Award-winning Canadian global music group Sultans of String are embarking on the most ambitious and essential project of their career: Their ninth album Walking Through The Fire, a collection of collaborations with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit artists across Turtle Island/Canada.
Along with the Sultans of String — Chris McKhool (violin), Kevin Laliberté (guitar), Drew Birston (bass) and Rosendo ‘Chendy’ Leon (drums and percussion) — the album will feature musical contributions from a slate of talented Indigenous performers and songwriters, including:
• Ojibwe Potawatomi singer-songwriter Crystal Shawanda performing her song The Rez;
• Anishinabe Algonquin / Onkwehón:we Mohawk singer-songwriter Raven Kanatakta (of Digging Roots);
• Mi’kmaw guitarist Don Ross, who co-wrote the song Highway of Tears, which also includes Métis bassist MJ Dandeneau;
• Inuit throat singers Kendra Tagoona & Tracy Sarazin;
• Dene singer-songwriter Leela Gilday;
• Ojibwe/Finnish singer-songwriter Marc Meriläinen;
• Blackfoot singer-songwriter Forrest Eaglespeaker and singer-songwriter Nevada Freistadt;
• Tsm’syen Elder singer-songwriter Shannon Thunderbird;
• Chippewa / Anishinaaba Elder & poet Dr. Duke Redbird;
• Tsm’syen singer Kate Dickson;
• The Métis Fiddler Quartet;
• The Northern Cree Pow Wow group.
“We want to make a difference in the world, with the music we play,” McKhool says. “We’re making this album in the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action and Final Report that asks for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to work together as an opportunity to show a path forward. We know that as a society we can’t move ahead without acknowledging and reflecting on the past. Before reconciliation can occur, the full truth of the Indigenous experience in this country needs to be told, so we’ve been calling on Indigenous artists to share with us their stories, their experience, and their lives, so we settler Canadians can continue our learning about the history of residential schools, of cultural genocide, and of inter-generational impacts of colonization.”
Redbird adds: “The place that we have to start is with truth. Reconciliation will come sometime way in the future, perhaps, but right now, truth is where we need to begin the journey with each other. As human beings, we have to acquire that truth.”
For this project, the band are working with an advisory circle of Indigenous artists to keep them going down the right path, and McKhool also met with the Honourable Murray Sinclair, Ojibwe Elder and former chair of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, to speak about the project, who reflected; “The very fact that you’re doing this tells me that you believe in the validity of our language, you believe in the validity of our art and our music and that you want to help to bring it out. And that’s really what’s important, is for people to have faith that we can do this… That’s really good.”
Bed tracks are being recorded at Jukasa Studio, an Indigenous-owned studio on Indigenous land in the Six Nations reserve south of Hamilton, and collaborating artists are being recorded in studios, in nature along vital life-giving waterways, and at Pow Wows. One of the most innovative collaborations is with the Pow Wow group Northern Cree, who have earned nine Grammy nominations. Despite their success, they are eager to co-create a piece with Sultans of String to continue sharing their language and culture via a radio audience. “When you’re collaborating with mainstream music, it shows that we can work together to bring out the very best in who we are as human beings” says Northern Cree drummer and singer Steve Wood. “It shows that we can work together, and we can bring out something very beautiful.”
Thrilling audiences with their genre-hopping passport of Celtic reels, flamenco, Gypsy jazz, Arabic, Cuban, and South Asian rhythms, Sultans of String celebrate musical fusion and human creativity with warmth and virtuosity. Fiery violin dances with rumba-flamenco guitar, while bass and percussion lay down unstoppable grooves. Acoustic strings meet with electronic wizardry to create layers and depth of sound, while world rhythms excite audiences to their feet with the irresistible need to dance.
Since releasing their debut album Luna in 2007, Sultans of String have continually strived to make each chart-topping album more original and meaningful than the last. That includes working with an orchestra (2013’s Symphony), teaming with Pakistani sitarist Anwar Khurshid (2015’s Subcontinental Drift) and even crafting a world-music holiday album (2017’s Christmas Caravan). Their ambition and work ethic have garnered them multiple awards and accolades, including three Juno nominations, first place in the International Songwriting Competition, three Canadian Folk Music Awards and countless other honours, plus a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal for McKhool. Their 2020 release Refuge earned Independent Music Awards for Instrumental Song of the Year and World Music Producer of the Year, as well as 2021 CFMA for Producer of the Year for McKhool and John Bailey.