Sultans of String and Marc Meriläinen Explore The Light In “A Beautiful Darkness”

Submitted by Sandy Graham

A Beautiful Darkness is a collaboration between 3x JUNO nominated, 4x CFMA winning Sultans of String and Marc Meriläinen, the creative force also known as Nadjiwan, who has been recognized in many corners, including Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, the Native American Music Awards, the Indigenous Music Awards, along with invitations to perform at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto.

Watch A Beautiful Darkness – Sultans of String feat. Marc Meriläinen (Nadjiwan)

on YouTube here:

It is the second single off the upcoming Sultans of String album entitled Walking Through the Fire (Sept 22, 2023 release), the most ambitious and important project of their career, a CD and concert of collaborations with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit artists across Turtle Island.

Listen on Spotify here:

Referencing the title, Marc Meriläinen explains “We were just getting through COVID, and lockdowns, and of course, being in isolation… everyone had that feeling that this was an extra-long winter, because when we started COVID, it was still in the wintertime. And then, sure, we had spring and summer, but those seasons just blew right by, it seems. And we’re back in winter again, back into COVID.

“It seemed like everyone needed this refreshing break from the darkness that has engulfed our lives and forced us into this new way of living that we all had to adapt and adjust. But with each new night, or each night, there’s always a new day that comes. So the song is about breaking free from these barriers and these things that hold us down… or keep us maybe depressed or not feeling happy.”

Indeed, the chorus lifts the listener out of moody verses. “I always look into it as the chorus being the awakening of spring” Marc continues, “And then the light breaking through the darkness and reinvigorating our lives. And to steal Bruce Cockburn’s little quote from that song, “Gotta kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight.”

Sultans of String bandleader and violinist Chris McKhool, who was recently awarded the Dr. Duke Redbird Lifetime Achievement Award from the JAYU Festival For Human Rights, is trying to transform the darkness in his own way.  “We are creating this recording in the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, and Final Report that asks that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people work together as an opportunity to show a path forward. I am really excited about working with Marc because I am a super huge fan of his work, especially the incredible skills he learned during the pandemic, working with outer space screenscapes, that have made their way into the video for this song. He is one of many fantastic Indigenous artists on my playlist right now.”

When asked about the newfound popularity of Indigenous artists, Marc says: “Definitely we are seeing a Renaissance, if you will, with Indigenous culture, and artists, and entrepreneurs, and everything else. And it’s good to keep that ball rolling. And hopefully, this project keeps that ball rolling, which I’m sure it will. And that’s one of the big reasons why I signed on. And I love everything that you’re doing with the project, because this is a great way to build some of these bridges, as well as leaving the evening or a listener with a great selection of tunes.”

Marc likens a hesitancy for more collaborations to a high school dance. “Guys are on this side of the wall. And then on the other side, the girls are here. And everyone’s afraid to ask each other out to have a dance and then have a great time. I think it’s like that in the music community, like, ‘I’d like to work with this community, but I’m not sure what the protocol is. Or maybe they don’t want me there.’ But I’ll tell you, we love working, I mean, I can’t speak for all Indigenous people, but we love working with new music, and new artists, and people from all backgrounds and ethnicities and genres, because that’s what makes music exciting. And it’s all about promoting these cross collaborations that make it exciting for the audience as well.”

Studios were used throughout Ontario to record this track, including Marc recording his guitar and vocals at his own Meriläinen Music studio, Sultans co-founder Kevin Laliberté’s guitar tracks at his own studio, multiple fiddle overdubs with Grammy and JUNO Award winning John ‘Beetle’ Bailey in New Hamburg ON, and Sultans bed tracks recorded at Jukasa Studios, an Indigenous-owned world-class recording facility on the Six Nations reserve south of Hamilton Ontario.

But the spiritual roots of the song may come from Northern Ontario. “My grandparents are Andrew Patrick and Isabel Nadjiwan. Cape Croker Chippewas of Nawash is the community.” says Marc. “Although my mother was born and raised in Wikwemikong First Nation, which is on Manitoulin Island. And there’s actually a street named after the family. If you go to Wiki, there’s Nadjiwan Lane, which the old family house used to be on. The house is no longer there, but the street is still there. So I grew up mainly in Thunder Bay in my early years. And Thunder Bay, they have a classic rock station. And then there’s all these cultural things. So it’s a large Indigenous population and Finnish population. So I remember in the summers going to different ceremonies and powwows. And in one ear I’d hear the sound of the powwow drum, the singing. But in the other ear from a car radio, I’d hear the classic rock station.

“So those two influences kind of stuck with me from, I think, when I was four or five. I didn’t know how to play the guitar. I had a fake guitar with rubber bands for strings. But I think that’s where I started working on the sound. There’s still definitely an Indigenous element there, but there’s also this classic rock sound as well. And how those two came together, it’s like the Reese peanut butter and the chocolate story, we’ll say.”

Pre-order album here:

 Please click here to learn more, including how we are including cultural safeguards in our work on this project:

Marc Meriläinen (Nadjiwan):

Born in Lynn Lake, Manitoba and raised in Thunder Bay, Marc Meriläinen’s heritage can be traced to the Chippewas of Nawash, Cape Croker.
Transforming the sound and image of Indigenous music has been one of Marc Meriläinen’s goals from the very beginning, and his prodigious output has been recognized in many corners, including the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, the Native American Music Awards, the Indigenous Music Awards, and Toronto’s Dora Mavor Moore Awards for the Performing Arts, along with invitations to perform at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto.

From his early days as creator and performer of the multi-award nominated contemporary indigenous rock project NADJIWAN to currently producing the next wave of Indigenous musical artists, Marc has worked with numerous artists to help launch and further their career development.  In addition to writing and producing acts Marc has also promoted and produced various live shows & events including Planet IndigenUs at Harbourfront Centre and the Original People, Original Songs concert series.

Sultans of String:

Bandleader Chris McKhool (Makhoul in Lebanon) 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.

MAR 17 – Shelton Auditorium, Shelton, WA
MAR 18 – Edmonds Center for the Arts, Edmonds, WA
MAR 20 – Poncan Theatre, Ponca City, OK
MAR 23 – Fine Arts Center – Western NM University, Silver City, NM
MAR 25 – Payson Auditorium, Payson, AZ
MAR 27 – Performing Arts Center, Lake Havasu City, AZ
MAR 28 – Mohave High School Auditorium, Bullhead City, AZ
MAR 29 – Education Series, Bullhead City, AZ
MAR 30 – Borrego Springs Performing Arts Center, Borrego Springs, CA
APR 01 – Feature Film: The Refuge Project at CFMAs, Vancouver,  CA
APR 14 – First Presbyterian Church (Young Audience), Lincoln, NE
APR 15 – First Presbyterian Church, Lincoln, NE
MAY 12 – Marble Arts Centre, Tweed ON
MAY 13 – Bancroft Village Playhouse, Bancroft ON
MAY 14 – Bryan Jones Theatre, Lakefield College, Lakefield, ON
MAY 26 – Brockville Arts Centre, Brockville, ON
JUN 24 – Mississauga World Music Festival
JUN 24 – Old Church Theatre, Trenton ON
JUN 27 – Wasaga Beach Gazebo, Wasaga Beach ON