Art exhibit by Jose Ortega (Lula Lounge)

José Ortega, the Artistic Director of one of Toronto’s musical gems, the Lula Lounge, has just opened his first solo art exhibit,”thinkin’ one thing and doin’ another” at IndexG Gallery, 50 Gladstone Ave. The exhibit runs opened Oct. 11-Nov. 18, 1-6pm Wed-Sun.

The opening reception is Sat. Oct. 13, 3-6pm.


No doubt José is best known here for his great music contributions. Two years ago, he won the Roy Thomson Award of Recognition from the Toronto Arts Foundation. which recognized “creative, performing, administrative, volunteer or philanthropic contributions to Toronto’s musical life”.

José is also an established and recognized visual artist whose work not only graces street murals along Dundas West, but has been selected for postage stamp designs in the U.S and Ecuador (his native country).

Music is Ortega’s muse and this solo exhibition has been inspired by the sounds of jazz. Using paint and collage on wood and cardboard, Ortega has approached each piece as if it were a song with rhythm, colour, harmony and a narrative. His quest for composition within chance reveal interesting and intricate patterns reminiscent of ancient Persian rug designs, Arab mosque tiles and geometric shapes found in South American textile. A rich colour palette of browns and ochres as well as a monochromatic paint-patchwork, display not only technical abilities but character and attention to detail.

 Jose Ortega will be sharing the gallery with his mother, Juana Zuñiga, a self-taught artist. Zuñiga’s collection of art pieces are a colourful prism of magical scenes created from fabric and paint. Her work has been included in illustration catalogs and she has participated in group shows in the US and Canada.

 Jose with his 2010 award

INDEXG Gallery is located at 50 Gladstone Avenue. The gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday 1:00pm – 6:00pm.



Cuban food — and music — where??

Luis & band at Bloom, Oct. 11

My neighbourhood of Bloor West Village is not known for particularly interesting restaurants, and certainly not for live music. But things have begun changing recently, at least in one case.

Bloom — a restaurant until recently under the same ownership of the Bloor/Yonge Focaccia — after a somewhat promising start, had (in my opinion) regressed to the generally uninspiring, and comfortable niche that seems to work in this neighbourhood.

But last year, Focaccia’s chef, Cuban-born Pedro Quintanilla moved to Bloom, and added a bit of Cuban cooking to the menu.

More recently, the restaurant was purchased by Luis Mario Ochoa, the Cuban-born Toronto musician, who has added a real Cuban spark to the restaurant, and the menu has (excuse the pun) bloomed. It now offers more Cuban menu items and influence, and it has begun a program of 3-course, $25 prix-fixe menus focusing each month on a different cuisine from Latin America.

More relevant to this website, Luis has begun offering live music there. (Monthly so far — but who knows? If there is support… more often?). I’ve recently been there for nights featuring Luis on guitar backing up singer Laura Fernandez (who will be opening for the great guitarist Eliades Ochoa on Nov. 3 at the Music Hall), and this week with Luis’s own group, Cuba Tradicional.

I can recommend both the food and the music!

(Apologies for the photo, taken yesterday from a cell phone).

“Music in Mali” documentary

Music In Mali: Life Is Hard, Music Is Good:

Via Afropop Worldwide, I came across information on this recently completed documentary about Malian music (filmed before the tragic fighting and repression in that great country). The film is produced by Kanaga System Krush (KSK) Records, but at this point, I don’t have any information on any screenings or its availability. I will keep tabs on it though.

The embedded clip is a 14 minute preview. (Click the full-screen icon to view it properly).

Music In Mali: Life Is Hard, Music Is Good is a feature-length documentary about the musicians, dancers and everyday people of Mali who are creating inspiring heartfelt music in some of the most difficult living conditions of West Africa. For the past five years, Kanaga System Krush (KSK) Records have been recording and documenting the lives of a small group of musicians from Mali. “Music In Mali” features artists such as Djeli Mady, Mangala Camara, Dejenba Seck, and Toumani Diabate, in intimate settings, performing their music and sharing their story. From one of the world’s poorest and most polluted countries viewers will hear and see the music of ceremony and celebration that inspires musicians around the globe including celebrities such as Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder and Bannning Eyre. From the villages of the Segou to the ghettos of Bamako the message is clear “Life is hard, music is good”.


Co-incidentally, the same day I read news of this documentary, I also read comments by Paul Simon about Malian music. Simon has been getting a lot of press coverage lately over the 25th anniversary of his landmark Graceland album, and the resultant documentary, Under African Skies, mentioned in a recent interview with National Geographic, that he had begun appreciating Malian music two years ago. (Where have you been?!)

An excerpt from that interview:

Have you discovered more music lately from different parts of the world?

 Two years ago, I started to get into a lot of music from Mali [music in Mali has been influenced by several strong musical roots, including the ancient Mande empire, local ethnic rhythms, and Moorish-European form]. And now I wonder what is going on because there is a revolution in Mali.


Sherry Ryan at The Dakota: Oct. 6 / Ticket, CD giveaway

NOTE:  I have a pair of tickets to her Saturday show & a CD to give away to the first to contact me. Email

This site tends to focus mostly on “world”, and especially African music, but I do periodically report on other music, notably some country/American artists.

This Saturday, Newfoundland singer Sherry Ryan performs at the Dakota Tavern as part of her CD Release of Sister of Mine. I wasn’t familiar with her music until now, but having listened to the CD, and some of her earlier music, I’ve been really impressed with her sound, her singing and writing.  She’s just been nominated for two MusicNL awards: Country Artist of the Year and Female Artist of the Year (an award she’s won twice previously).

I sometimes hear sounds of Gillian Welch (but not as much “down”!), Lucinda Williams, and sometimes Madeleine Peyroux. But her music and sound is her own. (Great backing on the CD, too!)

Her haunting song “The Narrows” , a personal account of a marriage, is rooted in Newfoundland:

One lonely thing on the ocean
Drifting away and lonesome
I dreamed we danced out of time
Thought you we’re no longer mine

Ship sailed away through the narrows
In love’s ocean of sorrows
I dreamed of dark clouds and rain
What if I never make it back

However, the title song is inspired by a feisty 90-year old she met while working in a Mississippi nursing home. Its southern roots (Highway 61) is far from home, but not the painful familiarity of the frustration and fear of those living in such a place.

You’re shit outta whiskey
I’m shit outta luck
And I got a crocodile on my lap
Think I’ll snap these pearly buttons
And gettyup
Outta here 

Gonna head on out the Sixty-one
Long lonesome you know the one
Call that sister of mine to come on down
Get me outta here

More about her (and some music) at sherryryan.comLaura Repo opens

I plan to catch the show.

Dakota Tavern, 249 Ossington
Sat. Oct. 6, 7-9pm

Back online, Event updates & Concert for Wangari Maathai

After a lengthier-than-anticipated absence, I’ve begun updating event listings again. See for details on the shows noted below and others. More updates will be coming.

Between my trips to north & south Africa this summer, preparing photo/video/journal reports, and then a PC and hard drive that died as soon as I returned, there hasn’t been any time for any significant updates here.  There are more listings now, including:

  • Grammy winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, Sep. 26 at Hugh’s Room
  • The last week of the Small World Music Festival, running through Sep. 30
  • A notable pairing of Brownman & Jason Wilson, in the intimate Musideum, Sep 30
  • Jane Bunnett with Chucho Valdes at Koerner Hall Oct. 20
  • Iris Dement in two standing-room only shows at Hugh’s Room, Oct. 20-21

And most notably, a huge and impressive lineup will perform tomorrow night (Sep. 25) marking the first anniversary of the death of notable political and environmental activist, Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize (in 2004) for her “contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”.

Artists featured:
Sonia Aimy (Nigeria), Segun Ojewuyi (Nigeria), Muoi Nene (Kenya), Marni Levitt (Canada), Afrafanto (Ghana), Njacko Backo (Cameroon), Tate Nsongan (Cameroon), Ruth Mathiang (Sudan), Mapha/Purga/Sale (The RASMI Group) (South Africa), Isoken Ibie (Nigeria), Hussein Adani (Somali), and more.

The event has been initiated by Sonia Aimy, and will launch African Women Acting, “an organization dedicated to inspiring and empowering African women to act positively for the betterment of our motherland African without the distinction of nationality”

See event listing here

Concert poster

No updates for a while… back to Africa

Apologies again to those who use the website, especially the event listings. I’ve had to put things on hold for a while again, preparing for a South African/Zimbabwean holiday. (Earlier this summer, it was a week in Libya as an election observer, so travels to that continent have been eating up most of my spare time.

On return in late August, I’ll begin updates again and will also have a journal/video account of our Libyan experiences.

Enjoy the summer…


Using (American) “world” musicians to sell America

Interesting article on CBC News website about an interesting new US advertising campaign using its diversity to sell America as a tourist destination.

It’s an intriguing approach for what is the first national tourism ad  campaign since the days of Ronald Reagan.

Read the article hereVideo featuring Roseanne Cash and a world of accompanying musicians below:


Odds and Ends… July notes

Trying to catch up on things happening musically. A few items that caught my eye (or ear):

Hugh’s Room Fall Sale

This is the last week to save money on some of Hugh’s shows September through November by Jul 31, and get coupons for $10 (3 shows), $20 (4 shows), or $30 (5 shows). Some of these are close to selling out already.

Free online course: “Listening to World Music”

Really.. from the University of Pennsylvania. A seven week course, involving 5-7 hours per week, it started July 23. Details and enrollment here:

African music, African food

While much of this website covers African music, here’s an item about local African food. Some of you may know Patience Chirisa who has promoted various Zimbabwean musicians in the past, including Oliver Mtukudzi. Outside music, she’s a chef who promotes African food, and now hosts the Rogers TV show, Wine Dine Africa

It’s broadcast in various areas in the 905 area, but not yet in Toronto. Or check her website for a taste of Africa:

Catch some eclectic sounds online

Caught this on Twitter, courtesy of @CBCWorldMusic)
who described it as “some wild listening”.

Bill Bragin’s Maximalist Mixtape on-demand for a limited time. Listen here

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

Event updates delayed for Libyan election

I sent the note below in a newsletter on Monday (July 2). This note is being posted from Tripoli.

(Note: that updates on my Libya blog (or Libyan twitter account, @libyatoronto may be a bit limited until after election day, July 7)

Apologies for the lack of updates (website, events or newsletter) lately. It’s not for lack of music… just lack of time.

In the midst of other activities, I learned less than two weeks that my wife and I will be going to Libya as part of a team of election observers — the only team from Canada. There are 9 of us going, including Scarborough Liberal MP, Jim Karygiannis. I’ll be leaving Toronto tonight (Jul 2), and will be in Tripoli from July 3 to 10.

Newsletter subscribers or those visiting this website through 2011 will know my involvement with Libya, and in particular the struggle of the Libyan people last year to end the dictatorship they’d endured for over 4 decades. So this will be a very moving and important experience for us, to participate in such an historic moment.

I will be posting some updates if and when I can from Tripoli at (a small blog I set up last year during the Libyan Revolution).

Locally, I hope you all enjoy some great music. In the next couple of weeks, some of the more notable events which are posted at

  • Jul 4: Los Gaiteras de San Jacinto at the Lula. Great old Colombian cumbian band. A unique opportunity
  • Jul 6: Sonny Landreth: terrific slide guitarist from Louisiana at Hugh’s Room
  • Jul 6-8: Expressions of Brazil at Harbourfrnt
  • Jul 7-8: Afrofest at its new location (Woodbine Park)
  • Jul 13: Orchestra Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou from Benin
  • Jul 17: Wake Up Madagascar at the Lula

And a couple of shows not posted on the event listings. Both from Batuki Music

  • Jul 6: Ruth Mathiang at NOW Lounge
  • Jul 22: Diblo Dibala – Soukous master guitarist from Congo at Lula

Until I can update listings sometime after my return, check for links to other concert sources, promoters, clubs etc

Enjoy the music!