The serious pleasure of performing

The Sultans of String.| Photo by Kevin Kelly.

Comprised mostly of strings and percussion, Sultans of String (led by guitarist Kevin Laliberté and violinist Chris McKhool) will perform original compositions from their newest album Subcontinental Drift. The music brings together a whole host of sounds and colours from around the world. Along with special guest sitar master Anwar Khurshid, the quintet will be performing at the Centennial Theatre on March 31.

“We use those styles like paints in a paint box,” says McKhool, “When we bring it all together, that’s what really makes Sultans of String a fun band to compose, arrange and perform with.”

Beginnings of the band

For both Laliberté and McKhool, music filled their homes and was practised by the two from a young age. In Laliberté’s case, he practised the banjo and ukelele around the age of eight or nine before switching to guitar a few years later.

For McKhool, the choice of violin was made for him; despite his wishes to play the ‘biggest instrument he could find’ at a trip to the orchestra, circumstances outside of his control – that is, his parents – would dictate otherwise.

It would be circumstances similarly outside McKhool’s control that would bring him to meet the impressive talent of Laliberté.

“I had a jazz quartet gig going on in Toronto at a club, but one day the guitar player had to bail, and he sent Kevin in his stead. And once I heard Kevin, who had already been exploring with Rumba Flamenca guitar and world music sounds, I heard him warming up with that Rumba sound and fell in love immediately with the guitar playing, stopped hiring the other guy and started playing with Kevin!” says McKhool with a laugh.

Diverse influences and styles

Sultans of String draws on a number of different genres and regions of music. For one, Laliberté had been making his way through various musical genres and styles. A longtime fan of Canadian rock, Laliberté found his curiosity evolving and made his way to listening to and playing jazz, which in turn led him to touring with Jesse Cook, playing more flamenco and South American music.

McKhool has also been influenced and exposed to both Canadian and world music. While McKhool and his father before him were born in Canada, with his grandfather being from Lebanon, and his pianist mother being from Cairo, there was no shortage of exposure to his Middle Eastern roots through music.

“My parents are well traveled and exposed us to a lot of great art and ideas when we were growing up. Everyone in our family had to learn music, we even went to camp together to play recorder together. That’s not something you see a lot now, and I think that really shows the focus my family had on the arts growing up,” he says

For both Laliberté and McKhool, it is the heavy exposure to all kinds of music that inform the philosophy behind composing and performing with Sultans of String.

“I’ve only got one life, so I don’t have enough time to master any of these styles. But I have enough time to pick some melodies that really resonate with me and to work on them enough to do them justice, to respect the tradition behind it but also to breathe life into what we’re trying to do as a band, which is to try and mix all these things together and put out something that’s hopefully new,” says Laliberté.

There’s always a goal to get better, but for Laliberté and the Sultans of String, it’s about embracing the moment, experiencing and exploring with as much music as possible and to find enjoyment throughout.

“The kind of big overarching theme to this band is that we’re a lot of fun to watch, and I say that because we constantly get that kind of feedback like ‘We had a blast watching you guys,’” says Laliberté. “We take it seriously, but we also take having a good time seriously.”

For more information on the event and Sultans of String, visit