On Sunday morning a sign was put out on the side of East West Rd road, it read: “ Ben Goluboff, Rob Nicholson, David Newland & Sunsdrum- Throat Singers”. By mid-afternoon the words “throat singers” were on everyone’s lips, from the Bakery to the LCBO, to Fish Point. All had heard of “throat singing”, but few had actually seen it performed.
Beginning at quarter after five, waves of curious folks, both islanders and visitors, descended on the quarry. In all, over 50 people came out so see the show, one of the best turn-outs yet this year. The crowd received an extra reward for their efforts this week as complimentary cookies and Sea Buckthorn berry mimosas (in honour of Pelee’s first annual sea buckthorn berry festival) were served to all ticket holders.
Once all had fed and mingled, the excited audience moved to the stone seating for the first act- literary artist Ben Goluboff. Hailing from just north of Chicago, where he works as a professor at Lake Forest College, this talented teacher and poet elated our Pelee audience. If one had to describe his work in three phrases, it would be “wickedly imaginative”, “unpretentiously erudite”, and “suffused with levity”.
He began with a biting political piece, that cleverly critiqued a president, whom he’d decline to call “his own”. He proceeded to entertain with several selections from his books “Ho Chi Minh: A Speculative Life in Verse and Other Poems” and “ Biking Englewood: an essay on the white gaze, both of which he published with Urban Farmhouse Press. Titles of the poems read this evening included: “The Novel in My Mind”, “Allan Ginsberg’s Penis” and “In Old Age, Ho Chi Minh listens to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band”. Goluboff’s intelligence and warmth was captivating. While many patrons had been attracted by the promise of throat singers, they received an extraordinary treat in Goluboff’s presentation.
Unfortunately, the scheduled visual artist, Alice MacLean, was unable to attend this weekend due to unforeseen circumstances. However, this disappointment was mitigated by a serendipitous occurrence: Rob Nicholson, the partner of Sunsdrum’s Lynda Brown, who joined her for the residency on Pelee, revealed himself as a professional visual artist, and generously volunteered to do a live painting for the evening! As Goluboff spoke, and the musicians sang his paintbrush flew slapping vibrant colours on the upstage easel. I had never seen an artist work so fast! By the final song of the performance, Nicholson had produced five pieces including a landscape with an inukshuk, our Pelee Island lighthouse, the microphone Sunsdrum was singing into, and a portrait of Jimi Hendrix, all of which sold to audience members!
The second act of the evening provided the spectacle that had been so anxiously awaited plus so much more. Folk singer David Newland and Sunsdrum throat singers collaborated in an engaging set of entertainment which was equal parts fun and information. The singer-songwriter presented a selection of original works inspired by his multiple trips to the Canadian Arctic, that he undertook as an employee of Adventure Canada cruise lines. His lyrics, which he belted in a warm baritone, spoke of history, community, and awe of nature.
The mother-daughter duo that composed Sunsdrum, Lynda Brown and Keely Brown-Nicholson, joined in on several of Newland’s songs, in addition to performing several on their own. In between each song, Lynda Brown, a terrific storyteller and educator, explained the context of the particular song, as well as providing historical information about throat singing and Inuit traditions in general. The audience learned that throat singing originated as a game, not a performance and that there are three main types of songs: competition songs, lullabies to put infants to sleep, and imitation songs which imaged the sounds of the natural world. The audience even received a mini throat singing lesson!
Both patrons and performers were enjoying the show so much that the artists just kept playing, even after some of the crowd had to leave to catch the 8:00 ferry. after repeated encores, this ultra-Canadian ensemble finally wrapped up at 8:30, over an hour later than usual! What a phenomenal evening at Stone and Sky!