The Sultans of String appear in Portage la Prairie tonight (Saturday) at the Glesby Centre. Chris McKhool is band leader and violinist and says they're from Ontario, with two of the members from Toronto and one from Burlington.
"I met Kevin and Drew, I guess, two decades ago," says McKhool. "We've been at it for that long. Kevin had just been coming off the road playing around the globe with Jesse Cook playing a lot of that Rumba Flamenco style. You can think like Gypsy Kings, kind of, guitar work. And around the same time, I met Drew Birston, who plays all kinds of music, everything from pop with big stage artists like Chantelle Kreviazuk, as well as dozens and dozens of jazz bands."
He notes Birston is the one member of the band who went to school in music at McGill University studying bass.
"We got together kind of by accident," continues McKhool. "I had jazz jobbing gig that I was doing, and the guitar player subbed out for a better gig, I guess. He sent Kevin Laliberté in his place and I heard him warming up, playing that Rumba Flamenco. I thought, 'Man, that sounds amazing. What is that?' And he's like, 'That's the Rumba Flamenco. It's the best rhythm around.' And I quickly learned that you can take any song and put a Rumba rhythm behind it, and it just adds so much energy and drive."
McKhool notes he urged Birston to write music with him, and that led to a gig in North York, just north of Toronto. He says they had three hours to fill every night, but only knew half a dozen songs.
"So, we just spent most of the night making music up off the top of our heads," says McKhool. "You know, it's funny, but we still play a lot of that music to this day. Some of those great audience favourites came out of just random music jams. Since then, we've released eight albums and we've toured around the planet. We released two albums during the pandemic -- Refuge and Sanctuary -- and now we're working on another album of Indigenous collaborations with incredible artists from across Turtle Island. And we're thrilled to be joining you tonight in Portage la Prairie."
The band has been making a name for itself achieving 12 Canadian folk music nominations with four wins.
"We're up for four more results this April with our new albums," adds McKhool. "It's always exciting when you make the music that comes from your heart, from your soul, and other people like it, too. That's always a nice bonus. We just made a film about the whole project. It's called The Refuge Project. It's a visual album feature-length film and it started playing here and there in repertory cinemas. We've won over a dozen awards with this film based on our music, which is really exciting. It's just another way to share the incredible artists that we have the honour to work with. As a world music band, we work a lot with new immigrants and refugees to Canada. We are able to collaborate with them, amplify their voice, and get some really neat music out there, and a little bit more exposure for these new Canadians."
They play at 7:00 p.m. at the William Glesby Centre.
You can check out more of their music at https://sultansofstring.com/