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2007 06 09
Muhtadi Drumming Festival
Summer festivals at Queen’s Park are always slightly surreal for me; the close proximity of the quietly imposing architecture, manicured lawns and flowerbeds of the Legislative buildings to the wild and dynamic festival space is sometimes too bizarre. That being said, the Park works perfectly for festivals like the Muhtadi Drumming Festival, which I attended last Saturday.

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The Muhtadi Drumming Festival satisfies all the senses: the mouthwatering aroma of Afro-Caribbean curries and ‘jerked’ foods, the delectable taste of freshly made fruit smoothies, the touch of strangers grazing against your skin as you dance, the dazzling sight of colourful African garments and jewelry, and most importantly, the pulsating drumming rhythms which can touch a physical core you didn’t even know you had.


I arrived to catch the last song by the 11 year old Ngoma Dance and Drum Ensemble. Their (mostly West African) drumming was tight, and the ever-smiling young ensemble wore beautiful outfits which only complemented their synchronized dancing. Didn’t catch them? They have many more performances this summer, notably June 10 at Harbourfront and July 22 at a Caribana outdoor concert.


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Image of the Ngoma Dance and Drum Ensemble from their site.


The Muhtadi World Drummers were, as always, excellent. Their members are a lively mix of various ages and ethnicities; a truly Torontonian ensemble. I love to see them perform not only for their skill, but for the obvious love which they have for the music. And as the name implies, this ensemble is led by Muhtadi himself, the impetus behind the whole festival.


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Next up was Gurpreet Chana (known as the ‘tabla guy’), whose set was not only technically excellent, but thoroughly engaging. Classical Indian music can be confusing for those whose ears are used to Western scales and rhythms, and I like that he takes the time to explain key facts about the instruments he is using and how the rhythms are constructed. He also used an interesting UFO shaped instrument which is, sadly, only currently available in Switzerland.


This video clip shows Gurpreet demonstrating how vocals can imitate tabla sounds, and vice versa.




This video clip shows Gurpreet playing a Swiss-made instrument which is based on the steel pans popular in Trinidad and Tobago.




Almost all of the groups had half-hour sets, and I was thus surprised to see that the Amara Kante Group from Guinea had a one hour slot. Approximately five seconds after they started playing, I was wondering no longer; they had the highest energy, the most intricate rhythms, the best technical drumming, the most beautiful outfits and the best dancing that I had seen all day. Indeed, their energy and groove was such that limiting them to a mere half-hour would have been a crime!


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Image of the Amara Kante Group is from the Muhtadi site.


The day wrapped up with one of my personal faves, the Hummingbird Tassa Drummers from Trinidad. This group, around since 1954, is known as Trinidad’s best Tassa group, and has garnered them the title of best Tassa group in Canada since relocating to Toronto. Their infectious and danceable rhythms were clearly enjoyed by not only the crowd, but the performers themselves. At one point, some children were invited on stage to shake it for the crowd! Good family fun.


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Although I thoroughly enjoyed the day I do have one complaint: the increased corporate presence. Blindingly yellow visors and balloons (with the Western Union logo prominently featured) were handed out at Western Union kiosks and by the many Western Union employees at an alarmingly high frequency. Although I remember such goings on at the similarly themed Afrofest (mark it on your calendar: July 5th – 8th, Queen’s Park), this is the first year that I have seen such a strong Western Union presence at this festival. This is particularly disappointing for those that are looking for a more ‘grassroots’ drumming festival. Surprisingly, the merch for the first time partner (Luminato) sponsor Loreal was absent, save for a display on the main stage. Let’s hope the signage stays that minimal for next year.


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All images and video were taken by me unless otherwise indicated.
[email this story] Posted by Liza Badaloo on 06/09 at 02:48 AM

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