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