Flamenco and world music extravaganza hit the Sid for a night

January 26, 2024

Fiery dance, powerhouse vocals and spine-tingling compositions – prepare to be mesmerized. From the heart of Toronto’s vibrant music scene, a unique ensemble is gearing up to take over the Sid on Friday, February 9.

Presented by the Sid Williams Theatre Society as part of their Blue Circle Series, Tamar Ilana & Ventanas is an award-winning six-piece world music group that weaves flamenco, Sephardic and Balkan influences to create a spellbinding performance.

The ensemble has been a force on the world music stage for more than a decade. Founded by Tamar Ilana, the charismatic vocalist and dancer at the helm of Ventanas, together they have honed their craft to not only produce stirring, beautiful music but also create a message of peace, harmony and the possibility of coexistence.

“Especially during these times, we want to show that peace and harmony is possible, and we can achieve it through music…we can achieve it through sharing and compassion, understanding and listening to each other,” says Ilana. “As players, we're all from different backgrounds. There’s Jews, Muslims, Christians and we all have different languages, different places that we were born and different musical backgrounds, but it doesn't matter. It works, and we’ve been together for over a decade. We’re living proof that it is possible to live together, work together and be happy together. So, we really want to get that across.”

With contemporary interpretations of ancient ballads as well as original pieces, the collective draws upon a rich tapestry of influences to deliver a show that transcends cultural boundaries. Performing in more than 20 languages, including Ladino, Spanish, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Hebrew, French, Romani and Arabic, the group both embodies and conveys a message of unity through diversity.

Ventanas’ performances are an intricate dance of cultures, showcasing a lineup of diverse instruments. Considering Ilana’s own diverse musical and cultural heritage, it makes sense that this project is the result.

Of Jewish-Indigenous-Scottish-Romanian decent, Ilana grew up on stage, raised by her ethnomusicologist and performer mother. “At the age of four, I was singing with her, in multiple countries and multiple languages.” Simultaneously, she embraced flamenco, “I started dancing flamenco at about seven with various schools in Toronto and in Spain, moving back and forth.”

After a childhood spent gathering songs from small villages on the edge of the Mediterranean, Ilana initially aimed for a ‘normal’ life as a young adult. But she eventually followed her destiny, leaving a budding career in biology to immerse herself in dance at a flamenco academy in Spain in 2010.

Upon returning to Toronto in 2011, Tamar felt the need to merge her childhood experiences with her professional development as a flamenco artist. “It was a moment to use it all together. So I found some musicians that were working together within the community here, and the project was basically born under the fusion of those cultures…and Toronto is a great place to do that.”

Finding their groove in the Queen Street bars, their endeavours have since led to performances across Canada, North and South America and around the world, including a recent tour in Spain.

While they weren’t sure how the group’s distinctive approach to dance and world music would go over in the birthplace of flamenco, they needn’t have been worried. “We brought this energetic, almost punk rock vibe mixed with intricate music, and it was really well received.”

Ilana admits that navigating the world music landscape hasn’t been without its challenges. In their early days, Ventanas faced skepticism about performing music from diverse cultures in Canada, with some questioning why audiences would seek out flamenco or Turkish music from a Canadian ensemble. “It’s better now because we’ve been doing it for so long and people can see our skill and dedication.”

And over the years, Ventanas’ performances have evolved, transitioning from traditional repertoires to an emphasis on original compositions. The forthcoming fourth album promises a groundbreaking video piece and atmospheric surround sound, marking a new milestone in the ensemble’s artistic journey. “Our new album is also going to have a video component to it, so we’re thrilled about that.”

Together with bandmates Benjamin Barrile (flamenco guitar), Demetri Petsalakis (oud), Andrew Pacheco (bass), Jaron Freeman-Fox (violin) and Matias Recharte (percussion), Ilana is excited to be back performing in BC, while also preparing for a series of upcoming shows in Ireland, the Maritimes, and potentially Estonia.

No matter where they are, Ventanas remains dedicated to creating a magical atmosphere on stage. “We just want to transport the audience into a world where cultures, languages and sounds converge.”

With a profound commitment to showcasing the beauty of diversity and fostering harmony through every note, every dance step and every moment on stage, Tamar Ilana & Ventanas promise an unforgettable performance.

World music and dance enthusiasts, mark your calendars for an evening of rhythmic enchantment and cultural celebration.