Monday, 2 April 2012

particular journeys: Maryem Tollar

“Where the East meets the West through a swirl of beautiful and original Arabic jazz and World music.”

I received a lovely gift recently, a cd called Book of Life by Maryem Tollar.

"Book of Life" is an exploration of her experience as an Arab-Canadian woman in times of turmoil. Some of the songs are written by her; others reflect her thoughts in lyrics written by those she loves and admires. A number of the songs address issues as hot as tomorrow's news - the comparison of the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258 with contemporary events; the death of a protester in Gaza; the plea for peace sung in Hebrew and Arabic - these are all what journalists call "hot button" topics. but there is more here - songs of love for her child; what is probably the first poem written in Arabic about Montreal, maybe about Canada period, and a delightful extension of the vocal music of the women of the Sahara. These are songs that are about the pain of being alive and the joys - songs written by her uncle, with her lover and for her child. Combining Maryem's vision and voice with the talents of some of Canada's finest players and singers, "Book of Life" is just that - an audio book about being alive... and being Maryem Tollar. It is a book well worth hearing.

In 2009, Maryem and her Ensemble, including husband-collaborator Ernie Tollar, were nominated for a Juno (Best World Music Recording) for their next album, Cairo to Toronto.
[Nadia] Habib collaborated with Maryem Tollar, a Toronto world music performer, to develop a narrative around issues of displacement and belonging to accompany the Maryem Tollar Group’s release of their CD Cairo to Toronto. Together, Toller and Habib are preparing a new work, Journey from Alif to Zed, for the 2010 Luminato Festival. 
Then followed production of the video above, Omneya Wish. Omneya can be see in the photos section of Maryem's site, and songs Omneya I & II are on the earlier album, Flowers of Forgiveness (Mernie).

Journey from Alif to Zed was developed and performed by The Maryem Tollar Ensemble and the Alif to Zed Collective:

Maryem has sung on several film and television scores including the theme music for CBC Television’s "Little Mosque on the Prairie" and A.R.Rahman's hit "Mayya Mayya" in the Bollywood movie "Guru".  Her CD “Cairo to Toronto” was nominated for a 2009 Juno Award in the world music category. She performed and created the live music in Heather Raffo’s “Nine Parts of Desire” in May 2010, a play about 9 Iraqi women, produced by Seventh Stage Productions. 

She was a featured performer playing ‘Ariana’ in R. Murray Schafer’s Dora Award winning piece, “The Children’s Crusade” (premiered in Luminato 2009).  She has toured across Canada several times with a variety of projects including her own ensemble; Christos Hatzis’ multimedia project, "Constantinople" and his large scale work “Sepulcher of Life”.  She premiered “From the Song of Songs” by Christos Hatzis and commissioned by Tafelmusik in March 2008.

Visit Maryem Tollar's website to read more, & see more, listen further

In 2011, she collaborated with Natasha Greenblatt providing music, in her play "The Peacemaker". Her composition "Rachel" (from Book of Life) was adapted in Alumni Theatre's production of "Trojan Women", directed by Alexandra Seay. 

Upcoming event ~ Toronto
Maryem Tollar & Friends
New Bilan Restaurant - Sumptuous Somali Food
April 26, 2012    
7:30 to 10 p.m.
 This is a fundraiser for Kotu-Erandjand School in Gambia
See website for more information about this project:
Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at: 
or directly from Maryem Tollar

Video deets:

Omneya Wish
Uploaded by on Feb 14, 2012
Song written by Maryem Tollar

Performed by Mernie: Maryem Hassan Tollar, Ernie Tollar, Levon Ichkhanian, Rich Brown, Debashis Sinha, Rick Shadrach Lazar, Daniel Barnes, Jayne Brown, Sophia Grigoriadis, Yvette Tollar
From the album: Mernie - Flowers of Forgiveness [first album]

Video Credits:
A Cedar Avenue Production
Produced in Association with Bravo!FAC, a foundation to assist Canadian talent
Supported by Bravo!, NewStyleArtsChannel, a division of CHUM Limited
Written and DIrected by Valerie Buhagiar
Producer: Jordana Aarons
Director of Photography: Rudolf Blahacek
Editor: Boyd Bonitzke

Journey from Alif to Zed
Uploaded by on Feb 14, 2012
Heartsoul composed by Maryem Tollar
email listed in video is no longer active.

Created by Maryem Tollar
Developed and Directed by Nadia Habib
Musical Director, Ernie Tollar
Featuring Guest Artists from Egypt
Dr. Alfred Gamil, violin
Mohamed Aly, oud, violin, vocals
Karim Nagi, percussion

Maryem Tollar - vocals, qanun
Ernie Tollar - sax, flutes
Levon Ichkhanian - guitar
Ian de Souza - bass
Alan Hetherington - percussion

Roula Said
Joanna de Souza
Saba Alemayehu Asfaw

Band photographs by
Cylla Von Tiedemann except:
Alan Hetherington photo by Andrew St. George
Ian de Souza photo by Matt Maskaant
Director of Photography, Shane Belcourt

This project received seed funding through Toronto Arts Council's Incubate program which is funded jointly by the City of Toronto, Toronto Arts Council Foundation and Luminato, Toronto's festial of Arts & Creativity.

My thanks to Ehab Lotayef for introducing me to the lovely songs of Maryem. Four of the tracks on "Book of Life" feature the powerful poetry of her uncle, Ehab, in English, Arabic, and Hebrew.

Videos + "Video deets," Maryem Tollar channel, youtube
Opening quote, Maryem Tollar website 

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