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REFUGE sultans of string

Internationally awarded and honored Canadian quintet Sultans of String collaborates with over 30 musicians on Refuge, including Béla Fleck, Robi Botos, Ifrah Mansour, Demetrios Petsalakis, Imad Al Taha, Amir Amiri, Sammy Figueroa, Twin Flames, and others on wide-ranging treatise on displaced people and the struggles of life on Mother Earth.
Refuge is a fantastic, moving, dreamlike, and timely album.

Release date: April 3, 2020 (Physical) March 20, 2020 (Digital) US (CEN/Sony-Red), Canada (Fontana), UK/Europe (Proper)

PRESS RELEASE

WORLD MUSIC SUPER GROUP SULTANS OF STRING RELEASE EPIC 7TH ALBUM, REFUGE

Addressing the struggles of life on Mother Earth has always inspired Toronto-based quintet, Sultans of String. On their visionary seventh album, Refuge, Sultans of String bring their unique brand of musical synergy and collaboration to bear on 13 songs that speak to the challenges facing the world’s displaced peoples--their stories, their songs, their persistence and their humanity.

Joined by an international cast, some of whom are recent immigrants to North America, the celebrated quintet immerses themselves in the plight of the international refugee on Refuge, and the humanitarian response that should greet everyone in search of a home.

“This project is centered around the positive contributions of refugees and new immigrants to U.S.A. and Canada,” says bandleader Chris McKhool (ancestral name Makhoul), whose Lebanese grandfather stowed away on a ship bound for North America a century ago.

“We’re collaborating with special guests on the album who are newcomers to this land, Indigenous artists, as well as global talents who have been ambassadors for peace. We wish to celebrate the successes of those who make the journey here and bring their extraordinary talents with them. We hope the conversations we can have as musicians will provide a model for peace that will inspire our politicians and citizens.”

Sultans of String’s McKhool, five-stringed violin, vocals; Kevin Laliberté, nylon, steel, and electric guitar, vocals; Eddie Paton, nylon and steel guitar, vocals; Drew Birston, bass, vocals; and Rosendo Chendy León, percussion, vocals, join forces with an extraordinary cast of internationally-based musicians on Refuge. The album’s 13 songs include contributions from renown American banjoist Béla Fleck, Hungarian-Canadian keyboardist, Robi Botos, Somali-American poet Ifrah Mansour, Greek-Canadian oud player Demetrios Petsalakis, Iraqi violinist Imad Al Taha, Iranian santur master, Amir Amiri, and many more.

Refuge reflects its theme of working together for a common goal, the quintet recording with 30 amazing musicians who’ve come to North America as recent immigrants and refugees, each with exceptional talent and extraordinary stories. Like Imad, now living in Ohio, whose house was destroyed by a grenade because he played violin for the wrong faction in Iraq. Or Amir, whose wrist was broken by thugs in Iran for playing “illegal scales” on his instrument. Or Iraqi actor and singer, Ahmeh Moneka, unable to return home after receiving death threats for portraying a gay man in a film.

"We love to expose people to sounds they might not have heard before," explains McKhool, summarizing the mission statement of the groundbreaking and acclaimed world music ensemble. "And we love collaborating with other artists."

Thrilling listeners across North America with their genre-hopping fusion of Celtic reels, flamenco, Gypsy jazz, Arabic, Cuban, and South Asian rhythms, Sultans of String celebrate diversity and creativity, with warmth and virtuosity on every album. From their 2007 debut, Luna, and 2011’s JUNO nominated Yalla Yalla to 2013’s Symphony! and 2017’s chart-topping, Christmas Caravan, Sultans of String achieve in song what seems nearly impossible elsewhere, a true fusion of language, style, culture, and spirit.

As Ojibway Elder Duke Redbird says in opening song, “The Power of the Land,” “The spirit of the people is equal to the power of the land,” a call for unity among peoples and with the earth that gives them life and sustenance. The song features the interwoven vocals of spoken-word artist Redbird and Quebec’s Indigenous folk duo, Twin Flames.

"I actually heard Duke recite that poem years ago," McKhool says. "I was so moved that I introduced myself to him after the performance and asked, 'Have you ever thought about putting this to music?' " Fast-forward three years, to the day when McKhool completed the profound backing track for Redbird's stirring words. "It was just one of those beautiful moments where I realized those lyrics might work perfectly."

Over a glowing guitar rhythm, yearning violin and powerful drums, “The Power of the Land” is a mediation, an anthem, a call to arms, and a call for mercy. Redbird’s spoken word verses are solemn and moving, given release in Twin Flames’ Jaaji and Chelsey June’s uplifting chorus, an homage to Mother Earth itself.

Redbird expresses: “It's essential that we understand that nature is our survival and survival is nature. Money and power has interrupted the power of the land, and until we understand that nature is the real economy and the economy is nature and that's the only way we're going to survive, is if we take care of our mother, the Earth. And money and power, it doesn't really have a place in the healing associated with what needs to be done as the climate changes and the earth retrieves her sacredness and plants it in our minds and our bodies.”

“Hurricane” pulsates over a joyous, Latin-style rhythm complimented by the evocative strings of Turkey’s Gündem Yayli Grubu, Sammy Figueroa’s compelling congas, and the stirring world percussion of Mehmet Akatay. McKhool sings “And I survived/ And I feel strong / And for the first time in my life I feel like I belong.” The groove is irresistible, the melody infectious, the message timeless.

“’Hurricane’ is an ode to the many who came to the New World planning to work hard and save up enough to bring their loved ones over,” McKhool explains. “Sometimes it didn’t work out, partners would pass away before they had the chance to be reunited. Other stories have a happier ending. This is a journey that has repeated many times, right up to the present day, with some of the guest performers on Refuge saving up to sponsor their parents to come join them. We release this album for all those who travel great distances at extreme risk, to make new lives for themselves and their children, and parents.”

The song’s strings were recorded in Istanbul with Gündem Yayli Grubu, a collection of Roma string players that work with many Turkish pop stars. “They have a very distinct sound all of their own,” McKhool says, “that cannot be replicated anywhere on the planet.” Gündem Yayli Grubu give a strong flavor of the ‘old world’ to “Hurricane,” McKhool’s personal ode to the first Lebanese immigrants to North America.

Combining Syrian, Greek and Turkish influences, Lebanese traditional song “El Bint El Shalabeya” could be mistaken for an international surf rock hit, its undulating Turkish strings, Zorro-styled electric guitar and twist beat an inspired mashup of nationalities and personalities.

The song’s clarinetist, Majd Sekkar, currently a Canadian resident, says “Understand that there is [a variety] of nationalities and ethnicities [in] this land, and you have to respect them and learn from them. Explore the Canadian culture and traditions – then add your back-home experience to have a good mix… Canadians are the kindest people in the world.”

“Music is about sharing ideas with people,” adds “Hurricane”’s oud player, Demetrios Petsalakis. “In Canada it's great, because it allows us to meet the world class musicians who live in Toronto, experts in their field. Something you wouldn't find in a lot of places. So that's beautiful. And when you bring all these people together and meet and play music together, you become like a family. Music is awesome."

That is a sentiment reflected by American banjo innovator Béla Fleck, who also reflects thoughtfully on his roots: “My family's story involves immigration. Of course, we came in through Ellis Island, my grandparents on my mother's side, Jewish-Russian refugees. I was fortunate that they were able to get out of a dangerous part of the world, and that America took them in at that time.

“The banjo is a story of immigration,” Béla continues, “It's a perfect story of immigration, involuntary immigration. The slaves came to the Americas, not of their own free will, but when they got there, they brought their culture. They built banjos and they played their music, and it got incorporated into what would become American music, and became a major part of it. Yeah, if the banjo isn't going to welcome people from different countries, I don't know who would.”

The musicians of Refuge are brave, talented, inspired. That inspiration couldn’t be summed up more clearly than in the gorgeously evocative and powerful first single, “I Am a Refugee,” its lyrics penned and recited by Somali-American poet and multi-media artist, Ifrah Mansour, who now makes her home in the Twin Cities.

The song unfurls, Mansour’s powerful words, the tale of the international refugee laid bare, its mesmerizing groove never disguising the song’s frankness.

“I am a refugee,” Mansour speaks, “globally villainized, but I bring you a slice of my home, right here in your backyard. I walked and ran and screamed miles on end to find peace before I could pronounce my own name. “

"I wrote the poem for me, for my community,” said Mansour, “and for those that are yearning for change, those are yearning to deepen their empathy," explains Mansour. "Writing the poem was a way to unleash some pain that I could name finally – I wrote it because I was so frustrated with so many people sending me emails and asking me what I thought about the travel ban, the first time our American government here shared the first travel ban. And that an artist’s job is to draw that hope, especially in a time of deep hopelessness."

HISTORY

Sultans of String have never taken the easy road. Since releasing their debut 2007 album, Luna, they’ve strived to make each chart-topping album more meaningful than the last. That included working with an orchestra (2013's Symphony!), teaming with Pakistani sitarist Anwar Khurshid (2015's Subcontinental Drift) and even crafting a world-music holiday album (2017's Christmas Caravan), which landed them on the Billboard charts and in The New York Times. The quintet’s ambition and work ethic have garnered them multiple awards and accolades, including three Juno nominations, first place in the International Songwriting Competition (out of 15,000 entries), three Canadian Folk Music Awards, and countless other honors. They received over 40 awards and nominations in total since 2007.

Sultans of String have collaborated with Paddy Moloney and The Chieftains, Richard Bona, Benoit Bourque (Bottine Souriante), Nikki Yanofsky, Alex Cuba, Ruben Blades, Crystal Shawanda and Ken Whiteley.

Refuge aims for an international hybrid, and the band’s knack for coalescing musical styles and sounds is only matched by their global mission for unity and oneness of spirit.

"I've always wanted our concerts to be a place where everyone feels welcome,” McKhool says. “I want to reach out to diverse communities to say, 'Come out and enjoy music with us — you're going to have a really good time.' And it's great to see people from, say, the South Asian community mixed in with the hipster crowd. Or to play some very small towns where they might not have heard a sitar played live before. It benefits society as a whole, to have people from around the world blending their ideas, mixing their cultures."

Sultans of String raise awareness and funds while on tour for the UN Refugee Agency. They have raised over $8000 in 2020 to help provide medical supplies and attention, clean water, and shelter to some of the 70 million displaced peoples around the globe.

The artists + their stories...
Indigenous spoken-word artist Duke Redbird

“It's essential that we understand that nature is our survival and survival is nature. Money and power has interrupted the power of the land, and until we understand that nature is the real economy and the economy is nature and that's the only way we're going to survive, is if we take care of our mother, the Earth. And money and power, it doesn't really have a place in the healing associated with what needs to be done as the climate changes and the earth retrieves her sacredness and plants it in.

Somali-American poet Ifrah Mansour: I'm A Refugee

"I walked and ran and screamed miles on end to find peace before I could pronounce my own name. “

Ifrah now resides in Minneapolis, MN

Amir Amiri: Iranian santur master

His wrist was broken by thugs for playing “illegal scales” on his instrument. Amir now resides in Toronto, Canada

Bela Fleck: Innovative and technically proficient banjo player with multiple Grammy awards and nominations.

"My family's story involves immigration. Of course, we came in through Ellis Island, my grandparents on my mother's side, Jewish-Russian refugees... I was really fortunate that they were able to get out of a dangerous part of the world, and that America took them in at that time. “The banjo is a story of immigration.” Béla continues, “It's a perfect story of immigration, involuntary immigration. The slaves came to the Americas, not of their own free will, but when they got there, they brought their culture. They built banjos and they played their music, and it got incorporated into what would become American music, and became a major part of it. Yeah, if the banjo isn't going to welcome people from different countries, I don't know who would.”

Anwar Khurshid – sitar and vocal

Anwar survived this incident that occurred on April 10, 1988. Ojhri Camp was used as an ammunition depot for Afghan mujahideen fighting against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. It exploded, killing many in Rawalpindi and Islamabad as a result of rockets and other munitions expelled by the blast. Anwar vividly remembers riding his motorbike to see if his family was safe, with rockets soaring overhead wiping out entire buildings.

Anwar resides in Toronto, Canada

Yasmin Levy, of Sephardic decent says:

“I am proud to combine the two cultures of Ladino and flamenco, while mixing in Middle Eastern influences. I am embarking on a 500-year-old musical journey, taking Ladino to Andalusia and mixing it with flamenco, the style that still bears the musical memories of the old Moorish and Jewish-Spanish world with the sound of the Arab world. In a way it is a ‘musical reconciliation’ of history.”

Additional artist stories in the track x track section below.
Videos:
TOUR DATES:

SULTANS OF STRING will tour the REFUGE project throughout the US, Canada and Europe through 2021. On Oct 16, 2020 the REFUGE concert will take place at Trinity-St Paul’s Centre in Toronto, CN with the full cast. A documentary of the project is currently in production.

TRACK x TRACK:

Sultans of String - Refuge sultansofstring.com - Produced by Chris McKhool and John ‘Beetle’ Bailey

1. The Power of the Land - Lyrics by Duke Redbird, Music by Chris McKhool, Kevin Laliberté, Drew Birston, Band arr. by Sultans of String, Twin Flames. Guests: Duke Redbird – vocals, Twin Flames – Jaaji (vocals) & Chelsey June (vocals and drum)

Says Redbird: “It's essential that we understand that nature is our survival and survival is nature. Money and power has interrupted the power of the land, and until we understand that nature is the real economy and the economy is nature and that's the only way we're going to survive, is if we take care of our mother, the Earth. And money and power, it doesn't really have a place in the healing associated with what needs to be done as the climate changes and the earth retrieves her sacredness and plants it in our minds and our bodies.”

2. El Bint El Shalabeya - Music Traditional , Arr. by Sultans of String Guests: Demetrios Petsalakis – oud, Fethi Nadjem – mandole, Majd Sekkar – clarinet, Gundem Yayli Grubu – Turkish strings

Fethi expresses how refugee issues are so important because the differences between people can make a country stronger. “This is why I like to meet new people, new culture. This is why I'm here in Toronto because Toronto is in Canada. All Canada, for me, is a beautiful country because they open their arms for all of people.”

3. Hurricane - Lyrics by Chris McKhool, Music by Chris McKhool, Kevin Laliberté, Drew Birston, Arr. by Sultans of String. Guests: Chris McKhool – vocals, Gundem Yayli Grubu – Turkish strings , Meg Contini – vocals, Mehmet Akatay – darbuka, riq, cowbell, shakers, Sammy Figueroa - congas

McKhool’s name would have been pronounced Makhoul back in Lebanon but when his grandfather was processed upon arrival in 1903 he probably had a Scottish border guard that thought it would be nice to give the spelling a Scottish flair, hence the oddball spelling. This song is an ode to the many who came to the New World planning to work hard, and save up enough to bring their loved ones over. Sometimes it didn’t work out, and loved ones would pass away before they had the chance to be reunited. Other stories have a happier ending. This song is for all those who travel at extreme risk, to make new lives for themselves and their children, and parents.

Playing congas is legendary percussionist Sammy Figueroa, who spent many years in Puerto Rico and now finds his home between Miami and NYC, and has been equally at home performing and recording with artists including Sonny Rollins, Mick Jagger, David Bowie.

4. I Am a Refugee - Lyrics by Ifrah Mansour, Music by Chris McKhool, Kevin Laliberté, Drew Birston, Rosendo León, Arr. by Sultans of String. Guests: Ifrah Mansour – vocals, Fethi Nadjem – kora, Marito Marques – kalimba, Guest voices: Ahmed Moneka, Waleed Abdulhamid, Rosendo León, Majd Sekkar.

"I wrote the poem for me, for my community,” said Mansour, “and for those that are yearning for change, those are yearning to deepen their empathy," explains Mansour. "Writing the poem was a way to unleash some pain that I could name finally – I wrote it because I was so frustrated with so many people sending me emails and asking me what I thought about the travel ban, the first time our American government here shared the first travel ban. And that an artist’s job is to draw that hope, especially in a time of deep hopelessness."

5. Ojhri Camp - Music by Anwar Khurshid, Chris McKhool, Kevin Laliberté, Drew Birston , Arr. by Sultans of String.Guests: Anwar Khurshid – sitar and vocal, Ravi Naimpally - tabla.

Anwar survived this incident that occurred on April 10, 1988. Ojhri Camp was used as an ammunition depot for Afghan mujahideen fighting against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. It exploded, killing many in Rawalpindi and Islamabad as a result of rockets and other munitions expelled by the blast. Anwar vividly remembers riding his motorbike to see if his family was safe, with rockets soaring overhead wiping out entire buildings.

6. Refuge - Music by Chris McKhool, Arr. by Sultans of String. Guests: Edmar Castaneda – harp, Sammy Figueroa – conga

Since arriving in the United States in 1994, Colombian-born harp virtuoso Edmar Castaneda has forged his own distinctive path in music. He brings not only an unfamiliar instrument but a wholly original voice to jazz, branching out into a world of different styles and genres. His wide-ranging career has been remarkable for discovering a brilliant role for the harp in jazz, then continuing to innovate and spark creativity from a wealth of formidable collaborations.

7. I'm Free - Music and Lyrics by Chris McKhool, Arr. by Sultans of String. Guests: Waleed Abdulhamid – vocals, Donné Roberts – electric guitar, Matias Recharte – djembe, Meg Contini – vocals, Rebecca Campbell –chorus vocals

Sudanese-Canadian musician, educator, and filmmaker Waleed Abdulhamid has cultivated a glowing career some veteran artists would envy. Born in Sudan, Abdulhamid began performing at the age of six. By 18, he was a skilled musician ready to travel the world and share his love for music and the heritage of his homeland through sound. He toured and performed shows in Canada, Europe, as well as in the Middle East and Africa (MENA) region.

8. Imad's Dream - Lyrics by Ahmed Moneka, Music by Chris McKhool, Kevin Laliberté, Imad Al Taha, String arr. by Kevin Laliberté. Guests: Ahmed Moneka – vocals, Imad Al Taha – violin, Marito Marques - Kalimba

Imad came to the US as a refugee after his house was bombed. His only crime was playing violin for an opposing faction. His dream is to one day be able to return to his home in Iraq. This is a similar dream held by Ahmed, who came to Canada as a refugee after receiving death threats for portraying a gay character in a film.

9. Weather Update - Music by Drew Birston, Arr. by Sultans of String. Guests: Anh Phung – flute, Donné Roberts – vocals, Michel DeQuevedo – djembe, Selcuk Suna – sax, Suat Suna – violin.

This album is a project that is centred around the positive contributions of refugees and new immigrants to U.S.A. and Canada, bringing in special guests that are newcomers to this land, as well as global talents that have been ambassadors for peace. The fun party atmosphere in this song comes from the interaction of the guest of so many diverse backgrounds.

10. Summer in Tehranto - Music by Chris McKhool, Arr. by Sultans of String and Amir Amiri. Guests: Amir Amiri – santur, Demetrios Petsalakis – oud, Naghmeh Farahmand – daf, Mehmet Akatay – darbuka, bendir, riq, shakers, string drum, Gundem Yayli Grubu – Turkish strings

Amiri was born in Tehran, Iran where much of his youth was spent studying the santur, a 72-string hammer dulcimer that lies at the heart of Persian classical music. Classically trained, Amiri has always sought to explore the limits of his music, stretching beyond the constraints of classical thought. In his home country, thugs broke his wrist for playing “illegal scales”. Arriving in Canada, Amiri found the ability to freely explore music while in residency at The Banff Centre for the Arts, a haven of inspiration for artists.

11. Asi Soy (This is Me) - Lyrics by Yasmin Levy, Music by Chris McKhool, Kevin Laliberté, Drew Birston, Arr. by Sultans of String. Guests: Yasmin Levy – vocals, Gundem Yayli Grubu – Turkish strings, Marito Marques – kalimba.

Yasmin, of Sephardic decent says: “I am proud to combine the two cultures of Ladino and flamenco, while mixing in Middle Eastern influences. I am embarking on a 500-year-old musical journey, taking Ladino to Andalusia and mixing it with flamenco, the style that still bears the musical memories of the old Moorish and Jewish-Spanish world with the sound of the Arab world. In a way it is a ‘musical reconciliation’ of history.”

12. The Grand Bazaar - Music by Chris McKhool, Kevin Laliberté, Drew Birston, Rosendo León, Arr. by Sultans of String.

Guests: Béla Fleck – banjo, Robi Botos – piano, keyboard, Gundem Yayli Grubu – Turkish strings

Béla Fleck reflects: “My family's story involves immigration. Of course, we came in through Ellis Island, my grandparents on my mother's side, Jewish-Russian refugees... I was really fortunate that they were able to get out of a dangerous part of the world, and that America took them in at that time. The banjo is a story of immigration. It's a perfect story of immigration, involuntary immigration. The slaves came to the Americas, not of their own free will, but when they got there, they brought their culture. They built banjos and they played their music, and it got incorporated into what would become American music, and became a major part of it. Yeah, if the banjo isn't going to welcome people from different countries, I don't know who would.”

13. Hypnotica - Music by Kevin Laliberté, Arr. by Sultans of String. Guests: Gundem Yayli Grubu – Turkish strings, Mehmet Akatay – percussion.

Producer and bandleader McKhool’s favourite part of recording this album may have been recording the strings in Istanbul, with Gündem Yayli Grubu, a collection of Roma string players that perform and record for many of the Turkish pop stars. “they have a very distinct sound, all of their own, that cannot be replicated anywhere on the planet”. And indeed those strings give a strong flavour of the ‘old world’ to Refuge.

U.S. Media Inquiries: Paula Amato | PAI/Life PR | 212.206.1598 | paula@paimedia.com

U.S. Management: David Wilkes - wilkesongs@gmail.com

Canadian Management:: Lisa Weitz - lw@lwcommunications.ca