3x JUNO Nominees / 4x CFMA Winning Sultans of String & Friends Release “Walking Through the Fire”

Submitted by Sandy Graham

Canadian 3x JUNO Award-nominees and 4x Canadian Folk Music Award-winners Sultans of String & Friends are now embarking on the most ambitious and essential project of their career: Their ninth album entitled “Walking through the Fire”, which will be a beautiful collection of collaborations with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit artists across Turtle Island/Canada. The band has launched an INDIEGOGO campaign to raise funds and they would love your support. With your help they we can make this recording a reality!  

Visit Sultans of String’s INDIEGOGO page: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/indigenous-collabs-w-sultans-of-string-friends#/

Accompanying the Sultans of String – Chris McKhool (violin), Kevin Laliberté (guitar), Drew Birston (bass) and Rosendo ‘Chendy’ Leon (drums and percussion) will be Ojibwe Potawatomi singer-songwriter Crystal Shawanda performing her song “The Rez;” a co-write with Anishinabe Algonquin / Onkwehón:we Mohawk singer-songwriter Raven Kanatakta (of Digging Roots); a co-write with Mi’kmaw guitarist Don Ross on a song called “Highway of Tears” which also includes Métis bassist MJ Dandeneau; Inuit throat singers Kendra Tagoona & Tracy Sarazin; a co-write with Dene singer-songwriter Leela Gilday; Ojibwe/Finnish singer-songwriter Marc Meriläinen brings his Nadjiwan sounds to the album; The North Sound featuring Blackfoot singer-songwriter Forrest Eaglespeaker and singer-songwriter Nevada Freistadt; Tsm’syen Elder singer-songwriter Shannon Thunderbird; Chippewa / Anishinaaba Elder & Poet Dr. Duke Redbird; Tsm’syen singer Kate Dickson; the Métis Fiddler Quartet; and Northern Cree Pow Wow group.

“We want to make a difference in the world, with the music we play. We’re making this album in the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, and Final Report that asks for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to work together as an opportunity to show a path forward,” the band says. “We know that as a society we can’t move ahead without acknowledging and reflecting on the past. Before reconciliation can occur, the full truth of the Indigenous experience in this country needs to be told, so we’ve been calling on Indigenous artists to share with us their stories, their experience, and their lives, so we settler Canadians can continue our learning about the history of residential schools, of cultural genocide, and of inter-generational impacts of colonization,” says Chris McKhool. 

Chippewa/Anishinaaba Elder and poet collaborator Dr. Duke Redbird shares “The place that we have to start is with truth. Reconciliation will come sometime way in the future, perhaps, but right now, truth is where we need to begin the journey with each other. As human beings, we have to acquire that truth.”

For this project, the band is working with an advisory circle of Indigenous artists to keep them going down the right path, and bandleader/producer McKhool also met with the Honourable Murray Sinclair, Ojibwe Elder and former chair of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, to speak about the project, who reflected; “The very fact that you’re doing this tells me that you believe in the validity of our language, you believe in the validity of our art and our music and that you want to help to bring it out. And that’s really what’s important, is for people to have faith that we can do this… That’s really good”

Bed tracks are being recorded at Jukasa Studio, an Indigenous owned studio on Indigenous land in the Six Nations reserve south of Hamilton, and collaborating artists are being recorded in studios, in nature along vital life-giving waterways, and at Pow Wows. One of the most innovative collaborations is with the Pow Wow group Northern Cree, who have earned 9 Grammy nominations. Despite their success, they are eager to co-create a piece with Sultans of String to continue sharing their language and culture via a radio audience. “When you’re collaborating with mainstream music, it shows that we can work together to bring out the very best in who we are as human beings” says Northern Cree drummer and singer Steve Wood. “It shows that we can work together, and we can bring out something very beautiful.”

Listen on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2hjyfPDlnCN66ZKcGA0O00?si=p3kGt7vkSUyb-ZW3qEpgmw&nd=1

3x JUNO nominees and SiriusXM winners Sultans of String create “Energetic and exciting music from a band with talent to burn!” (Maverick Magazine UK). Thrilling their audiences with their genre-hopping passport of Celtic reels, flamenco, Gypsy-jazz, Arabic, Cuban, and South Asian rhythms, Sultans of String celebrate musical fusion and human creativity with warmth and virtuosity. Fiery violin dances with rumba-flamenco guitar, while bass and percussion lay down unstoppable grooves. Acoustic strings meet with electronic wizardry to create layers and depth of sound, while world rhythms excite audiences to their feet with the irresistible need to dance.

Since releasing their debut album Luna in 2007, Sultans of String have continually strived to make each chart-topping album more original and meaningful than the last. That includes working with an orchestra (2013’s Symphony), teaming with Pakistani sitarist Anwar Khurshid (2015’s Subcontinental Drift) and even crafting a world-music holiday album (2017’s Christmas Caravan), which landed them on the Billboard charts and the New York Times. Their ambition and work ethic have garnered them multiple awards and accolades, including three JUNO nominations, first place in the International Songwriting Competition (out of 15,000 entries), three Canadian Folk Music Awards and countless other honours, plus a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal (for bandleader Chris McKhool). Their 2020 release Refuge garnered awards including 2 Independent Music Awards for Instrumental Song of the Year and World Music Producer of the Year, as well as 2021 CFMA for Producer of the Year for Chris McKhool and John Bailey. The lead track from their follow up Sanctuary CD was part of John Bailey’s 2022 Engineering JUNO nomination.

McKhool has an Egyptian-born mother who happened to play piano, teach classical theory, and feed her young son as much Middle Eastern cuisine as she did music lessons. From there, the powerful violinist developed a taste for multi-genre string sounds and found a like-minded crew of all-world enthusiasts. When McKhool first heard founding guitarist Kevin Laliberté’s rumba rhythm, their musical synergy created Sultans of String’s signature sound – the intimate and playful relationship between violin and guitar. From this rich foundation, the dynamic duo grew, featuring such amazing musical friends as in-the-pocket bass master Drew Birston, and the jaw-dropping beats of percussionist Chendy Leon.

Their live resume is similarly stellar. Equally at home in a concert hall, folk and jazz club or festival setting, the Sultans have gigged at JUNOfest, the legendary club Birdland in New York, Celtic Connections Festival (Glasgow) and London’s Trafalgar Square. They have sold out Koerner Hall three times (Toronto’s Carnegie Hall), and performed with the Annapolis, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton Symphony Orchestras. They have played live on CBC’s Canada Live, BBC Radio, BBC TV, Irish National Radio, and the syndicated World Café, Woodsongs, and SiriusXM in Washington. Sultans of String’s musicianship and versatility are also showcased in collaborations with such diverse luminaries as Paddy Moloney & The Chieftains, Sweet Honey in The Rock, Richard Bona (Paul Simon), Alex Cuba, Ruben Blades, Yasmin Levy, Benoit Bourque, Béla Fleck, Crystal Shawanda & Ken Whiteley.  

Sultans of String will be performing live this fall, tickets available at http://www.sultansofstring.com

Sep 08 Olney IL • Olney Central College Theater
Sep 10 Waukegan IL • Orlin Trapp Auditorium
Sep 11 Cedar Rapids IA • Paramount Theatre
Sep 13 Minot ND • Minot State University
Sep 15 Anoka MN • Anoka Senior High School
Sep 20 Harwood MD • Southern High School
Sep 21 Seaford DE • Madden Auditorium
Sep 22 Severna Park MD • Severna Park High School
Sep 24 Boston MA • Roxbury Community College
Sep 25 Norwood MA • Extended Play Sessions
Oct 18 Markham ON • Flato Markham Theatre Awards
Nov 04 Toronto ON • Festival of Arabic Music & Arts
Nov 12 Deep Gap NC • Songs From the Wood Concerts
Nov 13 Black Mountain NC • White Horse Black Mountain
Nov 15 Sandersville GA • Live on Stage
Nov 17 Morgan City LA • Schreier Theatre
Nov 26 Owen Sound ON • Harmony Centre
Nov 27 Kitchener ON • Registry Theatre
Dec 04 Gravenhurst ON • Gravenhurst Opera House
Dec 10 St Catharines ON • FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre
Dec 11 St Catharines ON • FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre
Dec 15 Willow Street PA • Willow Valley Cultural Center
Dec 17 Midland ON • Brookside Music
Dec 18 Kleinburg ON • The McMichael Gallery
Dec 19 Ottawa ON • Algonquin Theatre
Dec 20 Cobourg ON • Concert Hall at Victoria Hall
Dec 21 Toronto ON • Kingston Road Village Concert Series