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Album Review: Refuge
Sultans of String
Cover image of the album Refuge by Sultans of String
Sultans of String
2020 / Sultans of String
55 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Refuge is a vibrant musical celebration of the struggles and successes of refugees and immigrants from all over the world who have traveled to new lands to build better lives for themselves and their children. Canadian band Sultans of String has assembled a colorful and varied group of international musical artists, some that are new to North America, who are also ambassadors of peace and have personal stories to share in the hope of bringing communities together to create one global harmony. Six of the thirteen tracks have lyrics and all include a wide variety of ethnic instruments and traditions that make this a true world music album. The CD includes a 24-page booklet with photos of all of the artists who played on the album, lyrics, songwriting credits, thanks and production credits - a beautiful package as well as a stunning and inspiring world music collection!

The album begins with “The Power of the Land” with lyrics written and spoken by Duke Redbird and sung by Twin Flames, expressing the message that “The Spirit of the People is equal to the Power of the Land.” “El Bint El Shalabeya” is a traditional piece arranged by the Sultans and performed on oud, mandole, clarinet, and Turkish strings. The powerful “Hurricane” has lyrics by Chris McKhool and music composed and arranged by the Sultans. The song is an ode to those who came to the New World planning to work hard and save enough money to bring their loved ones over as soon as possible - a song of hope and sacrifice. “I Am a Refugee” was released as a single last fall and immediately grabbed me with its compelling spoken-word lyrics by Ifrah Mansour. The incredibly intense “Ojhri Camp” tells Anwar Khurshid’s harrowing story of an exploding Afghan ammunition depot in 1988 and his frantic ride on his motorbike to see if his family was safe. Kurshid wrote the music, vocalizes and plays sitar, and Ravi Naimpally plays tabla. “Refuge” is a lively and colorful piece by McKhool that features Edmar Castaneda on harp and Sammy Figueroa on conga. “Weather Update,” a lively jazz piece by Drew Birston, features musicians from all over the world celebrating their vibrant musical interaction and diverse backgrounds. “Summer in Tehranto” features Amir Amiri on santur, a 72-string hammer dulcimer that is so important in Persian classical music. Born and raised in Tehran, Iran, thugs broke Amiri’s wrist for playing “illegal scales.” The music is very sad and from the heart. “The Grand Bazaar” features Bela Fleck on banjo, an instrument he calls “a perfect story of immigration, involuntary immigration,” in reference to the slaves who were brought to the US involuntarily and created the banjos that became such an important part of American music. This lively, jazzy piece also features Robi Botos on piano. Chris McKhool recorded the strings for “The Grand Bazaar” and “Hypnotica” in Istanbul with Gundem Yayli Grubum, a group that performs and records with many of the Turkish pop stars and has a distinctive sound all their own.

What an amazing experience this album is and what a timely reminder that we’re all in this together as one world, one human race, one planet. I truly hope that Refuge will catch fire in listeners everywhere and help to bring us together with love and mutual respect. The album is available from Amazon, iTunes and many streaming sites.
March 28, 2020
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