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World Jazz Comes to Lions Bay

Juno Award-winning ensemble set to rock Village hall

Avataar photo credit: Eric Benchimol

World Jazz ensemble Avataar's cross-country tour makes a stop in Lions Bay on June 22, where they plan to rock the Village Hall with a unique melding of modern jazz and music from India, Brazil and beyond.

Avataar features some of Canada’s finest jazz, world, funk, and pop musicians who bring an eclectic range of musical backgrounds – pop, rock, electronica, hardbop, free improvisation, world and R&B/Soul – to their performances.

The band has existed in many incarnations over the years, but has always been led by Juno-nominated saxophonist and composer Sundar (Sunny) Viswanathan, an associate professor at York University in Toronto. For Viswananathan, music is as much a political statement as it is entertainment. His website notes how Avataar's 2022 Juno-winning album Worldview presents a "musical commentary on the state of our world, on the pandemic and on the inability of our leaders to lead with integrity, honesty and compassion."

"Our music is rooted in spiritual expression," he says. "Every tune has a political meaning in the context of today."

Band members also include Laura Swankey on vocals, Michael Occhipinti (guitar), Ravi Naimpally (tablas and percussion), Derek Gray (drums) and Rich Brown on bass.

Viswanathan grew up in a musical South Asian family in northern Ontario, and says that his focus on music as a teenager resulted in part as a means of avoiding the racism that was an inevitable part of growing up in the 70's in Sudbury. He played the sax in the school band surrounded by typical top-40 musical influences of the time, but when a teacher loaned him cassettes of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, he got hooked on jazz.

His undergrad in classical music studies at Sir Wilfred Laurier in Ontario led to a Master's degree in Boston and a Doctorate at NYU, but all the while he was honing his chops on sax, flute and the bansuri (a bamboo flute from an Indian musical tradition).

Viswanathan has been playing with many of his bandmates for the past 20 years, but finding the financing to support a tour across Canada has taken a long time.

"I don't have an agent or someone to organize the bookings, so I've put this tour together myself," he says. After a career in academia, he says he is an expert at applying for grants, and this Avataar tour is supported by both the Canada Council and the Ontario Arts Council.

"You need to get grants to tour in this country," he says. "It's a big place. You can't just drive from Medicine Hat to Victoria to make a gig overnight."

The group has toured internationally, and he points to a 2018 tour of South Africa as a career highlight. "Just being there, playing before audiences who were filled with hope and joy. It was amazing. Township jazz played with local instruments like penny whistles – there was an open energy there I've never felt anywhere else. We played on the coast in Kalk Bay, in places like bakeries and old theatres. It was magical."

The group has 11 dates lined up for their Canadian tour, which will take them from coast to coast. The Lions Bay event is the second stop on the tour, on Saturday, June 22 from 7-11 p.m. at the Village Hall. Tickets are available HERE.

"We're honoured to host this intimate, indoor concert at Lions Bay Village Hall," says Lions Bay Concert organizer Tamara Leger. "It's a potluck event, aimed at 19 years and older, and seating is limited, so get your tickets fast."

"And for those in need of a night out, we are once again offering our 'Community Cares' program, which provides free tickets for local residents in need," Leger adds. Those interested can reach out to Leger HERE.

You can read more about Sunny Viswanathan and Avataar's Juno-winning World Jazz sound at his website, or on Soundcloud.

Avataar Jazz ensemble, Lions Bay Village Hall, June 22, 7-10 p.m.

Tickets and information available HERE.

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1 Comment

Tamara L
Tamara L
Jun 18

Wonderful interview Karen! So excited for this show, and honoured that this is the ONLY Vancouver date. Initially booked pre-pandemic before their JUNO win, they have squeezed us in between Jazz Festivals. Hope to see you there for this ephemeral evening!

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