Corby's Orbit

Corby's Orbit
Listening in All the High Places illustration by John Kricfalusi

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Small World Expands The Ears To Worldwide Proportions

Click on photos to enlarge

Once again, Toronto’s Small World Music Festival, now in its 18th year, unfurled the whole world in our very laps for us. Offering a rich buffet of culturally diverse musical delicacies over two weekends at the end of September, and foregoing the centrally-located strategy of last year’s Harbourfront event, a range of small, medium and large-sized venues hosted a cornucopia of virtuoso ensembles, representing the unique bounty of the far continents, with pods of vibrant communities arriving here from desert and jungle, bearing crucibles of their corporeal, rhythmic and melodic languages introducing us to frontiers beyond our known range of vocabulary.
Mongolian folk/punk ensemble, Beijings Hanggai, kicked off the festivities, blending traditional Mongolian folk sounds and instruments with modern punk rock styles and bi-tonal throat singing, working “to express the voice of a generation yearning to reconnect with its ethnic roots in the face of a domineering mainstream culture”. Revival, Jack Layton’s favourite dancehall, filled up with flexing young Chinese fans who actually throbbed the joists of the floor with their combined raucous physical enthusiasm. Onstage, all the tropes and trappings were there: shades, horn fingers, vintage Les Pauls, a fringed jacket and besides all that … an electric samisen. The full-bellied roar of the lead singer, with a presence somewhere between that of Charlebois and Captain Beefheart, drew the fans in with his gregarious uptempo hype and rock ballad sincerity. During the quiet acoustic ballads, social currents took over, and the crowd engaged in selfies, loud conversation and drinking chat.
Then back to the ongoing riot when the bass and drums kicked in again. But their fervour gave way to pandemonium every time the samisen player began his supernatural overtone singing. By the time the scarves had been waved and the fogger and a three-piece horn section had come and gone, Hanggai had converted the event into Saturday night in Zhengzhou .

On the next night, the immaculate sound design of Small World Music Centre, a crisp
listening room at an arts-focused community center in a residential neighbourhood, hosted an experimental exploration, introduced by head programmer Alan Davis (left), arising from the ad hoc synthesis of the talents of three of Toronto’s finest – Sina Salimi (santur), Barzin (guitar and vocals), and Hassan El Hadi (oud) – as they developed the effective potential of balladry and lyricism, fusing the eastern and western traditions of emotional expressiveness. The ensemble proceeded to conjure the voluptuous sounds of Middle Eastern emo, with a wine bar and lots of mingling creating a convivial and receptive party atmosphere. In collaboration with Link Music Labs. Sina has been turning the Iranian santur, a versatile instrument not unlike a hammered dulcimer and usually used for soloing, into a familiar accompaniment to his songs of longing in Toronto for many years now. Barzin, accompanied by his acoustic guitar and harmony singer Dee Blanche,
(right) sang songs from his most recent record, Live At Revolution Recordings. Tying them together was an outstanding ensemble of bass, cajone and accordion, and the legendary Marrakech-born Quebecois oud master Hassan El Hadi, who brought his rigourous and gorgeous melodic embellishments to every song. Despite the standing room only crowd, ample room still allowed for flourishes of dance and enthusiasm galore. 
Korea’s Namu occupied the same space on the equinoctial Saturday evening. Building on their collective training in traditional instrumentation, with continuous experimentation in new forms of creative expression, NAMU’s originality and creativity has guided them through a number of projects including elaborate collaborations in classical music, contemporary jazz, and dance beats. The trio mortally perforated the traditionally serene sheen of Korean music with the percussive force and advanced harmonic constructions of its three members. A few dozen Korean fans and a handful of curious Toronto song-seekers showed up on Saturday night to experience a cleansing whirlwind of jazzy surprises.
The wind of the bamboo flute lifted the sails of each song to flights of contemporised arrangements, swept along by currents of eloquent electric bass-playing and the stroboscopic narratives of a traditional janggu drum, customized with bungie cords, played by founding member Seongryong Yeo. His occasional haunting vocals sharpened the edge of the music even further, sharing intimate glimpses with his native compatriots of a Korean culture of the future.
Sunday welcomed a broad spectrum of exemplary global sounds, including Do Vira,(right) presented for free at the new venue, Stakt, at the foot of Bathurst.
Women In Percussion
Small World resumed their unique musical refreshments on Thursday night intersecting conveniently with Lula Lounge’s launching of a weekend celebration of women in percussion. Featured artists included a quartet of royal jazz magnificence led by steel pan diva Joy Lapps-Lewis; a conglomerate of female song and drum talents under the direction of mestra Aline Morales entitled Vulvas (and pronounced “vulvas”); and the fiery drumstick expertise of the legendary Brazilian iconess of beats, Adriana Portela, fronting the top Toronto bateria phalanx known as T Dot Batu.

Mega-hyping the atmosphere, the audience was also full of attentive and supportive rhythm women from the Lula community, including Magdelys Savigne and Elizabeth Rodriguez of OKAN and the always vibrant Eliana Cuevas. There was a puzzling absence of dancing, maybe because of the continuous pulsations of virtuosic musical intensity, or perhaps it was the new moon. But that was the only drawback of a scintillating evening of throb and swing.
Large vibes were emanating from the Danforth Music Hall on Saturday even before Tinariwen took the stage. For many, there was an expectation not unlike that at the end of a pilgrimage. Such is the shamanistic effect of their hive of guitars and the elastic bass pulsations that they produce that a visceral trance is induced reminiscent of the Velvet Underground or, even deeper, John Lee Hooker. The audience began rising up from the inexplicably tiered seating for the purposes of everything from swaying to belly dancing, but they were curiously dissuaded from these actions by house security.
However when the animated Alhassane Ag Touhami took up the guitar and started his mellifluous chiming, some of the more bearded fans started a wave of commotion that could not be restrained.

Teto Preto
It all started with coordinator Kristyn Gelfand, on behalf of co-presenter Uma Nota Culture, calling for the audience to scrum forward, as three musicians emerged from the fog to the metallic groaning of a talking drum, wind chimes and a subversively low hum. Three tables were topped up with black spaghetti and electronic gear, and a full percussion stand, a trombone and an electric bass stood loitering at the edges of the stage.
The Super-Avant Brazilian ensemble Teto Preto was smuggling their sexuality into Revival and irrigating the desert of Toronto’s Sunday night by stealth. Like nuclear fission, it began with shadowy men simply pressing buttons, relaying a series of sensations that slowly magnified, dominoing through the crowd’s heads. Suddenly a burnished brown giant rose up from the floor bellowing “Wake UUUP!”
 Sorry, there IS no translation for us,” declared vocalist / performance artist Angela Carneosso to a chorus of those yips and yelps that you would hear at an 80s strip show or a 90s rave. Ascending from the middle of the audience wrapped in the crushing sounds of her electronic trio and sporting a Charlotte Rampling Night Porter cap, she was revealed to be wearing only a pair of studded leather buttless chaps and some black leather gauntlets, alongside Loïc Koutana, her gigantic caped dancer in his reversed zippered miniskirt.
Suddenly the guy in the audience wearing a strapless gown didn’t seem so rad anymore. Toronto’s gaybourhood had met its match with Small World’s high card in the hole, Teto Preto, taking the stage for the final Sunday night of what had already been an astonishing festival.

The shock value of the aggressive nudity created an edgy ambiance not so much porn-core as dada-core. Courting a hyperbolic reaction with the simultaneous sensory invasion of enormous deep electro-house beats and the spasmodic gesticulations of the two sexy-as-hell protagonists, the lyrics stabbed out a manifesto proclaiming the emancipation of sexual energy and the political fury of racial rage. As Carneosso writhed across and sometimes off of the stage, switching up the rhythmic tremors with her vocal modulator and a looping filter, her partner-in-anarchy stripped down to a white thong and gave terrifying substance to her threats and declamations with epic body language and anticly grotesque facial convulsions. Storms of adulation from the crowd set in, stoking the emotional level to extraordinary crests of orgiastic proportions – not to mention the dancing.
They ended by inviting only the LGBTQ members of the audience onstage to dance and shout and closed it down by proferring a reverse booty bow that cheekily ended the show at the exact one-hour mark.
Montreal stripped us of our merch last night,” Carneosso warned. “We have two vinyls left. So if you want them, RUN!”
What use would it be to ask for an encore? Daring to return to our home planet in this newly altered state, we walked out shaken, whipped and organically charged with feelings a little too large to explain. 
After the grand finales of this final weekend, whatever Tinariwen and Teto Preto had left us of our sensibilities were stretched, energized, reconstituted and evolved to a grand planetary scale not unlike that of the gods of music. 

Originally published in three parts @

No comments:

Post a Comment