Four women came together one night at a benefit concert for an arts centre for Toronto newcomers. Their exquisite voices, pan-Mediterranean songcraft and exotic instruments blended so well that a booking agent persuaded them to come up with a group name and play more gigs. Then came a debut album for Turkwaz (turquoise in English) and a 2017 Juno nomination.
They'd all received world music Juno nods before: Maryem Tollar for her Arabic vocals, Jayne Brown and Sophia Grigoriadis with their Greek ensemble, and Brenna MacCrimmon for a Turkish group she led. Like a living, breathing, made-in-Canada Putamayo collection, this world music super group’s cultural immersion includes mysterious Sufi devotional love songs and rousing Thracian dance music. Each performer brings a special flavour and experience, from working in key Toronto ensembles to providing vocals CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie’s theme, working with Inuit throat singers, symphonies and leading choirs. Maryem Hassan Tollar draws on her Arabic language heritage, Jayne Brown and Sophia Grigoriadis bring their Greek music experience to the mix and Brenna MacCrimmon adds her Turkish fascination.
They’re not afraid to arrange the tunes in new and unexpected ways to give the traditions they love and respect a fresh spin. As a quartet, they pluck, drum and sing in all these genres — plus some Bulgarian and French folk, to boot — to cook up sweet harmonies and savoury rhythms.