A Look Back at

Lee Haas
So this, The Live Music Report machine, wanted to get our take on a Top-Ten listing of concerts we saw during 2007. I figured since it was apropos for the year just finished, that I would summarily pass along my Top-0-Seven. Many of the shows in my list seem to have taken place at Harbourfront; this is just coincidental as there really was much great music, all around the city throughout the year (only who doesn't like free and outdoors?). These shows just stand out for me, and came first off-the-top-of-my-head (and this doesn't mean there weren't more; I just wanted to stick to my 0-7.)  Also, actually, for much of the first half of 2007 I wasn't in town often, so this mostly refers to the summer, and then some, as I'm quite sure you can tell. The order is chronological by the date the shows took place.

Cheers and peace to you all — and only good things in the year to come.  Looking forward!

Emeline Michel @ Harbourfront, Toronto (Jun. 5)
This captivating Haitian woman is a multifaceted vocalist and a wonderfully poised performer. Emeline Michel is known as 'The Queen of Haitian Song', for her social and political stances and the inspired traditional rhythms and styles she uses for their expression. The small crowd on this chilly evening did not deter her and she sang with some serious feeling, in a combination of soul and joy. She swayed in her bare feet, and her dress flowed in the winds like her song styling. Even all her musicians were happy to be there, and this is not something we see every day. This woman is refined in her elegance and it was really a pleasure to see and listen to her perform. She sings in Creole, and her Afro-Haitian heritage figures prominently in the musical backings. She is inspired by her island, and its struggles, and reminds us to look ahead, and remember the message that whatever ills are done, we are still free in spirit.

Lila Downs @ Harbourfront, Toronto (Jun. 7)
Lila Downs performs as such a great show-woman; she draws us into her spell. She sings native Mesoamerican musics, mixing cultures of the Mixtec, Zapotec, Maya and Nahuatl people, embodying the idea of 'one love'. She is eclectic to say the least, but fun all around. She is traditionally Mexican, and yet not at all what you might expect. Her voices (yes, she uses a few, depending on the song) and movements are deeply emotional in expression, then simply expecting empathy and enjoyment. This she did receive, from all of us who were completely drawn in to her rapture of music and song. This massively huge crowd absolutely adored her, and the level of screaming was evidence of the largely Mexican population. Her two flying braids were helped along with yarn tied around, making them long enough to reach to her knees, and her voice and movement were as flamboyant as her colourful clothing and persona. Lila Downs' songs seek to remind us that we are, in fact, all of 'one blood' after all.

(Our own K'Naan, the Dusty Footed Philosopher, preceded this show. His hip-hop and lyrical prowess make a serious musical statement, and you need to see him if you have not yet done so.)

Olodum @ Harbourfront, Toronto (Jun. 9)
This group of musicians is widely credited for the sound of Samba-Reggae, and they really, really present this admirably. They were in from Bahia, Brazil, with a large representation of their outstanding percussionists. And WOW! They take the Afro-Brazilian tradition of Samba and elevate it to an incredibly exciting place. It was impossible not to find yourself really into the groove of it, especially considering that this group managed to gather seemingly all the Brazilians in the vicinity to this one event, and their enthusiasm was contagious. The energy and stamina of Olodum was absolutely dazzling; even more so for their dancing with their drums held high overhead.

Kollage @ the Beaches Jazz Festival, Toronto (Jul. 24)
After checking out a few other bands during the street fest, I finally managed to get through the hordes and far down the strip to see Kollage performing. It was exciting to be so up close and personal with long time drumming legend Archie Alleyne, whose band included piano legend in the making Robi Botos. A diverse assembly of musicians, whose talents are displayed with soul and style both, shaped this jazz group. Their music took us far into their groove, and the swing of innovation provided enjoyably memorable rhythms.

Kellylee Evans @ Harbourfront, Toronto (Aug. 12)
Kellylee Evans performed not coincidentally during the hot and spicy festival… Even when this rainy day kept much of the crowd away, she managed to get the gloom gone, and the folks (eventually) up on their feet and dancing. Her musical styling is jazz in the urban vein, with a mix of soul and R&B smoothed right in for a sound that is cool and captivating. She is always heartfelt, and her stage presence is energized and passionate, often with an enlightening smile. She is a talented storyteller, and even when regaling us with not so amusing details of her family saga, we connect with her. Kellylee Evans' vocal expressions move people, wherever they might belong in the crowd, to, well, move. As her album title says, Fight or Flight.

This was ongoing, but was always a charming way to chill and listen to some really nice music. Luis Mario Ochoa's intimate Saturday night gigs with Cuba Tradicional @ Olivia's (just off College and Clinton). He played with a revolving tour of locally based Cuban musicians, and they deservedly drew a bigger crowd each week. They would play a varied repertoire from vintage to classic, fondly evoking that certain Cuban era with charming flair.

Yoruba Andabo @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (Oct. 12)
They had just come in from Havana, Cuba, and a legendary status preceded them here. Though I was fortunate enough to have seen them perform many times en La Habana, it really was such a pleasant treat to have that folkloric culture here after missing it so long. They danced two sets, including a splendid display of congas and batas, chanting and song, rumba and guaguanco — and footwork. Their dances representing each of the Orishas was a spiritual journey into the roots of the Afro-Cuban culture, and religion of Yoruba/Santeria. We glimpsed the distinctive rituals and their specific characteristics in this theatrical presentation celebrating the religion and music. This Cuban group manages to extol their specific cultural history in a context that we can really appreciate.
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Lee Haas
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