Sultans of String take aim at a classic with their cover of Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) — showcasing today on Tinnitist.
Along with the four core Sultans, their new version of the ’60s hit also features guest vocalists Tara Salah Moneka and Ahmed Moneka, and arrives ahead of their upcoming album Sanctuary. Originally written by Sonny Bono — and sung by both Cher and Nancy Sinatra — this is a new take on the song that speaks to people from the perspective of marginalized voices; it is a benchmark of how the world has changed with the Black Lives Matter movement, and the thirst for equality around the world.
Toronto’s Sultans of String worked with Ahmed on their previous album Refuge. An artist and a musician from Baghdad, he came as an artist to Canada in 2015, and then stayed as a refugee. “I love what I’m doing here now, and Toronto gave me a lot of opportunity to continue my journey as an artist,” he shares. “I used to be an actor, and a lot of projects and my work focus on human rights and supporting the story that no one has told before. I came to TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, as a main actor in a film called The Society, and this movie was the first film talking about the history of homosexuality in Iraq, and the first film like of its kind in Iraq.
“They made a big exposure of this film; they went to my father because my father is very well known as an actor in Iraq, as well, and told him ‘Hey listen, if Ahmed comes back, we’ll cut his body into little pieces … let him stay in Toronto.’ I was exiled, literally, from my country, and that was really crazy. I started my journey without knowing any English, and then started learning in an ESL school as a political refugee, in a new country, and that’s why I ended up in Toronto.”
This past year, his talented younger sister Tara and the rest of his family joined him here, with an emotional greeting at the airport in the midst of the pandemic that risked derailing the entire settlement process. Tara was also forced to flee the country with her parents after receiving multiple threats from militiamen against her singing. To them, Tara’s music is considered forbidden, and they would shut down events where she would appear and threaten her life.
The arts community has welcomed both with open arms. “Ahmed and Tara are amazing individuals,” Sultans of String bandleader and violinist Chris McKhool says. “They are so strong, and full of hope for a better tomorrow. And I think, in a way, they teach us to be better Canadians by seeing our country through their eyes!”
Sanctuary is the eighth album from Sultans of String, and the second instalment in their Refuge Project. The first, simply entitled Refuge, won numerous awards, including Producer of the Year at the 2021 Canadian Folk Music Awards for McKhool. This ambitious, diverse, inclusive and passionately political album puts the band face to face with a VIP roster of global ambassadors, some of whom are recent immigrants and refugees to Canada, as well as important Indigenous voices. All are masters of world music that communicate with each other through the global language of music.
Sanctuary features seven new tracks with stellar performances by Amchok Gompo from Tibet, Donné Roberts from Madagascar with partner Yukiko Tsutsui from Japan, Algeria’s Fethi Nadjem, Juan Carlos Medrano, Syrian refugee Leen Hamo, Iran’s Padideh Ahrarnejad and Nyckelharpa player Saskia Tomkins. It also includes three stunning new versions of songs off Refuge.