If you were on Lake Simcoe this long weekend, you may have thought you were imaging the enchanting sounds of West Africa travelling through the night air. Visiting Malian musicians Jah Youssouf, a virtuoso singer and kamelan n’goni player, and Abdoulaye Koné, n’goni wizard, sang passionately to a sold-out Stellula Music benefit gathering at The Verandahs’ Bed & Breakfast, located on the 9th line of Oro Medonte. The audience embraced the extraordinary musical traditions of the duo’s Sahel Desert nation and enthusiastically asked questions; some speaking what French they knew with the bilingual musicians.
The pair were joined by their friend and fellow musician, Lewis Melville of Guelph. Lewis was instrumental in arranging Youssouf’s first Canadian tour in 2007. It was during that visit Deb Brown, founder of Stellula Music, first met and presented Youssouf to the Georgian Bay community of Penetanguishene.
“Presenting him in the library in the heart of a French community made sense. The interaction with the children, particularly the very young who were trying the kora (hunter’s harp) and asking questions, was so inspiring. That workshop gave a real-life experience with world music they would not otherwise have. I was so pleased to learn he was returning to Canada and took great pleasure in bringing him back to Simcoe County,” Brown said.
Youssouf’s tour is nearing its end, which was an extraordinary accomplishment in itself, as he had suffered a serious stroke and became paralyzed after returning to Mali in 2007. Remarkably, he recovered fully, and is back in Canada on his second cross-country tour. Simcoe County is one of the last concerts on the 2009 tour for the pair which Melville describes as “the world’s greatest” n’goni players. Melville also shared with the audience the significance of Mali as the region where stringed instruments got their start along with “the Blues”.
Although Youssouf will be leaving Canada, Stellula will have a souvenir of his visit, as the group has acquired one of his koras (hunter’s harp), made by Youssouf and painted by the women of his village. It will be on display in Orillia and other communities in the region, and brought into the schools so children can see and play the instrument.
The music in schools program began with a pilot project which was launched in February 2008 at Penetanguishene Secondary School with Mansa Sissoko also of Mali. In May 2008, Brown organized a week of Music in the Schools across the Georgian Bay region which included 40 musicians visiting twelve schools. In September 2008, Stellula Music became non-profit and has since provided more than 30 schools in Simcoe County with passionate and unique musicians. Some schools have initiated songwriting clubs with the Stellula support, and the club receives regular visits by mentor musicians throughout the school year. There is no cost to the school for this program.
The May 2009 Week of Music program included a kick-off event with Sarah Slean at the King’s Wharf Theatre and included performances and workshops by dozens of musicians in elementary and secondary schools across the county. Five world musicians including Sissoko also participated.
Plans are being made for September, so keep your eyes and ears open and expect more exciting concerts in the area as world and Canadian musicians bring their passion with youth through the Stellula Music program.
Stellula Music would like to thank all who attended in support of our program. Our gratitude to Marc Cohen for hosting our event at the beautiful Verandahs B&B. Thank you also to Chef Jackie Fowler for a wonderful Malian buffet.
The Verandahs B&B By The Lake & Talk Is Free Theatre Barrie:
On May 1st, 2009 Talk Is Free Theatre hosted a masquerade ball entitled La Dolce Vita, which translated from Italian means, The Sweet Life. Talk is Free Theatre is nationally and internationally recognized for bringing audiences daring, powerful and inspiring stage productions.
This very successful major fundraiser was an evening of mystery and intrigue that relived the glamour and sophistication of the Renaissance period. This elegant and entertaining evening was held at the Barrie Country Club. The Verandahs B&B By The Lake together with Jackie Fowler of Edible Affairs, www.EdibleAffairs.com donated an auction package which raised an outstanding $2000.00 for Talk Is Free Theatre. The Verandahs and Edible Affairs is excited that we were able to help support such a worthy organization. For more information about Talk Is Free Theatre please go to www.TIFT.ca