Harbourfront’s “Classical IV” weekend featuring Masters of Mali with Sidi Touré

I’ve often found this themed weekend (in the past, appropriately titled “What is Classical”) one of Harbourfront’s most interesting each year, as it poses that musical question. One of my favourite Harbourfront concerts in recent years was Orchestra Piazza Vittorio performing their unique take on Mozart’s Magic Flute.

This year’s “Classical IV: Strings” focuses on a wide variety of stringed instruments, and, Harbourfront suggests, asks questions such as:

What is modern classical music? Why are some folk melodies and pop tunes called classics? And who gets to call them that? Can sonorous instruments from different cultures talk to each other? What happens when you play a classical instrument but produce modern music? Or play a ‘classical’ tune on a more humble instrument?

Sidi TouréOne of the musical highlights this weekend is the Friday night concert of “Masters of Mali, with Side Touré”

Touré is an acclaimed singer and guitarist from Gao in northern Mali. Unlike the griots of that country, Touré was descended from a noble rather than musical lineage, as is Salif Keita, and like that singer, Touré had to overcome societal and family disapproval of his musical ambitions.

Bassekou Kouyaté said of him,

Sidi Touré is a worthy successor to Ali Farka Touré. Among Songhaï musicians, Sidi is the best. Sidi Toure has all the talent, quality, simplicity, playing and singing skills, it’s incredible. We need people like Sidi.

Read more of him, and listen to his latest CD, Koima here.  Afropop Worldwide has a review of his NYC concert last October here.

The rest of the weekend offers quite an impressive and eclectic musical lineup, all stretching the definition of “classical” strings.  including:


Maryem Hassan Tollar: 7pm
Tio Chorinho: 8pm (“old world mandolins, played Brazilian style”)
Masters of Mali, Featuring singer/guitarist Sidi Touré, 9:30pm


The Traditional Arabic Music Ensemble featuring George Sawa & Nada El Masriya. 1:30pm
Ethiopia: Classical Variations. 2:30pm. New arrangements of traditional Ethiopian music, by krar player Fantahun Shewankochew Mekonnen and others
Musideum: Donald Quan will present the histories of some of the instruments in his fascinating store. 3pm
Lute Legends Ensemble: Exploring the connections between the pipa, lute and oud. 3:30pm
East Meets West Mash-up featuring the Radha Academy of Carnatic Violin, linking Indian violin and Ontario folk. 5:30pm
Minor Empire: Turkish melodies. 7:30pm & 9:15pm
Irshad Khan. The great sitar player. 8:15pm
Deborah Henson-Conant.  Harbourfront describes her as “a Grammy-nominated, genre-bending, blues-flamenco-celtic-funk-folk-jazz-classical dynamo”. 10pm


Jayme Stone: Bach on the Banjo by two-time Grammy winner. 2pm
Ukulele workshop: Workshop at 2:30. Bring your own ukulele & learn the chorus of the 1812 Overture, and play it at 4pm
Toronto Mandolin Orchestra: “Exuberant classics played on massed mandolins meet Ukrainian traditions of longing.” 3pm

Details (and bios) of these and other musical and other events here. All free, of course