sting) with assistance from Sara Nasr, the Six String Nation guitar is lovingly composed of 64 pieces of Canadian history as a testament to the diversity, pride and beauty of Canada and Canadians. Some of the material used on this unique instrument are pieces of Golden Spruce, a wood revered by the Haida Gwaii people of British Columbia; gold pieces from Maurice Richard's Stanley Cup ring; and, Gimli (a Norse word meaning Heaven) "lucky stones".

The Musicians
Christine Atallah – Vocals
Stephen Bright – Acoustic and Electric Bass
Larry Crowe – Drums, Percussion
Chris Gartner – Bass
John Gzowski – Guitar
Cam MacInnes – Electric Guitar
Danny McLaughlin – Acoustic Guitar
Mel M'rabet – Oud, Vocals
Daniela Nardi – Vocals
Charlie Roby – Six String Nation Guitar, Vielle A Roue, Electric Guitar
Tess Roby – Vocals
Rakesh Tewari – Drums, Percussion
We welcome your comments and feedback
Laila Boulos
• • • • • •
Mike Colyer
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The Live Music Report

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