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T.O. Music Pix Newsletter #111: June 27/10
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Congratuations to Ghana, going to the World Cup quarter-finals!

Click this YouTube link for some classic Ghanaian highlife while you read...



In this issue:

1. Tonight: "Grievous Angel" and the story of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris
2. Toronto Jazz Festival: some roots music highlights
3. Other upcoming events
4. Miscellaneous notes:
  a) Luminato: Bassekou! and others
  b) Fela! report from Broadway
  c) Son House: "John the Revelator"

1. Tonight:  "Grievous Angel: The Legend of Gram Parsons" at Hugh's Room
Photo: cover of his second album, Return of the Grievous Angel

Gram Parsons' career, life and death are truly the stuff of legend. One of the pioneers of alt-country/American music, "discoverer" of Emmylou Harris, dead at 26 of an overdose of morphine and tequila, his body was stolen from the airport by his road manager, Phil Kaufman, and burned in the desert. Not surprising he's been the subject of 5 biographies, 4 tribute albums and a documentary.

Tonight, Hugh's Room hosts a musical play about Parsons, with Anders Drerup and Kelly Prescott taking the role of Emmylou Harris.

Parsons' two solo albums were notable not just for his singing and the music, but for introducing Emmylou Harris to the world, as she sang harmony on both. Theirs was a deep musical and personal relationship, although they not a romantic one -- his death prevented that. In a very revealing and moving interview, Harris talks about Parsons, his influence, and her shock and fear over his self-destructive side.

A couple of weeks before [his death], I'd finally accepted the fact that I was in love with him. But, you know, why even tell him? I was going to see him in a few weeks. I had all the time in the world. And then he died, so I never even got to tell him.

I was savouring the moment. I didn't want to say it over the phone. I wanted to say it to him in person. But I never had the chance."

It's no wonder that Harris' posthumous song to Parsons, "Boulder to Birmingham" from her first solo CD is still one of the most moving songs she's ever done. Watch here.

I don't want to hear a sad story
Full of heartbreak and desire
The last time I felt like this
It was in the wilderness and the canyon was on fire

And I stood on the mountain
In the night and I watched it burn
I watched it burn, I watched it burn.

I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
I would hold my life in his saving grace.
I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham
If I thought I could see, I could see your face.

Well you really got me this time
And the hardest part is knowing I'll survive...

Emmylou Harris & Bill Danoff, Wait and See Music


2. Toronto Jazz Festival (June 25-Jul. 4)
Photo: Mavis Staples, Toronto Jazz Festival, 2008

Toronto's biggest music festival kicked off last night 10 days, 350 concerts, 1500 musicians, and over 40+ venues!. There are a number of roots-related events listed on my events page. Among the mainstage highlights are:

  • Jun. 27: Taj Mahal, with James Hunter opening. It's been quite a few years since I saw Taj, but those who caught his Luminato show last June were very impressed.

  • Jun. 30: The fabulous Mavis Staples, with New Orleans pianist/singer/songwriter Allen Toussaint. I have a few videos of each of them posted on my events page, but one of my favourites is her doing "Hard Times Come Again No More" for a Stephen Foster tribute album. (That's Buddy Miller on guitar)

  • Jul. 1: Angelique Kidjo: Time magazine calls her "Africa's premier diva", and certainly is likely it's biggest international female singing star.

Some of the other shows include:

  • Jun. 26: Waleed Kush (Trane);  Piano double-bill with  Miguel Zenon Quartet and Hilario Duran Big Band at the Enwave; Joaquin Nunez Trio at the Latinada

  • Jun. 27: Jaffa Road (free, 5pm); Eliana Cuevas at the Lula; Proyecto Altiplano (Andean) at the Latinada

  • Jun. 28: Son Aché (free, 5pm)

  • Jun. 29: Bettye LaVette at the Phoenix. Tremendous soul singer, her newest CD re-intprets (LaVette style) songs from the 1960's "British Invasion". Read a recent interview on the No Depression website


3. Other events
A few highlights over the next couple of weeks. Details of these and many more are on the events page.

  • Jun. 26-27: Toronto City Roots Festival. The huge lineup includes Njacko Njacko & Kalimba Kalimba, Saturday night, 9:30pm.
  • Jun. 27: Fred Eaglesmith CD Release at Hugh's Room
  • Jun. 29: Levon Helm & John Hiatt at Massey Hall
  • Jul. 1: Canada Day celebrations at Harbourfront include Masaisai and other performers
  • Jul. 2: Donné Roberts at the Melody Bar, Gladstone Hotel. (free 7pm show). Donné's recent work with Marc Nadjiwan and other First Nations musicians is now well known. Reports from the African Guitar Summit suggest Donné is now sporting a Mohawk, so you might want to check out his new look!
  • Jul. 2-4: "The Hot Spot" weekend at Harbourfront features, among others, L'Orchestre Septentrional, a Haitian band first formed in 1948, along with Columbian salsa rockers, La-33
  • Jul. 8: Grupo Fantasma at the Horseshoe. Latin rockers from Austin Texas
  • Jul. 10: Sleepy LaBeef at the Dominion on Queen. A unique, living "musical ukebox". A huge rockabilly singer, a huge voice and a huge repertoire (He claims to know over 6000 songs). One of a kind. Watch him here do "Strange Things Happening", a song by the great gospel singer, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, followed by a brief interview with Conan O'Brien
  • Jul. 10-11: Afrofest weekend. The African music weekend of the year as always. More to come on this festival. Also keep an eye on Music Africa's website for details.
  • Don't forget the big African music week later in July, including Jane Bunnett's "African-Cuban Blues Summit" at Hugh's Room on the 20th, featuting Madagascar Slim and others; Fool's Gold at the El Mocambo on the 21st; Alpha Yaya Diallo at Hugh's (23rd); Oliver Mtukudzi at the Opera House (24th); Katenen Dioubaté CD Release with Sekouba Bambino at 25 Cecil St. (same day), and Bana Y'Afrique Festival on the 24th and 25th, featuring M'bilia Bel and many others. Good luck planning that week!
  • Through July, the Lula has an interesting lineup of music featuring numerous bands from South America.


a) Luminato Festival
Photo: Bassekou Kouyaté, Luminato Festival, June 12, 2010

Over the years I've maintained this website and newsletter, I'm not sure if I've hyped a performer as often as I did Bassekou Kouyaté and his group Ngoni Ba, leading up to their June 12th Luminato concert with Béla Fleck. I was worried at times that I may have overdone it: either too frequently, or -- unlikely as I thought it -- they may not have lived up to my buildup of them.

I hope most of you did catch them finally, because they were, in a word Spectacular.  That may have been the best performance I've seen in a long time.  Let's hope they come back soon, this time with a full concert of their own. Some photos of his set are posted here.

That first Luminato concert featured an excellent lineup, especially as many of the artists had never or rarely played Toronto. Lo'jo, Rachid Taha and Tony Allen put on excellent performances, and I was impressed with Karim Saada from Montreal as well in his first Toronto appearance. I'll watch for his return. Unfortunately, I missed Maryam Tollar's set.

I had to miss most of the next weekend's concerts, including Salif Keita's Saturday night show. I've heard from many who did see him, and have heard amazingly varied reactions, ranging from the positive ("best performance I've ever seen from him"), to somewhat negative. Everyone did rave about the band though, led by the great Guinean guitarist Ousmane Kouyaté


b) Fela on Broadway

I was able to see the Broadway musical, Fela! about a week and a half ago, and indeed, it does deserve the accolades (see for example, Banning Eyre's Afropop blog). Great sets, spectacular dance numbers, and excellent music (from Antibalas). It's still a musical, so understandably -- with the concentration on performances --  any story substance was a bit thin.

I do recommend it highly if you're in New York.


c) Son House

A YouTube clip (audio only) of "John the Revelator" recorded by the great delta bluesman sometime after his "re-discovery" in the 1960's.  No special reason for including it here, but with music like that, no reason is needed.



John Leeson