Canuck Caravan Weaves Sonic Magic Through Europe

Canuck Caravan Weaves Sonic Magic Through Europe
Kid Koala is about as far from folk as you can get. The Montreal-based DJ, scratch master and artist fashions moody, cinematic mixes into groovy dance shows with neither fiddle nor guitar. But this summer, the Kid will join one of strangest collections of Canadian musicians ever assembled on an expedition through the European folk scene. Ever the chameleon, he's cooking up something special for the occasion.

"I call it ‘music to kick beach balls to,'" says Eric San, aka Kid Koala. He is currently searching for Bananarama's "Cruel Summer" on vinyl and is playing with the Flaming Lips' "It's Summertime," to see if he can work both songs into the sauce.

This spring, the Canada Council for the Arts launched one of its most ambitious projects yet and Kid Koala was invited along for the ride. Sonic Weave, the product of two years of planning and more than $300,000 in taxpayers' dough, will ferry a bizarre cast of Canadian characters through 12 festivals in five European countries in June and July to showcase the diversity of music brewing across nine million square kilometres of home and native land. The roster includes Koala, Juno award-winning roots duo Zubot and Dawson, Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq Gillis, Afro-funk guru Alpha Yaya Diallo, Tasa, an Ontario world beat and jazz ensemble, and Les Batinses, a Quebec folk-fusion band.

"When I heard about it, I thought, this will be fun," Koala says, putting aside his post-tour laundry for the interview. "There's this throat singer and these bluegrass cats and some urban bands. I was picturing the green room — everyone with their strange warm-up routines, this cacophony of sounds. It feels like a bit of a travelling circus but it will be fun."

Steve Dawson of Zubot and Dawson is similarly amused by the prospect. "It's going to be like 30 to 40 crazy Canadians terrorising the European countryside," says Dawson. "It's going to be like our own travelling folk fest. Hopefully we can hang out together and do some collaborations."

Starting with eight days in Germany, including performances at the legendary Rudolstadt international folk festival, and then rolling through Poland, Austria, Croatia and Italy on two buses, Team Canada will play outdoor shows, soft seat theatres and a few clubs to audiences ranging in size from a few hundred to 100,000. "It's a real change for us not having to worry about the details. They're taking care of that," says Dawson, who has only a vague idea of where they're going and the venues they're playing. "Touring as a group is something we've never done. It's a unique situation. We're used to the dynamic of four people in a van. This will be like a travelling zoo."

Whether a zoo or a circus, there's something compelling about a couple dozen earnest Canucks traipsing through Europe. The Council's Sandra Bender says it was a chore convincing colleagues that the caravan was worth the money and staff time, especially since it won't be easy to quantify specific "outcomes" of the tour, something government bureaucrats like to pore over once a project is complete. But organisers are confident the tour will buy priceless exposure to an overseas market and will lead to distribution deals and future gigs.

Koala, who just got back from a DJ tour of Europe, is looking forward to letting new noise influence his scratching and basking in a mini Canadian mosaic on wheels even as he muses about backstage demands for maple syrup and poutine. "We're going to go confuse Europe one tent at a time."