Pioneering women of world music return to the spotlight with Turkwaz

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Turkwaz launches Nazar Sept. 24 at the Music Gallery

Doors at 7 p.m; Show at 8 p.m.

Tickets $25; $20 for members of the Music Gallery; $23 if purchased online.  A CD is included in the price of the ticket.

Tickets at

More information:  416.204.1080

Four musical trailblazers of Canada’s global music scene will be in the spotlight this fall with a brand new project That’s already playing to sold out crowds in Toronto:  the breathtaking Mediterranean quartetTurkwaz.

Their debut album, Nazar, showcases the versatile vocals and boundless sense of musical adventure that has made Maryem Tollar, Brenna MacCrimmon, Sophia Grigoriadis and Jayne Brown leaders in cross-cultural collaboration.

Recorded with Jeremy Darby at Canterbury Music Company and mixed by Jono Grant at Victory Drive Music, Nazar is a stunningly diverse collection of songs from Greece, Turkey, the Middle East and the Balkans, woven into a cohesive whole by the quartet. It’s a nuanced collection that showcases the singers’ raw vocal power and the sense of restraint that comes with maturity.

It opens with “She Embroiders Beneath the Roses,” a gentle number from the Eastern Black Sea region that describes the tranquil scene for which it is named.  The women’s delicate harmonies and the minimalist arrangement of tambura and qanun – combined with flourishes of duduk (wooden flute) from Ernie Tollar – give the piece an airy, dreamy feel to match the subject matter.

“In the Garden, I saw the Beloved” is one of two Sufi devotional love songs on the record that Maryem learned in Syria while studying there years ago.   It features powerful vocal harmonies backed by the driving beats of the riqq and daff.

“Love on a Rainy Day” is a beguiling Turkish folk song with a memorable hook, sung by Brenna, with an arrangement of ukulele, cello and almost hypnotic backing vocals from the other band members.

“Alexandris/Grandpa’s Brandy” mischievously pairs a Greek and a Macedonian song – themselves rather mischievous songs – into a raucous romp that features dueling tamburas, frame drum, and plenty of vocal whoops.

“Black Train Took My Beloved Away” is a captivating rendition of a Traditional Turkish thrace number that opens with seductive tambura and bansuri flute before launching into driving frame drum rhythms, call-and-response style verses and harmonic choruses.

And “Oh to Rest in the Shade” is a short Bulgarian a cappella piece that the women sing with an intensity that demands your attention.

Between these pieces, you will hear interludes improvised by one of four special guests: Naghmeh Farahmand (percussion), Ernie Tollar (reeds and flutes), Andrew Downing (cello) and Demetrios Petsalakis (strings), each elevating the collection with a touch of the contemporary  and at times even a touch of jazz.

The group members themselves have together amassed numerous accolades as members of ground-breaking ensembles and projects.  Brenna MacCrimmon earned a Juno nod as the lead vocalist of the Turkish Rom group Karsilama and was the founder of Altin Yildiz Orkestar – arguably Toronto’s first Balkan-Gypsy band.   She’s also performed with Shantel and Bucovina Club Orchestra (Balkan Club) and Baba Zula (Turkish Psychedelia).   Maryem Tollar rose to prominence as the Arabic vocalist in Jesse Cook’s ensemble and the co-star of Christos Hatzis’ Constantinople – while releasing a string of solo and side projects with artists such as Roula Said (Doula) and Tollar’s husband, Ernie Tollar (Mernie).  She, Sophia Grigoriadis and Jayne Brown also shared a Juno nod for their Greek-Middle Eastern ensemble Maza Meze. Brown, Grigoriadis and MacCrimmon performed and recorded with the Macedonian group Staro Selo, while Brown and Grigoriadis played Afrocuban music with the ensemble Ilede. In addition, all of the women have contributed their talents to film soundtracks and theatre projects and all are involved in teaching music.

They originally came together one evening to perform at a benefit concert for Toronto’s Turtle House Art/Play Centre, which provides art programming for newcomers from places of conflict. But the combination of their voices and energy was too special to let them slip away after just one engagement.  That night they received a request to perform as part of the Aga Khan Museum’s debut music series.  And so, what was supposed to be a one-off gig turned into a new, delightful addition to Toronto’s world music scene.

In the short time that they have been together as Turkwaz, the quartet has performed sold out shows for Small World Music, Harbourfront Centre, the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, and Open Ears Festival in Kitchener Waterloo.

With the launch of Nazar, expect to see much more of Turkwaz.

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