Exploring new sounds at Vancouver’s summer music festivals

Photo by Breabach

Photo by Breabach

This summer, Vancouver’s music festivals present a unique opportunity for audiences to expand their musical palate, featuring performances by both local and international artists that span a multitude of multicultural genres and styles.

Major musical events include the 38th annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival at Jericho Beach Park from July 17 to 19, the TD International Jazz Festival at multiple venues from June 18 to July 1, and the Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival at Deer Lake Park on
Aug. 8.

Vancouver Folk Music Festival

The Vancouver Folk Music Festival brings a global perspective to the stage with around 60 music acts from over 14 countries, 10 U.S. states and seven provinces and territories. In addition to hosting big names such as local favourite Said the Whale and blues legend Taj Mahal, the event will provide new artists with the opportunity to showcase their talent and unique musical styles.

The lineup includes the Scottish band Breabach, who will be presenting a modern take on its cultural roots.

“We source our inspiration from the roots of Scottish traditional music and allow our modern influences to blend together as organically as possible,” says band member James Lindsay. “Elements of ancient pipe music, Gaelic and Scots song, step dance and traditional fiddle tunes merge with a driving guitar and bass rhythm section – it is this combination which gives us our defining sound.”

Although it puts a modern spin on Scottish musical traditions, Breabach treats its heritage with the utmost respect. It will showcase this approach at the festival, where audiences can expect to hear an energetic fusionof old and new.

Keeping in line with this approach, Breabach will be performing an adaptation of a 300-year-old piece of classical pipe music, which it selected because of the way its strong melodic character fits with the band’s music.

“We’ve taken it to stages all over the world and our rearrangement with expanded harmonies, heavy grooves and two sets of bagpipes always has the audience surprised and gets their feet moving,” says Lindsay.

Audiences can also look forward to the eastern sounds of Jewish ensemble Shtreiml and Turkish musician Ismail Fencioglu, who will be collaborating to perform original music that infuses Ottoman and Jewish traditions with hard rock sensibilities.

Both Turkish and Jewish music are characterized by heavy ornamentation and improvisation, with melodies traditionally passed down through oral tradition.

Part of the group’s signature sound is the unusual instrumental combination of the Turkish oud, a traditional instrument played by the world-renowned master Ismail Fencioglu, and the harmonica, played by Shtreiml band member and composer Jason Rosenblatt (a protégé of Howard Levy of Bela Fleck and The Flecktones).

“We explored the commonalities between Jewish and Turkish repertoires, modes, ornamentation and improvisational motifs. As we became more comfortable with each other’s styles we began composing new music based on Turkish and Jewish tradition, while borrowing from the sounds of urban Montreal,” says Rosenblatt.

After many years of touring across the globe, the group has developed a sound that incorporates modern elements, yet remains reverent toward their traditional roots.

TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival

This year marks the 30th anniversary celebration of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival. It will showcase the global reach of jazz and its multicultural influences with its jazz series, Made in the UK Jazz Concert Series and Spotlight on French Jazz, and the new South Africa Now! series.

Among the numerous performers slated to perform at the festival is Gypsophilia, a Halifax-based sextet that seasons its energetic jazz performances with cross-cultural elements.

“There are many different musical threads that we weave together in our music,” says band member Ross Burns. “The first inspiration when we got started was the hot jazz of Django Reinhardt, but with that as a foundation we have begun integrating lots of different musical elements from Klezmer, Jamaican, Brazilian and Balkan music.”

Also performing at the event is Nils Berg Cinemascope, a trio that is exploring new global frontiers of music through experimentation with digital media.

“All the music we will play is based around a series of YouTube video clips of musicians and singers from all over the globe. We want to shrink the world for a moment by colliding these clips with our own music and fitting it all into the Performance Works space [on Granville Island],” says band member Nils Berg.

During their performance, the audience will meet people through YouTube video clips: a shepherd boy from Afghanistan, a banjo teacher from Maryland, U.S., a Romanian Cimbalom maestro and a couple of high school kids from Brunei, among others.

Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival

Deer Lake provides a tranquil backdrop to the Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival, which features an eclectic mix of local and international artists such as The Sheepdogs, Devin Cuddy and Lee Fields and The Expressions.

One of the headlining acts is the Grammy-nominated musician Ruthie Foster, who draws upon her Texan roots to infuse soul, blues, rock, folk and gospel influences into her music.

To Foster, blues music is an intrinsic part of life that also forms the backbone of modern music.

“The blues is everywhere, and in everything,” says Foster. “You woke up this morning feeling sad, you got the blues; someone did you wrong, you got the blues. It’s where most modern genres of today’s music came from. It’s history, present and the future.”