Studio 64 Spring Concert Series – Sultans of String

Spellbinding!!! Yep, that’s the word for the musicians and the performance. This is The Sultans of String third tour of the East Kootenays and their second performance at Centre 64. On their last trip to the area in February 2014 they performed with the Symphony of the Kootenays. Prior to that in January 2009 they performed here in Kimberley at Centre 64. They are currently on their 10th anniversary tour. Of course things do change and the musical configuration known as The Sultans of String has changed and evolved over the years. Having said that Drew Birston on electric bass and Chris McKool on 5 string violin are the constants in the ensemble. Back in 2009 the guitarist Eddie Paton was a member and somewhere along the way the ensemble enlisted the aid of Kevin Laliberte and his flamenco/rhumba guitar in developing the signature sound of The Sultans. The current core of ensemble includes Drew Birston, Chris McKhool and Kevin Laliberte. Depending on the tour and circumstances the core ensemble is augmented with the addition of Cuban percussion, Oud (the Arabian ancestor of all guitar like instruments), Ney (Middle Eastern end blown flute) and for this tour Anwar Khurshid on Sitar and Jeff Faragher on Cello. The signature sound of the ensemble is a genre-hopping mixture of Celtic reels, flamenco, Gypsy-jazz, Arabic, Cuban, and South Asian rhythms all played with their trademark brand of virtuosity.

They kicked off the evening’s music with their original tune Enter the Gate with  its wonderful melodic mix of violin and Sitar backed with a flamenco flavored guitar rhythm and bass line. Neil Gow’s Lament for the Death of his Second Wife is a well known Scottish lament written by the master Scottish fiddler Neil Gow way back at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was nicely paired with the Rakes of Marlow. There is some dispute about this second tune. Normally it is considered a standard Celtic tune but Anwar insists that he was taught the tune way back in his youth as a traditional Indian melody. Most of the Sultan’s music is instrumental but there was room for for the likes of Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind and Neil Young’s Heart of Gold. Throughout the evening they also played Luna the Whale, Hills of Green, Josie, Stomping at the Rex (a swing tune) and a sitar tune about snake charmers, an original about Nova Scotia’s Sable Island and my favorite Road to Kfarmishki. I felt that this was some sort of Turkish tune in an odd time signature (11/8, 12/8 , 14/8 or something like that) but the bass player Drew informs me that it a 4/4 tune with repeated two bar phrases. Oh well, I am not often right so I guess I am wrong again. Never-the-less it is a wonderful hypnotic tune that I really like. Here are some more images from a night of spellbinding music.


The patrons and the musicians would like to thank the Stone Fired Pizza for the food, A B&B AT 228 for the accommodations, Ray for the sound and all the organizers and volunteers that make the concert series possible.

Some Musical Notes:

  • Drew Birston plays a 1978 Fender Precision Bass.
  • Chris McKhool (no he is not Scottish) plays a five string violin tuned C G D A E (low to high) with an installed pickup and effect pedals. It is slightly larger than a conventional violin and allows the musician to cover the full sonic range of both the traditional violin and viola.
  • Kevin Laliberte plays a carbon fiber Blackbird guitar with a somewhat unconventional shape. From their web site: The Blackbird Rider Nylon’s one-piece, carbon fiber construction with hollow head, neck and body allows the entire guitar to resonate—–enhancing loudness, bass and sustain. You will never again face humidity or durability issues with the Rider carbon fiber nylon string guitar. With the optional Neck-up guitar accessory, your Rider is securely anchored– no footstool required! Plug it in and the optional MiSi or RMC individual string pickups accurately amplify your dynamic acoustic tone. BUILD TIME EIGHT WEEKS.
  • Anwar Khurshid plays a traditional Indian Sitar with installed pickups. Anwar tells me the instrument was built in 1479.I don’t know if I believe him. If it is true then it is in remarkable condition.
  • Jeff Faragher plays a standard symphonic cello with installed pickups and effect pedals.


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