By Linda Litwack
Back in the 1990s, the musical “Showboat” generated a huge controversy that threatened to divide communities. Soprano Denise Williams created concerts to bring them together.
Antiguan-born Williams, then a professional soloist with the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir, developed a series of concerts with pianist Brahm Goldhamer that explored the commonalities shared by the African and Jewish populations. Named Walk Together Children – from a spiritual she had actually learned in the choir – these performances blended a mix of Jewish and African-based music in a number of languages. They were a big success, and eventually presented as a sold out CBC Radio concert and broadcast, and disseminated through a well received CD.
In 2015, Williams and Linda Litwack, who had become friends in the choir, were at a performance of David Warrack’s oratorio Abraham (the story of the father of three major faiths). There they encountered Salima Dhanani of the Toronto Ismaili Muslim Youth Choir. Out of that chance meeting came a plan to expand Walk Together Children to include Muslim artists.
The result is “Walk Together Children – A Cross-Cultural Concert Celebration,” featuring musicians and dancers from the African, Jewish and Muslim diasporas. Denise Williams headlines an afternoon of songs of joy, longing, inspiration and humour from many countries, Sunday, Oct. 14 at 3 p.m. at the Studio Theatre in the Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge St.
Williams comments, “As an artist, it moves me just as much to learn the music of other cultures as to present that of my own.”
Joining her in this expanded permutation of Walk Together Children will be pianists Brahm Goldhamer and Nina Shapilsky, percussionists Sam Donkoh and Daniel Barnes, winds player Ben MacDonald, and a choir of Ismaili Muslim singers, directed by Adrian Savin and Salima Dhanani. Guests include tenor Mitch Smolkin, sitar player Anwar Khurshid (composer of music featured in the Oscar-winning film Life of Pi and Kama Sutra), tabla player Jaswinder Sraa, pianist Babak Naseri, and dancers Shakeil Rollock and Geneviève Beaulieu. M.C. is dub poet Clifton Joseph. Canada’s First Nations will also be represented, with singer/songwriter Aqua Nibii Waawaaskone opening the afternoon. A pop-up exhibition by Art Ignite will add a visual arts component.
The project so appealed to North York Arts that the arts service organization came on board as a partner.
The event dovetails with the Diamond Jubilee of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, and his aspiration for global pluralism: that the peoples of the world collaborate and learn from one another, and live together in peace.
Tickets, $55; seniors, children, students and freelance arts workers $30, are available at Civic Theatres Toronto box offices and Ticketmaster. Family packs and group rates offer savings. More information and a link for tickets can be found at www.denisewilliamssoprano.com/walk-together-children, as well as on Facebook