Radio Tarifa performing as part of the SMALL WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL at the Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles West), Saturday (September 28). $30. 416-973-4000. www.smallworldmusic.com Rating: NNNNN
It may appear that the amazing Small World Music Festival (September 26-October 6) -- boasting a stacked lineup of global music greats -- just sprung up out of the blue. True, this is the 10-day extravaganza's first year, and considering that the program includes the Toronto debut of Spain's Radio Tarifa on Saturday (September 28), Rajasthani trance 'n' dance troupe Maharaja (October 2) and Serbia's hard-honking Boban Markovic Orkestar at the Opera House (October 4), the Small World Music Festival does seem a bit ambitious, if not too good to be true.
But the festival has really been in the works for the past five years, at least as long as creative director Alan Davis has been programming hip one-off events under the aegis of Small World Productions.
"The plan was always to bring bigger and better shows to Toronto, but timing was a crucial issue," says Davis. "A major world music festival taking place in Chicago at this time of year made it more feasible to bring in these great artists from all over the world."
Radio Tarifa, centred around the core trio of multi-instrumentalist Faín Dueñas, flamenco cantaor Benjamín Escoriza and reeds/flute player Vincent Molino, have bolstered their touring group with seven additional musicians of various ethnicities to enrich their heady Arab-Andalusian swing.
Evidently, their unexpected detour into traditional Okinawan min' yo territory on last year's Cruzando El Rio was just the tip of their new twang investigations into the hidden cultural connections of centuries past.
"Some years ago," explains Dueñas, "I was playing in a band that performed the ancient music of southern European troubadours from the 12th to the 14th century. It was then that I discovered there were many musical riches -- rhythmic and harmonic ideas -- in this old music that could be very useful with the music I'm making now.
"Another way to advance my music is by exploring the possibilities of sound with modern technology. I thought, "Why not add the old sounds to new sounds?' Not to destroy the past but to create something new for the future."
No doubt Radio Tarifa will be the big draw, but beyond the Small World Music Festival's tasty selection of imports is a surprisingly solid local supporting cast that includes tribal house banger Brian "El Shaman" D'Oliveira at Fez Batik tonight (Thursday, September 26) and the Afro-Colombian groove unit Palenke Orchestra at Harbourfront's Lakeside Terrace on Sunday (September 29).
And kicking off the festival at the Isabel Bader Theatre tonight is the Kabul To Toronto double bill showcasing Afghan rebab ripper Ustad Masroor and Qwaali maestro Ustad Mohammed Ulfat, whom Davis first encountered getting busy in Malton. Who knew?
"The whole idea of seeing an artist like Ustad Mohammed Ulfat and his family ensemble playing in a mosque in Malton and being able to put them on a stage before a broader audience was very appealing," Davis enthuses, "particularly at this time.
"Exposing people to different cultures -- learning about different people, too -- is good for the community."firstname.lastname@example.org