Sultans of String and Edmar Castaneda offer hope and Refuge in their collaborative new fundraising single and video — premiering exclusively on Tinnitist.
The title track from the the Juno-nominated world music collective’s latest album, Refuge not only spotlights the work of Castaneda — an astonishing Colombian harpist who has reinvented the instrument the world over — but also raises funds for the band’s campaign to aid the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Canada.
Usually found performing his own compositions as well as tapping into native music of Colombia and Venezuela, Castaneda has performed with heavyweights Paquito D’Rivera, Simón Diaz, Lila Downs, Wynton Marsalis, John Patitucci, John Scofield and the United Nations Orchestra. He caught up with Sultans of String in Brooklyn, N.Y., to record with the band. The song Refuge is composed by bandleader and violinist Chris McKhool, and just won Folk Music Ontario’s Songs From the Heart award in the Instrumental category. McKhool also won with his bandmates in the Political category with I Am A Refugee. Improvising and creating dynamic counterpoint in the track, Castaneda says: “It’s great vibe, the whole tune, the track that I recorded it fits right with the harp, so I’m happy to be part of this. I just added my soul into the track.”
“I saw Edmar perform live in Buffalo with his trio,” says McKhool. “Once you have seen this man perform on his harp, you will never think of the instrument the same way again. The sounds and textures he is capable of creating are astonishing. We knew right away we wanted to work together, on this project centred around the positive contributions of refugees and new immigrants to U.S.A. and Canada.” Edmar, who now lives in N.Y.C., says “It’s a great idea, and actually we need that. We need to get together, and talk together in all kind of genres, to try to bring peace on the world … And music is a way to bring peace in to people, to bring together people from anywhere in the world. I’m so glad to be part of this project … It’s amazing.”
The album Refuge’s 13 songs include contributions from renown American banjoist Béla Fleck, Ladino star Yasmin Levy, Indigenous Elder Duke Redbird, Hungarian-Canadian keyboardist Robi Botos, Somali-American poet Ifrah Mansour, Greek-Canadian oud player Demetrios Petsalakis, Iraqi violinist Imad Al Taha and many more. Refuge reflects its theme of working together for a common goal, with 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 Iraqi actor and singer Ahmeh Moneka, unable to return home after receiving death threats for portraying a homosexual character in a film.
“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,” says McKhool. “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 are also raising awareness and funds for the UN Refugee Agency. They are close to their goal of raising $10,000 before the end of the year to help provide medical supplies and attention, clean water, and shelter to some of the almost 80 million displaced peoples around the globe. McKhool explains the reason behind backing the fund: “COVID-19 has made it even more challenging for the world’s displaced peoples. Let us not forget those without a home. The stateless, all those that are forced to flee violence or persecution. Millions do not have a place in which they can isolate themselves and their families from this global pandemic.”
The UNHCR explains how Covid has challenged fundamental aspects of our lives. “The strength of our health systems, the resilience of our economies, our social and professional relationships, our ability to move around, our access to basic needs including food and shelter … For people forced to flee violence or persecution, staying at home to isolate themselves from the virus is not an option. Yet access to asylum and other rights that would protect vulnerable refugees has been significantly curtailed as countries have responded to the disease.”