Canada’s 3x JUNO (Canada’s Grammy) nominees/3x CFMA winning ambassadors of musical diversity, Sultans of String recently released Christmas Caravan, an album on which they have expanded the traditional notion of Christmas music with genre-hopping tunes supported by a stellar cast of guest musicians. Watch their new video for Celebrate the Holydays featuring the all-woman, African-American a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock.
Talking about the album, bandleader/violinist Chris McKhool explained “We wanted to make a real contribution to the Christmas repertoire, and hopefully create some new standards. This is a Christmas album but approached from the perspective of a world-music band. We explored diverse genres, from Quebecois fiddle tunes to collaborating with a traditional Turkish string ensemble, and jump around from the classic sounds of the Andrews Sisters to a Himalayan sleigh ride, African roots music, Gypsy-jazz, rumba flamenco, ska, and the grandeur of the symphony.”
First, the band made a dream list of their favourite vocal artists to join in on this musical sleigh ride. Their holiday wish came true with 6x Grammy-winning Paddy Maloney (The Chieftains), Ruben Blades & Luba Mason (Panamanian 7 Grammy and 5 Latin Grammy Award winner), platinum-selling jazz vocalist Nikki Yanofsky, 2x JUNO/Grammy Winner Alex Cuba, Benoit Bourque of Quebec’s Bottine Souriante (3x JUNOs, 4x Gold, 3x Platinum records), Sweet Honey in the Rock (Grammy-winning all-woman, African-American a cappella group), Cameroon’s Richard Bona (Paul Simon, Herbie
Hancock), Canada’s singer to the stars Rebecca Campbell (Emmylou Harris, Alanis Morissette), singer Mary Fahl from NYC’s October Project, a recording collective of Turkish Roma violinists in Istanbul, Sudanese-Canadian singer Waleed Abdulhamid, Nashville-based JUNO Award-winning country singer Crystal Shawanda, sitar virtuoso Anwar Khurshid, and hang drum player David Charrier from France.
Why make a Christmas album, for a band that has earned its street cred on performing music from diverse cultures? McKhool explains “My parents are from Lebanese and Egyptian backgrounds, and also celebrated Christmas in the home. So Christmas, as well as music from around the globe, was always part of my upbringing. With this record, we created the spiritual Christmas album I have always wanted to hear that honoured this tradition, as well as bringing in diverse cultures. As a violin player, I also performed with string orchestras in my youth, so the icing on the cake was travelling to Prague to record with the City of Prague Symphony Orchestra!”
Adds McKhool, “One of my favourite tracks, Jesous Ahatonhia (The Huron Carol), is fascinating to me. I went back into the archives and found a direct transliteration of the original Huron-Wendat lyrics, which were written in the 1600s by St Jean de Brebeuf. This is Canada’s first Christmas carol, and while there are some complex issues around this song, it is of great historical significance. Now people can hear the intent of the original lyrics for the very first time. Ojibwe artist Crystal Shawanda vocal is so compelling on this song!”
Don’t miss their early 2018 tour UK dates below including Celtic Connections on 4 February.