CD Review: Soulful Foursome on Balkan and Middle Eastern Tour

“Whether in accompanied harmony, a capella on Bulgarian or Albanian numbers, or solo, the foursome – all with years of experience in award-winning folk ensembles – are celestial.”

– Marc Dubin, Songlines Issue 136, April 2018

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Toronto’s Turkwaz brings a fusion of world music styles to new album
They say music is a universal language, a theme the four women who make up world music ensemble Turkwaz seem to have taken to heart.

The Toronto-based quartet features four musical trailblazers, each of whom bring their own musical influences to the table on their debut album, Nazar.

Downtown resident Maryem Tollar sings in Arabic, while East Yorker Sophia Grigoriadis and North Yorker Jayne Brown bring a Greek/Mediterranean flair, and west Toronto resident Brenna MacCrimmon adds Turkish and Balkan flavour.

“We’ve known each other for many years and finally got together about two years ago now,” said Tollar of the collaboration. “We started out doing fundraisers and when the person who books acts for the Aga Khan museum booked us, they said we needed a name for the group and a photo, so I guess it’s about then that it became official.”

Each member plays instruments to fit their own styles, and the resulting songs manage to stay true to each member’s roots while still fusing the different sounds.

“We each bring songs that suit our own voices, but then when you get us together, we add different elements,” Tollar said. “For instance, in Arabic music you usually don’t harmonize, but sometimes we’ll play around a bit and add harmony where there wouldn’t normally be any.”

Following a growing list of performances at venues such as Luminato, the Harbourfront Centre and this month’s in/future celebration, Turkwaz is getting set to tour to promote Nazar.

“We have a CD, we have a website – we feel ready to go on the road,” Tollar said.

Turkwaz will celebrate the album release with a show at the Music Gallery, 197 John Street, at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24. For tickets, visit
– Justin Skinner, City Centre Mirror – Sept. 24, 2016

‘Nazar’ Review 
“With their first album Nazar, the Toronto based vocal quartet Turkwaz introduces a wondrous world of uniquely imaginative songs. This compilation features a selection from the Middle East, Turkey, Greece and the Balkans, collected individually over many years. While the songs themselves are traditional, the creative vocal arrangements and the use of exotic world instruments make this music delightful to the ear and harmonically surprising at times. Turkwaz – Maryem Tollar, Brenna MacCrimmon, Sophia Grigoriadis and Jayne Brown – sounds both pure and raw, with sincerity and sentiment that comes from their deep appreciation of this music. Their individual voices are light yet loaded with emotion.

Collectively, the intended textures of their voices are exquisite. The lyrics, sung in Turkish, Arabic, Greek, Macedonian and Bulgarian, are pure poetry, and for the most part fragrant with love themes. Nested in between the songs are expressive improvisatory vignettes by guest artists – Demetrios Petsalakis (spectacular on bağlama, outi), Nagmeh Farahmand (daff, tombak), Ernie Tollar (duduk, bansuri flute, saxophone) and Andrew Downing (cello).

Among many charming songs, a few numbers stood out for me. Send Me a Message My Love, The Beloved Visited Me in the Myrtle Garden, Love on a Rainy Day and the lively Alexandris/Grandpa’s Brandy all share alluring harmonic twists and delicately ornamented melodies, the power of voices being a driving force. The word nazar is derived from Arabic “sight” or “seeing.” It is a perfect title for this album as the members of Turkwaz bring forward their musical vision to each song.”
– Ivana Popovich, Whole Note Magazine – August 29, 2016