Sultans Of String and Marc Meriläinen Embrace A Beautiful Darkness

The world-music outfit & the Indigenous artist join forces for a space-age video.

Sultans Of String and Marc (Nadjiwan) Meriläinen become the light in A Beautiful Darkness — their new collaborative single and futuristic video showcasing today on Tinnitist.

A Beautiful Darkness is the second single off the upcoming Sultans Of String album Walking Through The Fire (due Sept. 22), the most ambitious and important project of their career — a CD and concert of collaborations with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit artists across Turtle Island.

Referencing the title, Meriläinen explains “We were just getting through COVID, and lockdowns, and of course, being in isolation … everyone had that feeling that this was an extra-long winter, because when we started COVID, it was still in the wintertime. And then, sure, we had spring and summer, but those seasons just blew right by, it seems. And we’re back in winter again, back into COVID.

“It seemed like everyone needed this refreshing break from the darkness that has engulfed our lives and forced us into this new way of living that we all had to adapt and adjust. But with each new night, or each night, there’s always a new day that comes. So the song is about breaking free from these barriers and these things that hold us down … or keep us maybe depressed or not feeling happy.”

Indeed, the chorus lifts the listener out of moody verses. “I always look into it as the chorus being the awakening of spring,” Marchc continues, “And then the light breaking through the darkness and reinvigorating our lives. And to steal Bruce Cockburn’s little quote from that song, ‘Gotta kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight.’ ”

Sultans Of String bandleader and violinist Chris McKhool, who was recently awarded the Dr. Duke Redbird Lifetime Achievement Award from the JAYU Festival For Human Rights, is trying to transform the darkness in his own way. “We are creating this recording in the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, and final report that asks that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people work together as an opportunity to show a path forward. I am really excited about working with Marc because I am a super huge fan of his work, especially the incredible skills he learned during the pandemic, working with outer space screenscapes, that have made their way into the video for this song. He is one of many fantastic Indigenous artists on my playlist right now.”

When asked about the newfound popularity of Indigenous artists, Marc says: “Definitely we are seeing a Renaissance, if you will, with Indigenous culture, and artists, and entrepreneurs, and everything else. And it’s good to keep that ball rolling. And hopefully, this project keeps that ball rolling, which I’m sure it will. And that’s one of the big reasons why I signed on. And I love everything that you’re doing with the project, because this is a great way to build some of these bridges, as well as leaving the evening or a listener with a great selection of tunes.”

He likens a hesitancy for more collaborations to a high school dance. “Guys are on this side of the wall. And then on the other side, the girls are here. And everyone’s afraid to ask each other out to have a dance and then have a great time. I think it’s like that in the music community, like, ‘I’d like to work with this community, but I’m not sure what the protocol is. Or Maybe they don’t want me there.’ But I’ll tell you, we love working, I mean, I can’t speak for all Indigenous people, but we love working with new music, and new artists, and people from all backgrounds and ethnicities and genres, because that’s what makes music exciting. And it’s all about promoting these cross collaborations that make it exciting for the audience as well.”

Born in Lynn Lake and raised in Thunder Bay, Meriläinen’s heritage can be traced to the Chippewas of Nawash, Cape Croker. Transforming the sound and image of Indigenous music has been one of his goals from the very beginning, and his prodigious output has been recognized in many corners, including the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, the Native American Music Awards, the Indigenous Music Awards, and Toronto’s Dora Mavor Moore Awards for the Performing Arts, along with invitations to perform at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto.

Sultans Of String bandleader McKhool (Makhoul in Lebanon) has an Egyptian-born mother who happened to play piano, teach classical theory, and feed her young son as much Middle Eastern cuisine as she did music lessons. From there, the powerful violinist developed a taste for multi-genre string sounds and found a like-minded crew of all-world enthusiasts. When McKhool first heard founding guitarist Kevin Laliberté’s rumba rhythm, their musical synergy created Sultans Of String’s signature sound — the intimate and playful relationship between violin and guitar. From this rich foundation, the dynamic duo grew, featuring such amazing musical friends as in-the-pocket bass master Drew Birston, and the jaw-dropping beats of percussionist Chendy Leon.

Their live resume is similarly stellar. Equally at home in a concert hall, folk and jazz club or festival setting, the Sultans have gigged at Junofest, New York’s legendary Birdland club, Celtic Connections Festival (Glasgow) and London’s Trafalgar Square. They have performed with the Annapolis, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton symphony orchestras, and collaborated with such diverse luminaries as Paddy Moloney & The Chieftains, Sweet Honey in The Rock, Richard Bona, Alex Cuba, Ruben Blades, Yasmin Levy, Benoit Bourque, Béla Fleck, Crystal Shawanda & Ken Whiteley.

Watch the video for A Beautiful Darkness above, check out Sultans Of String’s tour dates and hear more from them below, connect with them at their website, Twitter and Facebook, and find Marc Meriläinen at his website, Twitter and Facebook

March 17 – Shelton Auditorium, Shelton, WA
March 18 – Edmonds Center for the Arts, Edmonds, WA
March 20 – Poncan Theatre, Ponca City, OK
March 23 – Fine Arts Center – Western NM University, Silver City, NM
March 25 – Payson Auditorium, Payson, AZ
March 27 – Performing Arts Center, Lake Havasu City, AZ
March 28 – Mohave High School Auditorium, Bullhead City, AZ
March 29 – Education Series, Bullhead City, AZ
March 30 – Borrego Springs Performing Arts Center, Borrego Springs, CA
April 01 – Feature Film: The Refuge Project at CFMAs, Vancouver, CA
April 14 – First Presbyterian Church (Young Audience), Lincoln, NE
April 15 – First Presbyterian Church, Lincoln, NE
May 12 – Marchble Arts Centre, Tweed ON
May 13 – Bancroft Village Playhouse, Bancroft ON
May 14 – Bryan Jones Theatre, Lakefield College, Lakefield, ON
May 26 – Brockville Arts Centre, Brockville, ON
June 24 – Mississauga World Music Festival
June 24 – Old Church Theatre, Trenton ON
June 27 – Wasaga Beach Gazebo, Wasaga Beach ON