Flash back to the summer of 2016 and the 30th anniversary season of Peterborough Musicfest. That year’s concert series’ lineup was highlighted by an abundance of quickly recognizable names, starting with series opener Serena Ryder followed by the likes of Kiefer Sutherland, Gowan, The Spoons, and Platinum Blonde.
On the flip side of that, comparatively few knew much about Sultans of String and their music when they descended on Del Crary Park on July 9th of that year but, some two hours later, the audience headed home wanting more.
Almost three years to the day of that inaugural Musicfest performance, Sultans of String — led by Canadian violinist, guitarist and composer Chris McKhool — returns to the Fred Anderson Stage on Saturday, July 6th as the 33rd season of Peterborough Musicfest continues.
Admission to the 8 p.m. concert is free, as always, thanks to the support of Musicfest sponsors.
Delivering a genre-hopping passport of Celtic reels, flamenco, Gypsy jazz, Arabic, Cuban, and South Asian rhythms, the three-time Juno Award-nominated band, often augmented by sitar master Anwar Khurshid, is the definition of world music, with McKhool’s six-stringed violin and co-founder Kevin Laliberté’s flamenco guitar anchoring a rich and unique sound that stays with audiences long after the last note is played.
VIDEO: “Luna the Whale ” – Sultans of String
“We both love trying out crazy ideas and seeing what sticks,” notes McKhool in a 2013 interview with Jazz Monthly.
“When we saw the power of this style of music on the listening public, we knew we had to do more of it. We were happy to pick up gigs here and there, happy to make $75 a man to play all night in a theatre lobby or any club … we were footloose and fancy free.”
“But, in 2007, we honed in and decided to take it to the next level. We became pickier about our repertoire, putting together an actual set list of songs that would engage audiences rather than just entertain ourselves.”
That same year, with Eddie Paton (flamenco guitar), Drew Birston (bass), and Chendy Leon (percussion) in the mix, Sultans of String recorded and released Luna, its debut album.
Come 2008, the album was a top-ten fixture on the Canadian international and world/folk music charts and earned the band a nomination for a Canadian Folk Music Award — the first of many industry accolades that would follow.
But as notable a debut as that album was, it was 2009’s Yalla Yalla that brought Sultans of String to greater prominence, not only for fans of the world music genre but also those whose ears were new to the eclectic sound.
Yalla Yalla won the band the Instrumental Group of the Year award at the Canadian Folk Music Awards and brought its first Juno Award nomination in 2010 in the Instrumental Album of the Year category.
VIDEO: “Enter The Gate” – Sultans of String
Four albums have since followed, the latest being 2017’s Christmas Caravan which peaked at #6 on the Billboard World Music charts.
Along the way, numerous tours have brought Sultans of String’s music across Canada, the United States and Europe. World Group of the Year recognition bestowed by SiriusXM gave further proof that McKhool et al had hit upon something special that resonated with audiences.
“The most important thing in creating the Sultan sound was creating shorter, more focused tunes with memorable song titles and strong arrangements that would be palatable to listen to on a recording but we also never liked the idea of being nailed down to one genre, so there is a lot of variety,” McKhool tells Jazz Monthly.
“It’s exciting music that is a great tool to tell our stories. The variety keeps me going because each of the different styles can lead to a different kind of mood, bring out different elements of our personalities and allow us to engage in a variety of physical antics while performing live.”
Besides his work with Sultans of String, Ottawa-born McKhool is an accomplished children’s music performer, his 2009 Juno Award nomination for his album Fiddlefire evidence of that. In addition, he has performed alongside such world music notables as Pavlo and Jesse Cook.
And in 2013, he received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his support of community and music education programs for at-risk youth.
VIDEO: “A Place To Call Home” – Sultans of String
Still, for all his individual accomplishments, it’s clear McKhool’s work with Sultans of String speaks most clearly to his commitment to making the world a better place through a shared love of music.
“In a way we are trying to emulate a model for world peace,” notes McKhool in Sultan of String’s Wikipedia profile. “We have many musical worlds coming together. Sometimes they understand each other and sometimes they don’t. That’s part of the artistic process too, even more so when we’re combining these seemingly disparate music styles.”
“That’s kind of the Canadian ideal of multiculturalism, the sense of the mosaic. You look up at a stained glass window and you see all those beautiful colours and they all come together to make one beautiful image. That’s what we’re trying to do on a daily basis in our lives and with our music.”
Furthering the cause of bringing musical worlds coming together, Sultans of String is currently crowdfunding for the band’s seventh album.
Called Refuge, the record will feature musical collaborations with recent refugees and immigrants to the U.S. and Canada, part of a larger project the band has undertaken to fundraise and raise awareness for the UN Refugee Agency.
Guest artists performing on the new album will include Iraqi-Canadian violinist Imad Al Taha, Iranian-Canadian santur player Amir Amiri, Hungarian-Canadian jazz pianist Robi Botos, and many more.
VIDEO: “Refuge – a new album by Sultans of String” – Sultans of String
Peterborough Musicfest is presenting 16 free-admission, sponsor-supported concerts featuring a total of 21 acts during its 33rd season — each concert staged on Wednesday and Saturday nights at Del Crary Park.
Overseen by general manager Tracey Randall and staff, a board of directors, and numerous volunteers, Peterborough Musicfest’s stated mission is to “provide diverse, affordable live music to enrich cultural and economic prosperity in our community.”
For more information on this concert or the entire 2019 season, visit www.ptbomusicfest.ca or phone the Peterborough Musicfest office at 705-755-1111.