Chocolate Cake by ZOOM with Shawn Kellerman Is Life-Affirming Party Blues

ALBUM REVIEW

Title: Chocolate Cake
Artist:  ZOOM with Shawn Kellerman
Label: Mouhaha Music
Released: 2021
Reviewer: Christine Bode
Stars:  4.5

In 2019, when the world was a different place, I attended a Kingston Blues Society show at the RCHA Club in which Shawn Kellerman played with Jerome Godboo and his band. I had seen Godboo a few times and had heard of Kellerman but never really paid attention to his superb guitar playing. That evening, he really got my attention. Like it says on his website, “Sitting up close at a live performance is truly an awesome, jaw-dropping experience.” That night, my jaw hit the floor. Kellerman’s guitar playing is transcendental in that you can almost see his spirit rise above his body when he’s playing the blues. Man, he is phenomenal!

Blown away by his skill, I chatted with Shawn at the break and after the show, and as I work as a social media manager/marketer for musicians, we stayed in touch. I had already heard Kellerman’s guitar playing on Miss Angel’s album, Down In Mississippi, as I’d done some work for her, but that album is Classic Blues in the Mississippi/Delta style and very different from Zoom’s new album, Chocolate Cake, featuring Shawn Kellerman.

Kitchener-based Kellerman played and toured with the late great Lucky Peterson (he passed in May 2020) for many years and I’d seen Peterson’s set at the RBC Ottawa Blues Festival in July 1997. He is also a gifted producer who started his label, Mouhaha Music, producing and mixing Bobby Rush’s Memphis Blues Award-winning acoustic album Raw, and most recently, his longtime friend, Zoom’s latest album, Chocolate Cake, contributing guitar and bass, with some talented musicians from the Waterloo region playing on it—Jimmy Boudreau on drums, Ray Podhornik on trumpet, Dave Wiffen on tenor sax and Matt Weidinger on keys.

Zoom’s boisterous, bawdy, blues/funk vocal performances on Chocolate Cake, knocked me out. I hadn’t heard of her before, but I’ll never forget her now. Based in Detroit, Zoom’s style is Chicago Blues, which to my ears means blues you can dance to. She’s played with legends, including Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, and Bill Branch and the Sons of the Blues, around North America and Europe. Chocolate Cake is her comeback album after a twenty-year hiatus from music to raise her family.

After almost two years of the soul-shattering, livelihood-destroying pandemic blues, the raucous, danceable life-affirming party blues of Chocolate Cake, is just what the doctor ordered. Zoom’s dynamic vocals, Kellerman’s high-energy guitar, and the amusing, sexy, and saucy lyrics in many of the songs on the album are the perfect antidote to the tiresome, Groundhog Day-life perpetuated by the global pandemic. I laughed aloud at some of the lyrics more than once, with absolute delight! “Amazing Nepenthe (Weed)” might be my favourite new song. Sing it with me, “All I need is a little bit of weed.”

Zoom’s voice is sensational—she was truly born to sing the blues—and I love her passion and the raunchy humour in the lyrics. Standout tracks on the album include “Big Boss Woman” which should be an anthem for all female entrepreneurs. “I’m a big boss woman, I’m a big boss woman / oh, I’m big and I’m bad, I’m the best you ever had, I’m a big boss woman / I am a force of nature, pay me what I’m worth!”

As a single woman who has worked in the music industry for thirteen years, I’ve been living hand to mouth for most of that time. However, I’m a firm believer that music is one of the things that keeps us going during hard times. Its importance should not be understated and musicians should be supported.

“Born To Sing The Blues” is true of Zoom and this declaration is as genuine as it gets. “Still Got the Rhythm,” a testament to the wonder of Viagra, will make you chuckle while you’re shaking your hips to it in your living room. “He came home early in the morning, he was ready to jump / he took a funny little pill, he was ready to bump / I told him, take it, easy baby, you so big and strong / he said, don’t worry about it Mama, I don’t last that long.”

The title track, “Chocolate Cake,” is a funky, infectious horn-trimmed gem that reminds me, rhythmically, of Jack Mack and the Heart Attack. “Just like Ricky Bobby, we shake n bake / ah, come and get a piece of this chocolate cake / You like it when I give it to you, tell the truth / I satisfy your craving in your sweet tooth.”

Kellerman’s guitar solo in “My Baby Don’t Love Me” is a stellar accompaniment to Zoom’s weary, scratchy wail which is perfect for this classic, “damn, I’ve got the blues” composition.

The penultimate track, “Love Bone,” is another favourite because of Kellerman’s sensational wah-wah guitar and Zoom’s delivery of the naughty lyrics. “I’m like a bitch in heat, I want a doggy treat / I want your love bone / Don’t want to see your smile, we do it doggy style / I want your love bone / I’m going to twitch and twerk, Big Daddy, go to work / I want your love bone.” There aren’t too many singers who can get away with belting out lyrics like that while sounding like they’re keeping a straight face.

However, on the final, most consequential track, Zoom gets serious with the explicit “Tired of the Hate,” a lament about racism and an important reminder of why Black Lives Matter. “Sonny, day to day I’m going out for a run / I turn around, people chasing me with a gun / All I really want is vittles and iced tea / I got my hoodie on and, damn, they killing me / I’m tired of explaining, I’m tired of complaining / people always think the worst, my colour ain’t my curse.” Every Black woman and man I’ve ever known was born, made of love. This world wouldn’t be as rich, diverse, or meaningful without their contributions to every industry on the planet, and perhaps, Black contributions to music have been amongst the most remarkable.  


Chocolate Cake is a terrific feel-good party album that affirms that sex, weed, and the blues are still viable reasons for not giving up on life when it’s damn hard. But seriously, it’s also proof of why we should and do continue to care about diversity, equality, and every individual’s unique voice, regardless of their colour.

Listen to it on a Friday night or anytime you need to get your groove on.  And know that you would be remiss in not buying a copy for yourself and your friends who could use a pick-me-up this holiday season. It’s the perfect stocking stuffer for blues fans everywhere.

http://shawnkellerman.com/

https://zoombluesmusic.com/

David Leask Announces “FIRE & ICE” Video Release from CFMA-Nominated album, Voyageur in Song

David Leask Fire & Ice Music Video Banner

Voyageur In Song is something truly special…the album is a unique and uplifting, almost spiritual listening experience…that rare thing, a genuinely inspiring album.” ~ R’N R Magazine

“Possibly the most Canadian album on Canada’s most historic instrument.” ~ Toronto Star

“FIRE & ICE” Video AVAILABLE NOW at Youtube.com/DavidLeaskMusic

Toronto, ON – Dec. 2, 2021 – Award-winning Scottish-Canadian singer-songwriter, David Leask, has announced the release of his brand-new “FIRE & ICE” video single from, Voyageur in Song, a concept record inspired by the Six String Nation guitar nicknamed Voyageur.

The song was written about Labradorite, an iridescent blue feldspar mineral from Labrador’s Paul’s Island, inlayed on Voyageur’s 3rd and 9th frets. According to local Inuit legend, Labradorite once held the Northern Lights, which were eventually freed by a hunter. “Fire and Ice” imagines the birth of Labradorite from its own geological and mythical perspective. The upbeat melody of the song, complemented by Jaron Freeman-Fox’s violin, is a nod to the movement of light and colour within Labradorite, engaging listeners in the melody the way the mineral captures the eye.

“I wanted the song to have an underlying sense that sometimes we can’t see everything, that beauty can be hiding and we just have to have a closer look or wait, until the light hits in just the right way.” – David Leask

The “FIRE & ICE” video, produced by Big Red Oak Films, is told through the story of a young dancer who must find a way to rise above the competition and prove that she is everything she wants to be to the only person that matters—herself. The video is the culmination of an amazing thread of creativity from the initial artistic vision for the Six String Nation Guitar through to all the inspired artists that followed one another—luthier, singer/songwriter, music and video producers, choreographer, and ballet dancers.

Voyageur in Song by David Leask

Voyageur in Song, Leask’s 7th record, was written and recorded on a uniquely Canadian instrument—the Six String Nation guitar, Voyageur—built from over 64 pieces of natural, indigenous, oral, recorded, and contemporary history from every province and territory in Canada. It honours both the pain and the beauty in Canada’s history and features songs from Haida Gwaii to Labrador, with stops in Saskatchewan, Toronto, and the shores of PEI.

A decorated artist with international acclaim, Leask has been dubbed “the most consistent Canadian songwriting competition winner” by Songwriters Magazine, having won numerous contests including USA and International Songwriting Competitions. Leask is Mississauga Music 2021 Songwriter of the Year and his current record, Voyageur in Song is nominated for Canadian Folk Music Association Contemporary Album of the Year.

Watch the “Fire & Ice” video on YouTube

Connect with David Leask:
www.davidleask.com/voyageur
https://www.instagram.com/leaskexpected/
https://twitter.com/leaskexpected
https://www.facebook.com/DavidLeaskMusic
https://www.youtube.com/davidleaskmusic

Press Contact:
Mary Ellen Beatty: me@rulistening.ca

New Album by SULTANS OF STRING, Sanctuary (The Refuge Project), Transports Listeners to Ethereal Plane with Musical Alchemy

ALBUM REVIEW
by Christine Bode

Just when I thought that Sultans of String couldn’t devise a more ambitious and exciting project than their 2020 album, Refuge, they proved me wrong with the second installment of this project entitled Sanctuary. It is an equally ambitious, diverse, inclusive, and passionate album with a VIP roster of global ‘ambassadors’, some of whom are recent immigrants and refugees to Canada, as well as important Indigenous voices. All are masters of world music that tell the story of how to communicate with others through the global language of sound.

The album was released on Friday, November 5, 2021, on Fontana North! You can listen and purchase digital and hard copies now and also see Sultans of String’s new video for “Ariengue Arianga” at this link: https://smarturl.it/SultansSanctuary.

I was fortunate to be among the first to enjoy a sneak preview of Sanctuary which features this phenomenal guest artist list:

Ahmed Moneka – IRAQ / CAN
Amchok Gompo – TIBET / CAN
Donné Roberts – MADAGASCAR / CAN
Duke Redbird – FIRST NATION INDIGENOUS
Fethi Nadjem – Algeria / CAN
Gundem Yayli Grubu – TURKEY
Juan Carlos Medrano – COLOMBIA / CAN
Leen Hamo – SYRIA / CAN
Marito Marques – PORTUGAL / CAN
Mehmet Akatay – TURKEY
Padideh Ahrarnejad – IRAN / CAN
Ravi Naimpally – INDIA / CAN
Sammy Figueroa – PUERTO RICO / USA
Saskia Tomkins – ENGLAND / CAN
Selcuk Suna – TURKEY / CAN
Suat Suna – TURKEY
Tamar Ilana – CAN
Tara Moneka – IRAQ / CAN
Twin Flames – INDIGENOUS CAN
Yukiko Tsutsui – JAPAN / CAN

Chris McKhool’s grandfather came to North America as a stowaway on a ship in the early 1900s from LEBANON and his pianist mother from EGYPT.  And Sultans of String’s percussionist Rosendo ‘Chendy’ Leon came to North America as a refugee from CUBA.

The regular band includes the hardest working man I know—he never sleeps—the winner of the Canadian Independent Music Association’s 2021 Pivot Award—Chris McKhool, as well as flamenco guitarist and songwriter extraordinaire, Kevin Laliberté, and master bassist Drew Birston!

Working for Chris McKhool and Sultans of String for ten years has opened my ears to more world music than I have ever heard before, so I must credit them for adding sophistication to my musical taste. Not only am I a member of their amazing team, but a huge fan. You may feel similarly about this 3x Juno-nominated group who have accumulated more award honours than any of us can count!

There is so much richness, texture, and complexity to the songs on Sanctuary, that it is an album that becomes more cherished with repeated listening. All the sensational artists who contribute their gifts to the album are to be commended on their stellar performances as they transport us to another place through their musical alchemy.

My favourite tracks include the pure and joyful Madagascar sounds of “Ariengue Arianga”, with music and lyrics by Donné Roberts, arrangement by Sultans of String, and vocals by Donné and Yukiko Tsutsui. “Moroccan Dreams,” my favourite instrumental track, with music by Kevin Laliberté is luscious, wild, and evokes the desire for a Casablanca-like adventure, featuring Padideh Ahrarnejad on tar, and Ravi Naimpally on tabla. Turkish pop star, Suat Suna, lends terrific vocals to a gorgeous version of “Hurricane” (originally released on Refuge), featuring Turkish strings by Gundem Yayli Grubu, among other innovative musical guests. The stunning, passionate up-tempo ballad “Tell the Night” with lyrics and Syrian vocals by the exquisite Leen Hamo could transport you to the Ethereal Plane, while the quietly stunning “Khatenche” featuring breathtaking Tibetan flute by Amchock Gompa, who also wrote the music with McKhool and Laliberté, is perfect for inner reflection.

“Mi Santuario” featuring Colombian musician Juan Carlos Medrano, was the first single released on Friday, September 10, 2021, and the second single “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” (originally recorded by Sonny & Cher) featuring Tara Saleh Moneka and Ahmed Moneka was released on Friday, October 8, 2021.

Sultans of String’s exciting new interview and music series, BACKSTAGE, a free online Livestream from their Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/sultansofstring has been featuring different artists from the album since Friday, September 10th with more yet to come. On Friday, November 12, 2021, at NOON EST, Sultans of String will feature powerful and versatile Canadian singer and flamenco dancer, Tamar Ilana.

Tamara Ilana – photo by Carlos Gárate


If you missed these episodes of BACKSTAGE when they were live, you can always visit the group’s Facebook page to watch them in playback and share them with your friends. Some episodes are also on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/sultansofstring.

Sultans of String Release Second Single from Upcoming Album, Sanctuary: Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) featuring Tara Salah Moneka & Ahmed Moneka

Sultans of String Release Second Single from Upcoming Album, Sanctuary: Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) featuring Tara Salah Moneka & Ahmed Moneka

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Artist: Sultans of String
Single: Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) feat. Tara Salah Moneka & Ahmed Moneka
Release date: October 8, 2021 from upcoming album, Sanctuary (releasing Nov 10)

BRAND NEW SINGLE FROM 3X JUNO AWARD NOMINEES/ 3X CFMA WINNERS SULTANS OF STRING

“Energetic and exciting music fest from a band with talent to burn… the very epitome of world music: no boundaries, no rules!” – Maverick Music Magazine

[Toronto, ON]  NY Times and BILLBOARD charting world music supergroup Sultans of String released their brand-new single “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” on Oct 8, 2021. This song features the four core Sultans as well as incredibly talented and inspiring special guests Tara Salah Moneka & Ahmed Moneka.

Originally written by Sonny Bono, and sung by Cher and Nancy Sinatra, this is a new take on the song that speaks to people from the perspective of marginalized voices and is a benchmark of how the world has changed with the Black Lives Matter movement, and the thirst for equality around the world.

Sultans of String worked with Ahmed on their previous album, Refuge. An artist and a musician from Baghdad, Iraq, Ahmed came as an artist to Canada and then stayed as a refugee in order to save his life towards the end of 2015. “I love what I’m doing here now and Toronto gave me a lot of opportunity to continue my journey as an artist.  I used to be an actor and I did a lot of projects and my work focus about human rights and supporting the story that no one telling it before. So I came to TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, as a main actor in film called The Society. And this movie, it was the first film talking about the history of homosexuality in Iraq, the first film like of its kind in Iraq.”

“We filmed the film, but we were scared to screen it until 2015. Then the first premier was in Cannes Festival and it was a nice, amazing exposure to the film. And then TIFF, they got it to screen, and then that’s why I ended up in Toronto on the red carpet.

At the same time, there was a revolution in Baghdad in the summer 2015, with a lot of ISIS in the North of Iraq, and people fighting. There was crazy chaos.

Several people, like the open-minded people, they were taking over, Ahmed continues. “So I was part of the revolution as well. And then in September in the fall I came to TIFF, to Toronto, and they were screening the film. TIFF, they made a big exposure of this film. It’s the first film in history, of the people. They went to my father because my father is very well known as an actor in Iraq as well, and told him, ‘Hey listen if Ahmed comes back, we’ll cut his body into little pieces so you’re not allowed to come back, let him stay in Toronto’. So I got exiled, literally, from my country and that was really crazy. I started my journey without knowing any English. And then I started learning English, in an ESL school as a refugee, like political refugee in the new country, and that’s why I ended up in Toronto.”

It was just this past year that his super talented younger sister Tara and the rest of his family would join him here, with an emotional greeting at the airport in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that risked derailing the entire settlement process.  She was also forced to flee the country with her parents after receiving multiple threats from militiamen against her singing. To them, Tara’s music is considered forbidden (haram), shutting down events where Tara would appear and directly threatening her life.

The whole arts community is so grateful for their presence here. Sultans of String bandleader Chris McKhool chimes in: “Ahmed and Tara are amazing individuals. They are so strong and full of hope for a better tomorrow. And I think in a way they teach us to be better Canadians by seeing our country through their eyes!”

Ahmed says, “Toronto made me a musician, to be honest.  I have African heritage. So that made me know how to play drums. When I was still young, we sang as a ceremony, a ritual thing, with the family. Then without knowing how to speak and to communicate with people, I felt the music is the best way to share and express myself.

“Love is the main reason for a great future.  And that I feel the privilege of art and this amazing collaboration happening, like what’s happening in this album, exactly is in home and nationalities. How many people, how many different backgrounds. Toronto makes you feel not stranger because a lot of immigrants, it’s based on immigrants.”

Since his arrival, Ahmed has certainly ingratiated himself to his adopted country and has collaborated with many artistic institutions, including the Canadian Opera Company, Tarragon Theatre, Aga Khan Museum, Tafelmusik, Driftwood Theatre Group, Toronto Jazz Festival, Koerner Hall and many others. He is one of the founders of the band Moskitto Bar and is the creator and leader of Moneka Arabic Jazz – a 2019 Stingray Rising Stars Winner at the Toronto Jazz Festival.  His sister Tara seems to be following in his footsteps and is becoming a key player in the local arts scene.

They continue to teach us about how to be better people.

“Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” was released in standard stereo as well as Dolby Atmos on Oct. 8.

Tara Salah Moneka & Ahmed Moneka also appeared on October 8 at noon EST on BACKSTAGE with Sultans of String, a free Livestream broadcast at www.facebook.com/sultansofstring that features in-depth connections with guest artists, fan interactive conversations, video premieres, and up close and personal interviews with the artists, discovering their stories behind the songs that include tales of struggles and success, and of course, live music.

BACKSTAGE SCHEDULE (all episodes can be viewed on YouTube at www.youtube.com/sultansofstring after they air):

Sep 10 – Juan Carlos Medrano
Sep 17 – Padideh Ahrarnejad
Sep 24 – Leen Hamo

Oct 1 – Saskia Tomkins 
Oct 8 – Tara and Ahmed Moneka
Oct 15 – Rosendo ‘Chendy’ Leon
Oct 22 – Robi Botos
Oct 29 – Anh Phung

Nov 5 – Donné Roberts / Yukiko Tsutsui
Nov 12 – Tamar Ilana
Nov 19 – Amir Amiri
Nov 26 – Duke Redbird

SPOTIFY: https://tinyurl.com/y5kxh96c
BAND WEBSITE: http://sultansofstring.com  
FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/sultansofstring 
TWITTER: http://twitter.com/sultansofstring
INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/sultansofstring/

DISTRIBUTORS:
Canada – Fontana North
USA/World – C.E.N. (Orchard/SONY)
UK/EUROPE – Proper Music Distribution

MORE ABOUT THE UPCOMING ALBUM, SANCTUARY:

“Mi Santuario” is the first single off Sanctuary, the highly anticipated eighth album from Sultans of String. It is the second instalment in their Refuge Project. The first, simply entitled Refuge, was heralded as “a fantastic, moving, dreamlike, epic, timely album,” by Ken Micallef (Jazz Times, Stereophile, Downbeat), and won many awards, including Producer of the Year at the 2021 Canadian Folk Music Awards for bandleader and violinist Chris McKhool. 

This ambitious, diverse, inclusive, and passionately political album puts the band face-to-face with a VIP roster of global ‘ambassadors,’ some of whom are recent immigrants and refugees to Canada, as well as important Indigenous voices.  All are masters of world music that communicate with each other through the global language of music.

Addressing the struggles of life on Mother Earth has always inspired Toronto-based quintet, Sultans of String. On Sanctuary, Sultans of String bring their unique brand of musical synergy and collaboration to bear on eleven songs that speak to the challenges facing the world’s displaced peoples–their stories, their songs, their persistence and their humanity.

Joined by an international cast, some of whom are recent immigrants to North America, the celebrated quartet immerses themselves in the plight of the international refugee on Refuge and the humanitarian response that should greet everyone in search of a home.

Bandleader Chris McKhool explains “The larger Refuge Project is centred around the positive contributions of refugees and new immigrants to Canada. We are bringing in special guests that are newcomers to this land, as well as global talents that have been ambassadors for peace.  We wish to celebrate the successes of those who make the journey here and bring their extraordinary talents with them, in this case, music.  Each one of us has a remarkable story to tell, and we are excited to share the beauty of these collaborations with you.”

Sanctuary features seven new tracks with stellar performances by Tara and Ahmed Moneka from Iraq, Amchok Gompo from Tibet, Donné Roberts from Madagascar with partner Yukiko Tsutsui from Japan, Algeria’s Fethi Nadjem, Juan Carlos Medrano from Colombia, Syrian refugee Leen Hamo, Iran’s Padideh Ahrarnejad, and Nyckelharpa player Saskia Tomkins.

It also includes three stunning new versions of songs from Refuge. These include an astonishingly gorgeous orchestral version of “The Power of the Land” featuring Indigenous performers Duke Redbird and Twin Flames, Turkish mega-pop star Suat Suna singing “Hurricane,” and flamenco dancer and singer Tamar Ilana singing a version of “Asi Soy” that will rip your heart out.

SCHEDULE:

Sept 10 – Single #1 – “Mi Santuario”  

Oct 8 – Single #2 – “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”

Nov. 5 – Sanctuary – Full album release – Physical & Digital