“Universal Echoes”: a new album by Kuné. The world in a (global) orchestra, tacklin’ climate change with music

TORONTO – Kuné means “Together” in Esperanto, the language created by the Warsaw-based ophthalmologist Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof in 1887, who intended to create the universal language for international communication. So, what better word (and language) to name an orchestra made up of elements from every corner of the world? 

China, Iraq, Cuba, Peru and Burkina-Faso are some of the countries of origin of the ten immigrant musicians of the orchestra, completed by one metis-Canadian who “closes the circle”, given that the group is based in Canada. Toronto, to be precise: one of the most multiethnic cities in the world.

But the band’s specialty does not end here: the eleven artists play the traditional instruments of their countries of origin, instruments that are not often played together on stage, like the Tar, the Dizi, the Cajon and the Ngoni. And also the lyrics, in the vocals parts, are in their own languages, such like French, Portuguese, Arabic, Persian, Greek, Turkish and Djoula.

Together, Kuné members compose, arrange and perform music that honors their cultural roots and creates connections with others through curiosity, experimentation and dialogue.

The orchestra was created at the Royal Conservatory of Music in 2016 in Toronto. Over one hundred musicians responded to the call for auditions and only twelve were selected to become part of the ensemble. They worked together composing, learning and rehearsing.

The group was intended to be a short-term project that showcased the talent of immigrant musicians living in Toronto and brought together different musical traditions into a respectful musical dialogue. But after a debut performance at Koerner Hall, the collective was approached by different presenters, which then lead into performances at festivals like Sunfest, Hillside and Ness Creek in Canada, theaters like the National Music Center in Alberta, the National Arts Center in Ottawa and collaborations with symphonies like the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

After all this exposure, the group was invited to record an album at the Banff Center for the Arts and in 2018, KUNE’s first album was released by Universal Music Canada.

In 2019 the group did their first international tour to the USA, playing at venues like DROM in NYC, Utah, Maine and Pennsylvania. Between 2019 and 2020, KUNE developed and presented a suite of four compositions called Universal Echoes that included new material, composed collaboratively within the group and visuals provided by indigenous artists Jason Baerg and Santee Smith. In 2019, Kuné was also able to make symphonic arrangements of their compositions and performed them with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Kitchener-Waterloo Orchestra.

In 2021 Kuné became an independent collective and recorded a new album, released some weeks ago in 2023 by LulaWorld Records.
“In this new stage – the musicians explain – we are striving to honor our multifaceted musical identities and the complexity of our stories as immigrant musicians”.

But there is more: the album, titled “Universal Echoes”, deals with environmental issues. “Oil spills, deforestation, illegal mining: these extractive activities are devastating the Amazon rainforest. And the song ‘Earth I’ is a lamentation for the destruction of the world’s largest forest and its Indigenous stewards”, the musicians say. “Droughts caused by climate change are transforming once rich agricultural lands in the Middle East into deserts. ‘Water II’ speaks to the drying up of rivers like the Euphrates, which crosses Turkey, Iraq and Syria”.

Born and raised in different parts of the world, the lives of the eleven members of Kuné have all been impacted by climate change. “Whether it is displacement caused by wars or sickness from pollution, all of our lives have been touched by these crises. Making music together is how we cope with and respond to these calamities”, they say.

“The album ‘Universal Echoes’ is a testament to the power of a pluralistic vision of the future, in which innovative responses come from a deep commitment to traditional culture and an openness to dialogue and transformation”.

After five years of working together and getting to know one another, Kuné’s sound and essence has become stronger and more grounded. Over time, the ensemble has built strong relationships that are bridges between the many rich and diverse musical cultures that could only have come together in a place like Toronto: a world in the world.

WEBSITE: https://www.kuneworld.com/ 

THE ORCHESTRA: Ahmed Moneka, darbuka, vocals – Iraq; Aline Morales, vocals, percussion, vocals – Brazil; Demetri Petsalakis, guitar & oud – Greece; Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk, violin – Canada; Dora Wang, dizi, xiao & alto flute – China; Salif “Lasso” Sanou, vocals, djembe, n’goni, peul flute & tama – Burkina Faso; Luis Deniz, alto saxophone – Cuba; Matias Recharte, drums & percussion – Peru; Paco Luviano, double bass & electric bass – Mexico; Padideh Ahrarnejad, tar – Iran; Selcuk Suna, vocals, clarinet & tenor saxophone – Turkey.

(Kuné’s pics are by Zahra Saleki)