Global Café Festival at the Distillery (55 Mill), Tuesday to Sunday (July 6 to 11). Free-$20. 416-631-4311. www.smallworldmusic. com/global-cafe.htm Rating: NNNNN
The Global Café Festival wants to change the way you understand music. The world is changing fast, and that's nowhere more true than in music. Every day on commercial radio, you hear pop music finding inspiration in the sounds of world music - a fado voice sample here, a Latin rhythm there, some tabla beat pushing the latest rap star's street banter. But don't think of it as cultural plundering. The influences flow both ways.
Barely a week before the festival launches its first edition, Global Café co-creator Derek Andrews talks about what he and collaborator Alan Davis (Small World Productions) are trying to do.
"In the simplest terms, we want to introduce audiences to new musical experiences," Andrews says. "On a more subtle level, we're trying to help people understand world music in a different way."
The Global Café Festival shows every sign of being the sort of event to recalibrate our musical compasses. It opens with a free show by double Juno Award-winner Madagascar Slim, whose Afro-inflected blues guitar is the perfect harbinger of things to come.
The next night, the festival stages its first premium show ($20) as Mexico's Los de Abajo unleash their unique hybrid of politically charged ska and cumbia. The band, whose David Byrne-produced album, Cybertropic Chilango Power, won them a BBC 3 World Music Award, take time out of their European tour to be part of the festival.
Other premium shows include performances by Bembeya Jazz (whose fiery African big band sound and sweeping vocal harmonies garnered them the title of Guinea's official national band in 1965), the unstoppable voice of Cameroonian diva Muna Mingole and the Toronto debut of the Ex-centric Sound System.
"Ex-centric Sound System are a perfect example of what the festival is about," Andrews explains. "Here's a group that brings Ghanaian musicians based in Tel Aviv to New York to be led and produced by bassist Yossi Fine, to make dub in a propulsive style that mixes Ghanaian, Moroccan, Israeli, French and West Indian influences."
Even with these heavy-hitting headliners, the numerous free shows (held on one outdoor patio stage Tuesday through Friday and then on three more starting Saturday) will generate plenty of spirit.
"That part of the festival is expressed in the Global Café handle," explains Andrews. "We want to create a social experience in which the performers and the audience have the least possible space separating them. It's a way to break down some of those artificial barriers we associate with musical performance. And that's the idea at the core of the festival. This music shouldn't be remote, because it's part of the culture we live in."
The Internet and air travel have contributed to a situation where influences and trends travel more quickly than ever before. These days, some indigenous music sounds fresh to our ears in its traditional origins but familiar in its influences.
Music is the living language of a global culture. And as with language, the most interesting thing about it is how the differing words and syntax bleed into each other and build new ways of saying things.