Wednesday, 20 April 2016
The Sultans of String with Anwar Khurshid
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Thursday, April 14, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.
The Sultans of String played to the crowd – with a great deal of success – at their high-energy show at the NAC Fourth Stage Thursday evening. The room was packed, and, from the first song onwards, the group's wide-ranging mix of musical sources clearly connected with much of the audience.
The Sultans were primarily playing from their latest album, Subcontinental Drift, which adds an extra voice and musical tradition – Pakistani-Canadian musician Anwar Khurshid and his sitar – to their existing mix of Gypsy jazz, Arabic and Cuban rhythms, and flamenco. On the right of the stage, Khurshid sat on a raised stage with his sitar; in the middle were bassist Drew Birston, violinist Chris McKhool, and guitarist Kevin Laliberté, each with an amp and a substantial pedal/effects board; and on the left was percussionist Rosendo 'Chendy' Leon, who fitted in an amazing number of drums, cymbals, and percussion instruments into a small space.
In classical Indian music, the violin, guitar, and percussion (though tablas instead of cajons) do feature prominently, so it wasn't a big jump to combine sitar with the Sultans' standard instrumentation – and the reverse was true, too, with the sitar adding a metallic sharpness reminiscent of pedal steel to a few of the Sultans' older hits.
And with nearly 200 years of British rule, there has been considerable cultural exchange already in the Indian subcontinent. The second song in the show demonstrated this – “The Rakes of Mallow” is a song which, when Khurshid originally played it for them, McKhool and Laliberté immediately recognized as an Irish fiddle tune. In fact, it's also a traditional Pakistani tune – by adoption. The version they played in the show had a bit of both traditions: first the traditional Irish interpretation on violin and guitar, followed by Khurshid joining in with his high-energy version on sitar, with vocals in Urdu.