Review from Songlines Aug/Sept 2018
KUNÉ: Canada’s Global Orchestra
A celebration of Toronto’s bubbling musical melting pot
Toronto is famously a cosmopolitan city in an increasingly multicultural country, and KUNÉ was a project deliberately created to reflect that, as part of Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations in 2017. The ensemble is the brainchild of Mervon Mehta, the executive director of performing arts at Canada’s venerable Royal Conservatory, one of the world’s largest music educational institutes, dating back to 1886. The ensemble’s genesis is a reflection of how far Canadian Culture, musical and otherwise, has evolved; the 12-member ensemble includes musicians with roots in Iran, Cuba, Pakistan, Burkina Faso, Mexico, Brazil, Greece, Peru, Turkey, Tibet, and China, and from Canada’s Métis culture.
There’s both intensity and finesse to the performances on this ambitious recording, but whether or not the concept sometimes over-extends its reach is in the ear of the beholder. The Celtic-influenced opener, ‘We Met in Tkaranto,’ for example, is upended with the entrance of a sitar part of the way through, which could be heard as charming or a bit contrived, depending on your taste. And Oscar Peterson’s ‘Hymn to Freedom’ does not particularly benefit from its multicultural vocal treatment. That said, Peterson’s beautiful song remains a fitting symbol for this bold new ensemble; the word kuné means ‘together’ in Esperanto. It is an impressive debut.