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Local artists, global sounds

In what should have been its 17th year, the Our World Festival of Music marks its 15th anniversary this weekend in Kitchener.

As with so many events, the festival was on hold for two years during the pandemic. As with many events, they’re getting back to something resembling normalcy, in this case Sunday afternoon at the Kitchener market.

There’s plenty of pent-up demand for live music, on the part of both the performances and audiences. Artistic director Lawrence McNaught had no trouble filling the bill, with seven acts lined up from noon to 7 p.m.

The music festival is headlined by the Sultans of String, Canada’s world music ambassadors. They’ll be preceded by a range of musical offerings.

“I always try to get local artists for most of it and then bring in a nationally known act, in this case the Sultans, to headline it,” he said.

Usually held in front of the city hall, the event did have to be moved down the street to the market as construction remains ongoing at the public square.

As was the case prior to the pandemic-led hiatus, Our World runs in conjunction with the King StrEATery Food Truck Festival in support of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Waterloo Region. There’ll be some 20 food trucks offering up a selection of cuisine, along with games and activities for children.

The day opens with Kitchener singer-songwriter James Judd, who combines his lyrics with a delicate guitar style. At 1 p.m., it’s Clarrisa Diokno, who’ll be performing original songs with unique cover versions of popular songs.

“She is just a wonderful young woman, and she has this stunning voice. She writes some really nice pop music and she does these really classy covers to go together with her own music,” said McNaught. “She  strikes me as kind of an old soul in a way because she’s got a sensibility for the popular music that came before even my generation.”

She’ll be followed at 2 p.m. by  CaluJules Flamenco, the duo of Claudia Aguirre and Julian Berg, who are known for the flamenco performances as well as teaching flamenco dance classes. They will also present their own annual Flamenco Fest in K-W later this summer.

At 3, local favourite Ben Rollo takes the stage. An accomplished singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, he’ll likely be joined by a friend or two in presenting both his original tunes and some classic covers.

Known for his endless touring, Kitchener’s Mandippal has been on the sidelines for the past couple of years. He, too, is eager to get back to it, bringing his original pop songs to festival-goers at 4 p.m.

Our World switches gears again at 5 p.m. with an appearance by Big Band Theory, the region’s very own jazz big band. Formed in 2011 by local musicians, all of whom had an abiding affection for the big band format, the lineup boasts 11 horns, a four-piece rhythm section and vocalists, all in the style of the classic big bands.

The headliners take the stage at 6 p.m. Known for their fusion of Celtic reels, flamenco, Gypsy-jazz, Arabic, Cuban, and South Asian rhythms, the Sultans of String have received numerous awards and accolades over the year. For this show, the band will be joined by guests Donné Roberts, percussionist Juan Carlos Medrano, Saskia Tomkins and Leen Hamo.

“It’s going to be a seven-piece band. It’s the first time they’ve put this particular lineup together,” said McNaught. “In this case, they’re bringing in a couple of guest singers, and one of them is Leen Hamo. She’s a young Syrian woman who came here from Syria in the last few years – she’s got a beautiful voice. Donné Roberts has been in Canada for years, originally from Madagascar, and he’s going to be singing along with them.

“Saskia Tomkins is quite a wonderful instrumentalist. She plays the Swedish nyckelharpa – it’s an amazing stringed instrument, very, very bright.”

It’s fitting that the Sultans are returning to mark the 15th outing of the Our World Festival of Music, he notes.

“I brought them in to do the fifth anniversary of the Our World Festival, and then I brought them back to do the 10th anniversary. Now I’m bringing them back to do the 15th anniversary of Our World – there’s a nice kind of symmetry to that.”

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