Global Divas featuring Suba Sankaran , Emeline Michel , Oumou Soumaré , Caridad cruz , Catarina Cardeal and Monica Freire with Jane Bunnett's Spirits of Havana at the Kool Haus (132 Queens Quay East), Wednesday (March 24), 7:30 pm. $25. Global Marketplace gala dinner $100. 416-925-2103 ext 238, 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
The first global divas benefit concert was such an overwhelming success that it makes sense organizers would want to turn the cross-cultural musical summit into an annual affair in support of St. Stephen's Community House. However, considering the stellar lineup of last year's International Celebration Of Women And Song - which included Maryem Tollar, Eliana Cuevas, Kiran Ahluwalia, Catarina Cardeal and Parabolica's Guiomar Campbell - there was some doubt about whether they could top it. Evidently, there was no real cause for concern.
Event producer Derek Andrews has assembled another exceptional selection of Canadian-based contemporary world music voices, starting with last year's head-turning fado find Cardeal, along with Malian marvel Oumou Soumaré, Cuban upstart Caridad Cruz, innovative Indo-jazz fusionist Suba Sankaran and previous NOW Magazine cover stars Brazilian samba-soul sparkplug Monica Freire and Haitian scorcher Emeline Michel.
While it's clear that they all have very different musical backgrounds, they share a power, passion and a strong sense of individual style that make them worthy of the "diva" appellation. But they're not the sort who'll be showing up in stretch limos demanding special treatment.
"Acting as the musical director for the first Global Divas concert was such a rewarding musical experience," enthuses flautist/saxophonist and Divas musical director Jane Bunnett, "that I'm delighted to be doing it again, especially with another really talented group of singers.
"It's a benefit concert, and I think everyone involved is doing it for the right reason. So I don't foresee any ego problems."
Although Bunnett has personal connections to Cruz, who happens to be the niece of late great Cuban superstar Celia Cruz, and Sankaran, whose father is world-renowned mrdangam virtuoso Trichy Sankaran (with whom Bunnett studied at York University), Cardeal's the only singer from this year's Global Divas group who's previously performed with Bunnett's Spirits of Havana. It makes the concert a special challenge for Bunnett, who rarely works with vocalists.
"As we did last year, we're staggering the rehearsals with the singers so we'll have a chance to hang out together and get to know one another a bit before the event. And fortunately, each of the singers also plays an instrument, and a singer with a little knowledge of musical theory is a really good thing.
"I met Caridad by chance at a show in Kingston when I asked if anyone in the audience was from Cuba before playing a sinister-sounding minor-key version of El Manisero, and Caridad piped up. We spoke afterwards, and she mentioned she was a singer, so I invited her to my birthday party in Toronto to meet some Cuban musicians.
"Caridad started singing, and she was surprisingly good. That's when I found out that Celia Cruz was her aunt. The girl's got it!
"Suba was in the jazz program at York University, so she's been able to combine her interest in South Indian Carnatic music with modern jazz concepts. We're going to be doing A Night In Tunisia with her, and Suba's arrangement has all these tempo changes - it goes from, like, 9/8 into 4/4 while she scats all over the place. It's crazy!"
Besides jazz, it sounds like Sankaran has also been getting into some film music from Bollywood's golden era, an inspiration that may show up on her forthcoming album with Auto Rickshaw called Four Higher (Tala-Wallah Records), due out in June.
"Actually, I didn't really ascribe my arrangement for A Night In Tunisia to a Bollywood influence," says Sankaran. "But it's entirely possible, since I did it while studying in India last year and that's the music I was surrounded by. It's amazingly powerful stuff.
"We had an idea of covering R.D. Burman's Dum Maro Dum from the 71 film Hare Rama Hare Krishna, which deals with hippie drug culture. It may not make it onto the album, but I can certainly see myself using more Bollywood ideas in the future."