Monday, July 14, 2014

Matapa World Music Festival: The Gage Park Magic Returns With Sultans of String

There was magic in the air at the first ever Matapa World Music Festival. The warmth of a perfect July day lingered over the lawn in front of the Gage Park bandshell, children danced happily around their family blankets, and as the sun was setting behind the trees I felt that familiar glow. I was transported back to former Festival nights years ago, when the diverse, esoteric, and often comical mix of humanity known as Hamiltonians gathered for a few hours of peace, love, happiness and great music.
Photo: Ivan Sorensen

A chunk of Hamilton's collective soul is destined to reside and re-gather every summer at the Gage Park bandshell. In recent years some of that energy was lost. It's been coming back with the Festival of Colour, It's Your Festival, and Seven Sundays in Gage Park. And now we can say, "Thank-you Matapa" for helping to "get ourselves back to the garden"a few more steps closer.

The Matapa World Music festival had all the necessary elements: a beautiful summer evening that had been washed clean by a rainshower earlier in the day, just enough to lose the humidity; cool shade or warming sunshine; an engaging vibe of happy and uplifting music; unique food smells wafting across the scene; craft booths; and of course, excellent live music.

At Matapa I saw the face of the Hamilton I love - the city of a thousand faces and an open-minded arts audience. In my city people unashamedly do their own dance, and no one looks down their nose at them when they do it.

The Sultans of String show helped to make the chemistry. They began their set at dusk and lauded the emerging moonlit evening with a thoroughly entertaining and high-quality set of music, telling stories from across Canada. For example "Luna the whale" used musical expressions of the violin and echo machine to speak whale to the audience and create an urgent and moving killer whale story from Nootka Sound. The variety of other musical flavours included an East Coast kitchen reel, an Egyptian epic, and a Turkish dance which got a many feet tapping and a few bellies dancing.

Frontman Chris McKhool's name is adapted from the Lebanese Makhoul of his grandparents. His mom was Egyptian, and from the earliest days he was immersed in a world of musical diversity and cultural respect. When he met guitarist Kevin Laliberté a musical chemical reaction occured, and the Sultans of String sound was born. The result is "music without borders" and a round sense of excitement and entertainment that infects the audience with a sudden desire to dance and laugh.

The groove was kept fully alive by the stellar performance of Cuban percussionist Alberto Suarez and bassist Drew Birston. Laliberté also had many opportunities to shine on the guitar, either by driving the rhythm or by carving out a solo line in any genre.

Sultans of String: A solid choice of "borderless music."
Photo: Ivan Sorensen

In the overall context of the three-day festival, Sunday night was a success. Daytime crowds seemed thin, and the Sunday noon rain gave some worry, but with the sun drying things up quickly there were no lingering problems. Despite some scheduling difficulties and acts being cancelled (my hoped-for show, Nagata Shachu, was cancelled unfortunately and the Community Stage did not happen at all throughout the festival) the musicians delivered spectacularly on all three days.

Other articles about Matapa and the World Music Festival:
"Matapa World Music Festival" from Cut From Steel Blog
Photo Essay of 2014 Festival, by Ivan Sorensen

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