Sultans of String celebrate The Power of the Land with Ojibway Elder Duke Redbird and Indigenous duo Twin Flames on their new single and video — premiering exclusively on Tinnitist.
With the latest evocative and timely track from their upcoming seventh album Refuge (releasing March 20), Sultans of String continue to bring their unique brand of musical synergy and collaboration into the studio like never before.
Their most ambitious, diverse, inclusive and passionately political album, Refuge puts the Toronto-based Sultans face-to-face with a VIP roster of artists from around the globe who have fled the peril and persecution of their homelands for the safer shores of USA and Canada (including Iraqi violinist Imah Al Taha, Iranian santur master Amir Amiri, Robi Botos, and many more) as well as those who have been global ambassadors for peace, including Béla Fleck and Yasmin Levy.
“This is a project that is centred around the positive and ignored contributions of Indigenous peoples, refugees and new immigrants to U.S.A. and Canada,” says bandleader Chris McKhool, whose Lebanese grandfather stowed away on a ship bound for North America a century ago. “We are bringing in special guests who are the First Peoples of this land, newcomers, as well as global talents who’ve 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 that the kinds of conversations we can have as musicians can provide a model for peace that our politicians and citizens find inspiration from.”
That inspiration could not be summed up more clearly than on Refuge’s gorgeously evocative and powerful The Power of the Land, a poem penned by Redbird, set to music by Sultans of String and buoyed by the impassioned harmonies of Indigenous husband and wife duo Twin Flames.
Recorded at the Indigenous-based and owned Jukasa Studios on the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory Reserve, the collaboration is the happy result of McKhool first hearing Redbird read The Power of the Land at an event at Koerner Hall. He was so moved by his words and asked the Elder if he would like music to accompany the work. Says Redbird, “it was a yes, a hug and friendly handshake.”
Commenting on the parallel between the Indigenous and refugee/new immigrant communities, he adds, “the country we live in, since Confederation, has not invited the Indigenous people to share in Confederation, the experience has been one of serious exploitation for our resources, our land and for the capacity of the people to engage in an innovative, creative and inventive way with the dominant culture. What’s happening is similar to new immigrants and refugees, themselves often coming from colonial experiences… they are very empathetic to our experience and as a result, we see a better future for everyone if we all work together.”
When asked about the greater meaning of recording this single, Chelsey of Twin Flames shares, “I think for me, it furthers the discussions around reconciliation and what that is, here in our country. Having Chris reach out to us in this way and present, not only Indigenous musical voices, but also Indigenous elder voices is an amazing project to be put together. And being right here on Indigenous land at Jukasa Studios, it takes it even to another level.”
Of the relationship between reconciliation and new immigrants to Canada, Chelsey adds, “we had played a festival in London, Ontario, and after our set, a woman came up to us in tears. When she started speaking, she says, ‘I need to apologize, because I’m a refugee and I’m here in this country, and your people still do not have clean drinking water.’ And for me, in that moment, it struck me so deeply… And so yes, our people struggle here in Canada. There are horrible living conditions. There are so many things that need to be tackled, but I do not believe in my heart that a refugee will stop that from happening for our people. If anything, if they come here and they’re educated on what has happened in our history, maybe they’ll be another piece of the puzzle in furthering reconciliation and making this country a greater place for everybody.”