World Music | The Canadian Encyclopedia


World Music

World Music.

World Music

World Music. The definitions of the term "world music" are dynamic, ranging from the narrow perspective of the combining of musical traditions and instruments within a hybrid pop or folk idiom; to the much broader definition of the music of a traditional culture, or music incorporating aspects of, or stemming from, such a culture. This article uses the expanded definition of world music, which includes what some consider the distinct category of "roots music."

The beginnings of world music in Canada are with its original inhabitants, the First Nations peoples, whose music (most notably the throat-singing of the Inuit people) has received worldwide attention. The intermarriage of First Nations people with the early French settlers gave rise to the Métisfiddling tradition, and every subsequent wave of immigration brought to Canada music from other cultures, that gradually transformed into a Canadian voice. Many groups such as Genticorum, La Bottine Souriante, La Volée d'Castors, Les Chauffeurs à Pieds, and Le Vent du Nord are keeping the French and Acadian traditions alive, while the Celtic, Gaelic and other British Isles traditions have given rise to the Cape Breton fiddling tradition and artists such as the Rankin Family, Natalie MacMaster, and Leahy.

Outside the traditional communities, one of the first Canadian explorers of world music was Colin McPhee, with his Balinese gamelan- and Iroquois-inspired works in the 1930s. Other pioneers were flautist-composer Robert Aitken, composer Gilles Tremblay, and the former first musician of the court of Mohammed V of Morocco, cantor Sami el Maghribi, who immigrated to Montreal in the early 1960s. Early artists performing folk music from world cultures across the country included Malka and Joso, Companeros, and the UJPO (United Jewish People's Order) Folksingers.

World Music in Universities

Canadian universities started to become focal points for the growth of world music in the 1960s, although often in conjunction with composition or 20th-century music courses. Notable were Elliot Weisgarber's courses on Japanese music at the University of British Columbia; José Evangelista's survey of world music course at the University of Montreal; and the University of Toronto's George Sawa and Timothy Rice teaching Middle Eastern music and Balkan music respectively. None were more influential than York University, which boasted a long list of instructors, composers, instrumentalists and guest lecturers, all of whom were directly or indirectly involved with world music, including sitarist Shambu Das, south Indian percussionist Trichy Sankaran, electronic music pioneer John Cage, and composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Today, most Canadian universities, and numerous colleges, offer courses on some aspect of world music.


Increasingly since the 1960s, Canadian festivals have staged many local and international world music artists, introducing the genre to an ever-widening audience. Montreal is perhaps the most active Canadian city for world music, starting with Expo 67, and later the series Traditions musicales du monde, which opened the door to Patrick Darby's Traquen'Art and Musique Multi Montréal, and a host of festivals including FrancoFolies, Festival du Monde Arabe, Festival Nuits d'Afrique, and the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Quebec City was also active, hosting the Super Franco Fête in the 1970s and presenting many world music artists, which the Festival d'été continues to do today. Toronto's Harbourfront hosted WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) 1988-92, and for almost two decades artistic director-producer Derek Andrews made Harbourfront one of the most important centres for world music across the country. Toronto continues to host the annual Caribana summer carnival, Afrofest, Jyafest, and Alan Davis's Small World Music Festival. Mitch Podolak included world music in his programming when he founded the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 1974, and later the Vancouver Folk Festival in 1978 with Gary Cristall; these festivals became the template for the multitude of folk festivals now found across the country. In 1977 the Powell Street Festival became an annual venue for Japanese and world music in Vancouver. Percussionist Sal Ferreras co-founded Vancouver's first African percussion group, African Heritage, in 1982 and started the Drumheat series in 1986, featuring numerous world music artists. Ferreras assisted Nexus's John Wyre in producing the World Drum Festival at Expo 86 in Vancouver, the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, and the 1987 Commonwealth Summit Conference in Vancouver. These were soon followed by the Music From the Pacific Horizon festival and the ongoing Further East Further West festival, Asian Heritage Month, and the Caravan World Music series.

Stylistic Variety

Throughout the 1980s many waves of world music styles crossed the country, from Balkan choirs and tango, to Indonesian gamelan and Japanese taiko. Formed in 1981, Vancouver's Katari Taiko became the model for the creation of community taiko groups in almost every major Canadian city, and also gave birth to professional groups like Uzume Taiko. In 1983, Jon Siddall formed Canada's first gamelan group, the Evergreen Club, which included some of Toronto's most influential artists such as Andrew Timar, Mark Duggan, Blair Mackay, Kathy Armstrong and Bill Parsons. 1988 saw the creation of the Balinese Workshop at the University of Montreal by José Evangelista, from which grew the professional group Giri Kedaton, under the direction of Sylvain Mathieu. Vancouver's Gamelan Madu Sari was also formed in 1988 with prominent artists such as Ken Newby, Michael O'Neil, and Martin Gotfrit. There are now numerous gamelans across the country. Canada's large Chinese community has birthed many artists that perform traditional music, world music and new music, including George Gao, Liu Fang, Mei Han, the Orchid Ensemble, Silk Road Music, and the Vancouver Chinese Ensemble. The Latin American community has produced a wealth of artists including Diego Marulanda, Caché, Luis Mario Ochoa, Rodrigo Chávez, Oscar Lopez and Juan Carranza. Smaller cultural communities and centres are also rich in artists such as the North Vancouver Persian community's Amir Koushkani and Amir Haghighi, Moncton's Mali singer Oumou Soumare, and Victoria's Cuban Puentes Brothers.

Broadcasts, Junos, and School Programs

World music was first regularly broadcast nationally by CBC Radio's "The Entertainers," and through Randy Raine-Reusch's bi-weekly column on CBC TV's "Midday." CBC Radio continues to host the English-language shows "Global Village" and "Roots and Wings," and the French-language "Espace Musique," which are active in supporting Canadian and international world music artists across the country. Numerous college and community radio stations have also contributed to launching the national and international careers of Canadian world music artists past and present, such as Alpha Yaya Diallo, Anne Lederman, ASZA, Autorickshaw, Cargo Cult, Celso Machado, the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, Galitcha, Intakto, Jane Bunnett and Spirits of Havana, Joaquín Díaz, Khac Chi Ensemble, Kiran Ahluwalia, Les Frères Diouf, Lhasa, Madagascar Slim, Maza Meze, Mighty Popo, Nexus, Quartango, Toronto Tabla Ensemble and many more.

World music continues to grow in Canada. The Juno Awards have had a best global album category since 1996, when Takadja was the inaugural winner. Several educational programs, like the Toronto-area school board's World Music Resource and Gamelan Resource and the Vancouver School Board's World Music Program, ensure another generation of artists and audiences.

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