Tag: Rachid Taha

Luminato Lights Up


Luminato has announced its music line-up, and wow, what a gaggle of goodies to behold.

For those of you wondering what the heck Luminato is, voila: it’s a ten-day, kick-ass culture fest that’s happened in Toronto every June since 2007. When it began, some people sniped that the money being poured into it would be better invested with various Toronto-based arts companies, but frankly, David Pecaut & Co. had something far more larger -and more worldly -than the local yokels envisioned. Partnering with cosmetics giant L’Oreal, the arts leader helped to bring a myriad of accessible, fun, internationally-minded cultural happenings and figures to the city. For ten days every June, Torontonians of all stripes get excited about all things artistic -which is quite a feat, considering how hockey-obsessed a town this usually is.

Past years have featured some truly beautiful programming, including a sexy, gorgeous, East Asian version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Tim Supple and the award-winning Black Watch by the National Theatre of Scotland. Last year’s music events included a tremendous Neil Young tribute (featuring Sarah Slean and Steven Page, among many others) and two concerts (one free) by Balkan superstar Goran Bregovic, whom I interviewed. As Luminato CEO Janice Price reminded the assembled guests this morning, 80% of Luminato events are free; to me, this means they want the biggest number of eyeballs gawking at their stuff -or, to put it another way, the greatest numbers of bodies dancing, laughing, and enjoying the being-togetherness of arts events as possible. I’ve seen some combination of all of those at various Luminato events through the years. English, French, Sanskrit, Serbian -language melts away in those moments when you’re sharing a cultural event with a crowd. I suspect it’s that kind of wordless joy Luminato’s aiming at.

This year’s music selections are proof positive of the fest’s approachability and range. Rufus Wainwright‘s opera Prima Donna is making its North American premiere (I listed it as one of the things I most want to see in 2010), and he’ll also be doing a solo concert based on his recent record release, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu (Universal Music). There’s something so unapologetically European about Wainwright; despite his Canadian musical pedigree, I’ve always found him to have a style, sound, and sensibility far more suited to ‘the continent‘. His participation in last fall’s tribute to Irish artist Gavin Friday (at Carnegie Hall; produced by Hal Willner) only cemented his worldly, exploratory approach to artistry. I can hardly wait to see him.

Luminato 2010 will also feature an outdoor concert called Rock the Casbah, to feature the terrific, lively French/North African band Lo’Jo, as well as the punk-meets-Arab sounds of Rachid Taha, whose 2008 Toronto concert was one of the best live shows I’ve ever attended. Taha and his band are infectiously good; like Brega, they don’t sing in English, but it hardly matters. When you’re dancing, you don’t really notice, though you might recognize Taha’s cover of The Clash classic song the event is named after. Both his and Lo’Jo’s inclusion in Luminato is a testament to the festival’s breadth of vision and its open embrace of wider cultural patterns. So too is Malian master Salif Keita, who will be taking part in Global Blues along with Cuban band Mezcla, a danceable jazz-blues fusion group led by Pablo Menendez. There’s also John Malkovich -not sure if he’s singing, but playing a murderer, with music provided by the Vienna Academy Orchestra, has to be pregnant with all kinds of operatic-like drama. Called The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer, the work is based on the true story of celebrated Austrian author and notorious murderer Jack Unterweger. Talk about a worldly vision.

That doesn’t mean Luminato forgets about their home and native land, however. The Canadian Songbook has been a staple of the fest, and this year will feature a tribute to the work of Bruce Cockburn. He’ll be sharing the stage with friends and musicians, including fellow Canucks Hawksley Workman, Margo Timmins (of the Cowboy Junkies) and Michael Occhipinti, with more to come. At today’s announcement, Cockburn called his inclusion in the festival a testament to his “longevity, persistence, and refusal to disappear” and added, smiling, that he’s “looking forward to the peculiar things they’re gonna do with my stuff.” He seemed genuinely chuffed at the tribute, observing that his usual creative method in the past would be to “record the songs, forget about them, and make room in my head for new ones.”

Cockburn’s inclusion is interesting in light of his previous anti-corporate past; Luminato has always been upfront about its close partnership with L’Oreal. The cosmetic giant’s Canadian section President and CEO, Javier San Juan, noted in his opening remarks that there had been, at the beginning of the fest, concerns in the combination between arts and business. San Juan emphasized the equal partnerships that exist between all facets of Luminato; concepts of working together closely and demonstrating a larger vision of the arts and its relationship to everyday life, were always priorities, and in case you have doubts, look at the programming. Even Cockburn, with his anti-logging, pro-environment, fantasy-rocket-launcher tunes, is getting on the train for the sake of his art. It’s just one event I’m deeply looking forward to. June is going to be full of celebration.

My Favourite Things

I don’t like lists. It’s the main reason I resist writing hoary old “Top Ten Shows of 2008” sorts of things. Unless a writer/artist experiences a heck of a lot of different things (not just theatre, but music, cinema, telly, & you know, life) they’re going to be creating from inside a navel-gazing bubble. So instead of doing a formal list of shows I liked in 2008, I’m going to provide a few favourite live moments from 2008, along with stuff I’m looking forward to in 2009. Call it the Ghosts of Good Stuff, Past & Future.

2008:

Festen / Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me: The Berkeley Street Theatre ended the year with a duo of powerhouse dramas in both its upstairs and downstairs spaces. Both about families of different sorts, the skillfully directed and acted works were punches to the gut, and stayed with me far past my exiting the theatre’s doors.

The Music Man / Moby Dick: The yin and yang of the Stratford Festival this past season. Both seeming-opposites, playing in the largest and smallest festival spaces respectively, and yet both had so much in common. I had to think for hours which one was actually more epic -the story of man vs. whale or man-in-a-small-town (on the surface anyway). Brilliantly directed, with charismatic leading men, the Festival made a brave, brilliant choice to have two such works playing at the same time.

Rachid Taha: The Algerian-French singer’s concert at the Phoenix in July was a mix of Arab, rock, pop, dance, punk, chaabi, and… everything else. In an interview last year, he quoted Frank Zappa in describing his music as couscous. No kidding. A sweaty good time, Taha and his 7-man band played for a riotous, celebratory two-plus hours. Not a word was in English, either. It didn’t matter. Brilliant.

The Williamson Playboys: Opening the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival with a host of other acts, the Playboys (played with ferocious playfulness by Doug Morency and Paul Bates) won over the crowd with their mix of gentle, fierce, silly and profound. I haven’t laughed so hard, for so long, in… too long. Lesson learned: you just haven’t lived until you’ve heard Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog played with just a ukelele and tuba.

Nigella Express / Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen: I know, I know. This isn’t technically a series, so much as it is a chance to ogle the British Domestic Goddess. But the tips are really practical (if you can pay enough attention) and the results are damn good. In this case, it is as easy as it looks. Honest. And Nigella’s love of food is a joyful expression of life -something we all need to remember.

Election night: After the drama of the Democratics, then the even-more-dramatic U.S. election campaign that featured an assortment of interesting players, the whole thing culminated in a huge gathering in Chicago. Jesse Jackson’s tears, chanting masses, Oprah’s runny mascara, and the President-Elect’s confident waves and smiles made for a moving, affecting piece of real, live theatre. I’ve never seen anything like it. Part 2: The Inauguration, coming soon.

2009:

Blackbird: Written by David Harrower and directed by Joel Greenburg, Studio 180 is back at the Berkeley after last year’s stunning Stuff Happens, David Hare’s deconstruction of the politics behind the Iraq War. If Blackbird is anywhere near as thrilling and compelling, the Berkeley will have another solid play under its roof.

Antigone: The timely Sophocles tragedy gets the Soulpepper treatment. A favourite play of mine (personal disclosure: I starred in a production in London moons ago), I can’t wait to see powerhouse actor Liisa Repo-Martell in the lead, chewing the scenery a host of other great Canadian actors, including David Storch and Claire Calnan.

Them And Us: Actor/writer Tracy Dawson’s take on modern relating gets a theatrical exploration. I know, I know, I can hear every male friend of mine yawning at the thought of sitting through a play about… relationships. But if Dawson’s energy is anything to go on (I interviewed her recently), the show is sure to be sarcastic, funny, insightful, and have something for both genders.

The Entertainer: John Osbourne’s rarely-performed piece (in Canada, anyway) receives a production at the Shaw Festival, courtesy of Shaw Fest Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell. Exploring notions of “entertainment” and our expectations around it, the piece has a timely relevance, and features some of Canada’s finest performers, including Benedict Campbell in the lead.

The Soloist: Joe Wright’s filmic adaptation of the Steve Lopez book. Lopez is a columnist with the L.A. Times who met the homeless Nathaniel Ayers years ago; the book explores their relationship, and the vitality of music, art, and writing. Featuring Robert Downey Jr. as Lopez and Jamie Foxx as Ayers, I’m thinking this will be one for the Oscar voters next year.

Jessica Lea Mayfield: The singer/songwriter from Kent, Ohio caught me with her beautiful tune, “Kiss Me Again.” Thoughtful without being pretentious, uncomplicated without being folksy, she’s an interesting combination of Cat Power, Patti Smith, and Joni Mitchell, but definitely brings a style all her own. And she’s only 19. Holy smokes.

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