With their historic and visionary seventh album REFUGE (coming in 2020), Sultans of String bring their unique brand of musical synergy and collaboration into the studio like never before. This is I am a Refugee featuring Ifrah Mansour.
Their most ambitious, diverse, inclusive and passionately political album, REFUGE puts the Toronto-based Sultans face-to-face with a VIP roster of artists from around the globe — including American banjo master Bela Fleck, Israeli vocalist Yasmin Levy and others, like Iraqi violinst Imah Al Taha and Iranian santur master Amir Amiri, who have fled the peril and persecution of their homelands for the safer shores of North America.
“This is a project that is centred around the positive contributions of refugees and new immigrants to U.S.A. and Canada,” says bandleader Chris McKhool, whose Lebanese grandfather stowed away on a ship bound for North America a century ago. “We are bringing in special guests that are newcomers to this land, as well as global talents that have been ambassadors for peace. We wish to celebrate the successes of those who make the journey here, and bring their extraordinary talents with them. We hope that the kinds of conversations we can have as musicians can provide a model for peace that our politicians and citizens find inspiration from.”
That inspiration could not be summed up more clearly than on Refuge’s gorgeously evocative and powerful first single “I Am a Refugee”, co-starring Somali poet and multi-media artist Ifrah Mansour, who now makes her home in the Twin Cities. “I wrote the poem for me, for my community, and for those that are yearning for change, those are yearning to deepen their empathy,” explains Mansour. “Writing the poem was a way to unleash some pain that I could name finally – I wrote it because I was so frustrated with so many people sending me emails and asking me what I thought about the travel ban…And that an artist’s job is to draw that hope, especially in a time of deep hopelessness.”
Since releasing their debut album Luna in 2007, Sultans of String have continually strived to make each chart-topping album more original and meaningful than the last. That includes working with an orchestra (2013’s Symphony), teaming with Pakistani sitarist Anwar Khurshid (2015’s Subcontinental Drift) and even crafting a world-music holiday album (2017’s Christmas Caravan), which landed them on the Billboard charts and the New York Times. Their ambition and work ethic have garnered them multiple awards and accolades, including three Juno nominations, first place in the International Songwriting Competition (out of 15,000 entries), three Canadian Folk Music Awards, and countless other honours.
Their live resumé is similarly stellar. Equally at home in a concert hall, jazz club or festival setting, the Sultans have gigged at the legendary club Birdland in New York, the renowned Celtic Connections Festival in the U.K. and the San Jose Jazz Festival. They have performed with symphonies across Canada and the U.S., and played live on BBC TV, Irish National Radio, World Cafe and SiriusXM in Washington.