York’s Drum & Dance Fest a talent-laden showcase

Left: Kwasi Dunyo, on the left

A cross-cultural rhythmic kaleidoscope comes together at York University on Tuesday, March 16, at the annual Drum & Dance Fest presented by the Department of Music. It’s a good thing the dance floor will be open to all, because the audience will be itching to move and groove to the infectious music.


Coordinated by York ethnomusicologist and multi-instrumentalist,  Professor Robert Simms, this talent-laden concert will showcase some of the exceptional student ensembles in Canada’s oldest and largest world music program. Simms will be joined by instructors Kwasi Dunyo, Anna Melnikoff, Rick Shadrach Lazar, Paul Ormandy, Ruben Esguerra and Colin McGuire, who direct five of York’s 14 world music ensembles.

                                                                   Right: Robert Simms 

Fuelled by an array of global cultures, the show will feature music from several continents, played on traditional instruments. The ensembles will rotate on a 10-minute basis.



Simms directs the Middle East Ensemble, which performs classical and folk music drawn from Persian, Turkish and Arab cultures. A specialist in Middle Eastern and West African traditions, Simms himself plays setar, a long-necked lute (left); ney, a reed flute; oud, a short-necked lute (above, right); kora, a harp (below, right); guitar and various percussion instruments. His research interests include West Asian maqam repertoires and Mande music of West Africa.


Kinetic art best describes the West African Drum Ensemble directed by Kwasi Dunyo and Anna Melnikoff. A renowned master drummer, Dunyo has performed worldwide. Born in the Ewe village of Dagbamete in the Volta Region of Ghana, he learned much of his Ghanaian music repertoire under the tutelage of Godwin Agbeli while performing as lead drummer for Sankofa Dance Theatre in the US. He is founder and artistic director of Toronto’s Kekeli Drum and Dance Ensemble.

Melnikoff is a djembe (left) player and specialist in the traditional Malinke percussion of Guinea. She has studied intensively in West Africa as well as North America, with leading artists such as Guinean master drummer Famoudou Konate, M’Bemba Bangoura, a founding member of the Percussion de Guinea, and Lamine Diallo, master drummer/arranger for National Ballet of Senegal. She is founder and leader of the Bolokelen Malinke percussion ensemble, which has been performing in the Greater Toronto Area for the past four years.

The Escola de Samba, directed by award-winning Canadian percussionist Rick Shadrach Lazar, is all about Brazilian music: Latin jazz drumming on a samba beat. Lazar’s wide-ranging musical interests and innovative edge, combined with heartfelt energy, have made him a pivotal force in contemporary fusion and world music. A busy session musician, he is also the founder and leader of the global jazz sextet Montuno Police and the 40-member Samba Squad, one of the most sought-after acts on the Canadian Latin music scene. His eclectic discography includes recordings with Manteca, Jesse Cook, Loreena McKennitt, Brian Hughes and Barry White.

Left: Kekeli Drum and Dance Ensemble

The hot Afro-Latin rhythms of the Cuban Ensemble, directed by Paul Ormandy and Ruben Esguerra, are guaranteed to melt away the winter blues. Ormandy is a seasoned and versatile percussionist who has performed throughout North America, the Caribbean, Europe and Japan. His performance credits range from steel band to flamenco and Indonesian gamelan, from Afro-Cuban percussion to Broadway show orchestras and world drumming festivals. Ormandy’s global activities include membership in Phase II Pan Groove Steel Orchestra (Port-of-Spain, Trinidad) and appearances at MusaVc (Expo ’98, Lisbon, Portugal), and Mika Yoshida’s Marimbop in Japan.

Colombian-born Esguerra, an alumnus of York’s music department who is completing his masters degree in ethnomusicology, is an active percussionist on Toronto’s Latin music scene. His interests centre on music from the African diaspora, focusing on Afro-Cuban and Afro-Colombian music.

Pushing the parameters, Philharmonia de Caelo Tactus, under the direction of Colin McGuire, is York University’s electro-acoustic orchestra. The name means “lovers of harmony touched by heaven” (as in touched by lightning). Musically, the repertoire stretches from electronic dance music to abstract sonic exploration. McGuire (aka Ronin E-Ville) is a producer, electroacoustic composer, DJ and music engineer. His quirky tracks are influenced by and span the genres of acid jazz, downtempo, trip hop, world fusion, dub, house and intelligent/experimental.

The Drum & Dance Fest will take place on March 16 at 7:30pm in York’s Winters College Dining Hall. Admission is $10 and $5 for students. For more information, contact the Music Department at 416-736-5186.

The Faculty of Fine Arts sent the above article to YFile.