Sultans Return to Put More Swing into Your Christmas

We know what you’re thinking, it’s a day after Halloween which inevitably means the flood of Christmas music will soon be pouring out over the speakers of your favorite mall and grocery stores. Hark, those herald angels shall sing forth an often repetitive mix of standards, auto-tuned coves, some scatterings of originality and, of course, at least a couple thousand plays of Mariah Carey belting out “All I Want For Christmas Is You”.

Enter the Sultans of String to save us all from the usual holiday musical monotony.

These 3x JUNO nominees bring a Santa sack full of enough swing to rock you and the in-laws at least twelve times around the Christmas tree! Recorded with award winning engineer John “Beetle” Bailey, the band’s new holiday outing “Christmas Caravan” is sure to become a favorite and, get this, one you'll probably want to play all year long. Sure, you may recognize a few of the titles (“Jingle Bells”, “Silent Night”, “The Little Drummer Boy”) but the genre-hoping style of the group's usual all over the map style will infuse those classics with enough new spices that it’ll seem like you’re hearing them for the first time.

For example, there’s “Greensleeves”, heard each time A Charlie Brown Christmas hits the airwaves. The Sultans have given it a Turkish twist so have your dancing shoes at the ready. Jazz siren Nikki Yanofsky brings a 50’s pop feel to her vocals on “The Christmas Song” with an orchestra of strings acting as extra frosting. Reaching into their worldly repertoire, José Feliciano’s Spanglish hit “Feliz Navidad” melds with “Come on People Sing” for a mishmash of melody that somehow finds the perfect (and unlikely) blend of country jamboree and reggae. An amalgam of festive favourites are identifiable in the inventive “A Django Christmas” – breathing fresh air into old favorites through an array of instrumental styles

Rebecca Campbell

"We wanted to make a real contribution to the Christmas repertoire, and hopefully create some new standards” says bandleader/violinist and Queens Diamond Jubilee recipient Chris McKhool. "This is a Christmas album, but approached from the perspective of a world-music band. We explored diverse genres, from Quebecois fiddle tunes to collaborating with a traditional Turkish string ensemble, and jump around from the classic sounds of the Andrews Sisters, to a Himalayan sleigh ride, African roots music, Gypsy-jazz, rumba flamenco, ska, and the grandeur of the symphony."

Making this album must have been the ultimate Christmas party as McKhool and his Sultans are joined by a stuffed stocking full of guests. The glorious gospel gravy of Sweet Honey in the Rock meld their voices, a religious experience in and of itself, on “Celebrate the Holydays”. The sturdy Irish triple song instrumental, “Niel Gow’s Lament/Rakes of Mallow/Rouge River Valley”), owes a great deal to Paddy Moloney’s pennywhistle alongside Sultans of String’s own treatment of the Celtic genre. Ruben Blades & Luba Mason, Cameroon’s Richard Bona, Canadian songstress Rebecca Campbell, country singer Crystal Shawanda and sitar virtuoso Anwar Khurshid are just some of the people who you can expect to drop in over the album’s 18-tracks.

All of the cuts are delights you wouldn’t dream of re-gifting. Nope, not a pair of plaid socks in the bunch, and everybody is bound to have their standout…even McKhool.

"One of my favourite tracks, Jesous Ahatonhia (The Huron Carol), is fascinating to me. I went back into the archives and found a direct transliteration of the original Huron-Wendat lyrics, which were written in the 1600s by St Jean de Brebeuf. This is Canada’s first Christmas carol, and while there are some complex issues around this song, it is of great historical significance. Now people can hear the intent of the original lyrics for the very first time. Ojibwe artist Crystal Shawanda vocal is so compelling on this song!"

It really is like taking listeners on a holiday world music tour which, ultimately, leads you right back home with a gorgeous cover of Leonard Cohen’s beloved “Hallelujah”.

The glistening star atop this bounty will come early as the Sultans of String bring the entire festive party to the Shenkman Arts Centre on November 30th for a CD release show. This will be a homecoming for both Chris McKhool, as well as their special guest vocalist Rebecca Campbell who’s joining them on their whole cross-Canada December tour. Put away your passport, break out your Santa hats and join the Christmas Caravan. Tickets are on sale now.