8 years ago

Volume 17 Issue 10 - July/August 2012

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  • August
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  • September
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  • Musical

Wanderlust, the second

Wanderlust, the second newmusical to receive its worldpremiere this summer inOntario. A collaboration betweentwo Vancouver artists,Marek Norman, a composerand musician, and MorrisPanych, one of Canada’s mostcelebrated playwrights anddirectors, the show openson July 11 at the StratfordShakespeare Festival where itruns through September.Based on the poetry ofRobert Service (the “Bard of the Yukon”) whose poems, along withadditional text by Panych, constitute Norman’s lyrics, Wanderlust focuseson Service’s creativity, which might seem ironic in that he spentmuch of his life working in a bank. But, as Panych points out, evenas a ledger-keeper, Service had “a boundless imagination” that allowedhim to write most of his Klondike poems long before he travellednorth. “A shaper of images and stories, of places he’d never evenseen, things he had never done,” Service piques Panych’s own creativity,leading him to explore the man’s life and work in what ultimatelybecomes a tribute to his passion for poetry. “The story I have written isnothing close to the truth, of course,” Panych adds wryly.If this project offers a more pertinent irony, it rests with the factthat Service’s best-known poems such as The Shooting of DanMcGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee still are dismissed byliterary scholars as doggerel. Despite such disapprobation, Songs ofa Sourdough, the collection in which the poems were published in1907, has sold more than three million copies, making it the mostcommercially successful book of poetry of the 20th century. HowMarek Norman uses the poems in his sonwgs is just one reasonto check out this innovative musical. Another is to see the poetrybrought to life by such accomplished actor/singers as Dan Chameroy(Dan McGrew), Randy Hughson (Sam McGee), and Lucy Peacock (Mrs.Munsch). That Tom Rooney plays Robert Service also bodes well forthe show. An accomplished actor, singer and comedian, most recentlyseen on Toronto stages in Queen of Puddings’ Becket:Feck It!last February, Rooney may have found the perfect role for his winsomechicanery.Robert Service emigratedto Canada from England atthe age of 21, finally reachingthe Yukon in 1904. After hispoetry achieved wide publication,he became so successful(and wealthy) that he settledin Paris where he went on towrite novels and an autobiography,besides more poetry.Often called the “CanadianKipling,” he cared little aboutWanderlust.critical approval. “Verse, notpoetry, is what I was after,” heexplained late in life, “something the man in the street would take noticeof and the sweet old lady would paste in her album; something theschoolboy would spout and the fellow in the pub would quote.” Withno desire to become a household name, he nonetheless became one.While Fred Eaglesmith has yet to achieve such fame, he still might,and for much the same reasons. Already, he has accumulated a substantialfollowing for his unique singing voice and song-writing talentsthat combine to create a sound best described as alternative countryand-western,crossed with folk and bluegrass. Performing with a bandknown variously as the Flying Squirrels or the Flathead Noodlers (dependingon the style of music it plays), Eaglesmith tours his TravellingShow across Canada, the US and Europe. Last month, the BlytheFestival premiered Dear Johnny Deere, a new musical based on hissongs, and, if you hurry, you can catch it before it closes on July 7 .Directed by Eric Coates, artistic director of the festival, Dear JohnnyDeere is written by Winnipeg playwright Ken Cameron who explainsthat, like many other “Fred-heads,” he fell so hard for Fred’smusic that it now features prominently “in the soundtrack to my life.”Inasmuch as Eaglesmith’s songs frequently concern failing farmsand small businesses, and are peopled with characters forced to dealwith loss of love, livelihood, or both, they were an obvious choicefor Cameron when he decided to write a musical about Johnny andCaroline, a couple struggling to keep their farm and marriage together,even as the bills pile up. Cameron explains that “[When] I set aboutcataloguing each of the more than 140 songs Fred has recorded, I wasdrawn to the quirky down-on their-luck characters and his accessibleimagery.” All he had to do was create a play-list, and he had a score.Fashioning a narrative around Eaglesmith’s lyrics, Cameron discoveredthat the composer’s songs “are like short stories, each witha twist ending in the final verse.” It was inevitable that he would arriveat a tractor to help resolve John and Caroline’s plight, given thatEaglesmith regularly writes about machines or vehicles such as trains,trucks, cars, and engines. The play-list for Dear Johnny Deere, besidesincluding titles like White Trash, Bench Seat Baby and Yellow BarleyStraw, features Freight Train and Old John Deere — which suggestsnot only its rural emphasis but, as well, the prominence of a tractor inits plot, a perfect ingredient for a festival like Blythe that foregroundsCanadian plays which speak to a rural community.It’s one thing to use Eaglesmith’s songs to score a musical; it’s quiteanother matter to imitate the sound made by Fred Eaglesmith and theFlying Squirrels. Yet Blythe’s musical director, David Archibald, attemptsjust that by giving J.D. Nicholson the role of Johnny, and thetask of singing like Fred. He’s made a good choice, for Jack, a foundingmember of the 1991 JUNO-Award-winning band, the Leslie Spit Treeo,is a seasoned singer/songwriter, currently a member of the popularToronto-based the Cameron Family Singers. Archibald, a composerand singer himself, joins Nicholson, along with Matthew Campbelland other seasoned singers, to give Dear Johnny Deere a musical stylethat has won Eaglesmith’s blessing.So, take your pick. This summer, pack a hamper and head eastor west for big-time theatre in small-town Ontario. Cool originals,guaranteed.Based in Toronto, Robert Wallace writes abouttheatre and performance. He can be contacted ECCLES26 July 1 – September 7, 2012

Beat by Beat | World ViewFiery WaterfrontANDREW TIMARI’ve been a frequent and enthusiastic Harbourfront visitor fromits first season, experiencing my first taste of many genres of globalmusic there. I first heard these masters live at relatively intimateHarbourfront spaces: Malian guitarist-singer Ali Farka Touré; Inuitsinger-songwriter and guitarist Charlie Panigoniak; the passionateqawwali vocalism of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; Thomas Mapfumo “theLion of Zimbabwe”; the son jarocho of Veracruz, Mexico; Malagasymusic of Tarika; and others too numerous to mention. I’ve also been asometime Harbourfront performer, participating in concerts, parades,community celebrations and WOMAD festivities.Under the banner of “Discover the World in OnePlace this Summer” Harbourfront Centre, Toronto’sten-acre arts and culture lakefront destination, continuesits 30-plus year celebration of the hot weatherfestival season with a range of ethnically diverse community-friendly,eclectic programming. World musichas always been part of the mix. In return, it attractstens of thousands of visitors from a very broad rangeof backgrounds. Of course the actual visitor mix variesfrom one event to another, but there’s nowhereelse I’ve been that appears to have a richer demographicand better reflects on a continuing basis ourcity’s multicultural evolution. Harbourfront is a familyspace. Even though mine has long been independent,judging from the families I see there, it’s still a fun andmostly free place to take the kids.Harbourfront Centre’s summer really kicks off withthe Canada Day weekend subtitled “Going Global.” Asfar as world music per se is concerned on this weekend,however, it seems to come down to the concert by South Africansinger, songwriter, dancer and musical activist Johnny Clegg whichtook place on June 30. (Read about Clegg’s July 7 concert online.)The next weekend, July 6 to 8, the national focus shifts to Brazil.Artistic director Barbara de la Fuente notes that “Brazil is a fusionof many cultural and ethnic groups. In keeping with HarbourfrontCentre’s ‘crossroads’ theme, Expressions of Brazil will showcase someof these cultural intersections.” Among the dozens of events, I canshare a few music highlights, including forró artists Maria Bonita andThe Band from Brazil’s northeast. Forró is a regional folk dance andmusic genre with roots in both Africa and Europe, a soulful, infectiousmix of voice, accordion, violin, guitar, flute and percussion. Forróhas become popular throughout Brazil, inspiring a new generation ofmusicians like Maria Bonita and The Band and another band, Zé Fuá,which performs the energy-packed Pernambuco style of forró.Toronto-based musicians are well represented, too. The singer andsongwriter Bruno Capinan marries samba, bossa nova and tropicalia,while singer Aline Morales has been steadily building her reputationfrom her Toronto home. Her last release has been touted “the finestBrazilian album ever produced in Canada,” (The Grid).Tio Chorinho on the other hand is a newly formed local ensemblededicated to performing Brazilian choro music in the tradition of themandolin master, Jacob do Bandolim.And it wouldn’t feel like a Brazilian festival without a characteristicparade animated by a large group of booming drummers, a chorus,and dancers. The Afro-Brazilian troupe Maracatu Mar Aberto playingMaracatu de Baque Virado and other Pernambuco regional rhythmsfills the bill rather nicely.July 13 to 15, the SoundClash Festival appears focused on dance andhip-hop but even here significant world music content crops up. Forwell over four decades Benin’s Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou hasperformed a blend of Afrobeat, funk, soukous and other styles, oftenmixed with indigenous vodun rhythms. Having recorded a remarkable500 songs, they have toured extensively though their Friday July 13,9:30pm show is their Canadian debut. I plan to be there.The weekend of July 27 to 29 loosely explores the themes of whatis “classical,” and music made on stringed instruments. “Classical IV:Strings” embraces music made with the aid of cord stretched over asound box and then plucked or bowed. Highlight concerts include theMasters of Mali featuring world music star Sidi Touré on Friday, July 27.From Bamako, Mali, Touré is the winner of two national awards forbest singer. He draws inspiration from his inherited Malian musicalmilieu but is also informed by western blues and rock. In 2011, Touréreleased his debut album Sahel Folk for Thrill Jockey and then touredNorth America for the first time, taking him to prestigious venues andfestivals, including New York’s Lincoln Center and the Chicago WorldMusic Festival. The songs on Koima, his critically-acclaimed second album,are his tribute to his native Songhaï music of northern Mali, therhythms of which are called holley, shallo, takamba, and gao-gao.Toronto’s George Sawa, a leading Arabic music scholar, kanunAline Morales.(Arabic zither) player and mentor to several generations of musicians,has been a fixture of the local scene since his arrival from Egypt in1970. He leads his Traditional Arabic Music Ensemble Saturday, July 28at 1:30pm with guest Egyptian belly dancer Nada El Masriya, amongthe city’s foremost exponents of the art.Another Toronto-based ensemble, much newer on the scene, MinorEmpire performs twice that evening. On the heels of its debut album,Second Nature, it has created a buzz in the Canadian world musicarena through the forging of an accessible yet still adventurous style.Guitarist/composer/producer Ozan Boz and vocalist Ozgu Ozman codirectMinor Empire. Based on traditional Turkish tunes, the group’sJuly 1 – September 7, 27

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