Sounds from the tabla and taiko will make history in Toronto concert

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On Saturday, April 15 the walls at Greenwin Theatre at Toronto Centre for Arts 5040 Yonge St., will be a site for a concert featuring two ancient far eastern instruments, the tabla and taiko (Japanese drums) featured above. Supplied photo.

Musical savants like Ritesh Das and Kiyoshi Nagata are always in pursuit of cerebral pursuits that confront them into taking journeys that test their craft and creativity.

Ritesh, a tabla maestro and director of the Toronto Tabla Ensemble, through his inquisitiveness and aptitude for all things percussion, has helped bring the tabla into centre stage of mainstream music here in Toronto.

Whereas, trailblazer and innovator, Kiyoshi (taiko soloist and artistic director of Nagata Shachu) has likewise resurrected the powerful sounds taiko, a Japanese drum, in North America and elsewhere to stand irresolutely on its own.

So when the duo decided on a cross-cultural percussion undertaking, it became one for the history books.

On Saturday, April 15 the walls at Greenwin Theatre at Toronto Centre for Arts 5040 Yonge St., will reverberate (hopefully, the theatre has strong insulation) with sounds of tabla and taiko (Japanese drums) in a never-seen-before Toronto collaboration.

Imagine, the massive taiko—a mostly barrel-shaped percussion instruments made with hollowed tree trunk tautly tied with cowhide—and the diminutive, but strong and pure sounds of two skins meeting in ether and forging a harmony of notes. The history-making concert starts at 7 p.m.

“You can play the tabla with any instrument in the world,” said Ritesh, a tabla maestro that has learned with Ustad Zakir Hussain and Pandit Swapan Chaudhari. “The tabla and taiko are two instruments with different sounds. The challenge then was to figure out how one can compose music based on their sound vibrations without losing the integrity and spirit of both.”

That serendipitous meeting:

When Ritesh met Kiyoshi (more than 20 years ago), it was a meeting of two brilliant minds.

The two artistic heavyweights’ musical partnership started in 1994 when they performed as part of Kiyoshi’s world percussion ensemble Humdrum. Then, in 1996, they came together to compose the piece Asahi.

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Ritesh Das, a tabla maestro and director of the Toronto Tabla Ensemble. Supplied photo.

This upcoming concert however marks the first time two eastern ancient musical heritages—the tabla and taiko— will interact in such a large-scale on the stage.

“When we first rehearsed just a couple of weeks ago, it really didn’t seem like some 20 somewhat years had passed,” Kiyoshi remarked.

Seeking to create an elusive “something” through the combination of two percussion sounds required Kiyoshi and Ritesh to look beyond their individual musical sight lines. And boy, does it work (check the videos).

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Kiyoshi Nagata, taiko soloist and artistic director of Nagata Shachu. Supplied photo.

Clash of the titans

At the concert, the audience will experience the sounds from different taikos (some are huge and placed on upright stand, while others are flat-bodied) and the several artists playing the tabla.

“In order to compose a music (that will be true to both) you have to have a strong background of understanding your art form first before you start collaborating with someone else,” Ritesh observed. “Imagine the spinal chord as the taiko and the tabla as the ribs that encase it. There was a whole of exploration with the culture and tradition (of the instruments) that went into the planning of this concert.”

The five-and-a-half challenge

The tabla-taiko concert will feature 10 artists bringing the strength of two percussion instruments steeped in history, heritage and the ancient science of Nad (sound) yoga.

“The taiko is a very loud instrument compared to the tabla,” Kiyoshi said. “How do we achieve those balances? I was totally up for the challenge of working on a piece in five-and-a-half. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but, when you get down to the bare bones and understand the foundation of music, then we can translate that into our own taiko language and that’s where the true collaboration starts.”

OK, here’s quick refresher on what the “five-and-a-half” reference here is.

“Saade paanch (“five-and-a-half” in Hindi) is a rhythmic cycle,” Ritesh explained.

The collaborative piece between the two ensembles is set in a rhythmic cycle of five- and-a half-beats, which is rare in Indian music, but unheard of in Japanese music.

So, how did the two maestros pull off the incredible feat? I guess, you will have to watch the show. Also, a single from Ritesh’s upcoming album, Bhoomika will be released that day.

For tickets and more, visit http://torontotabla.com/ or www.nagatashachu.com.

 

Go pagal Toronto, Holi hai!

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Rang Barse

KC Group Canada will celebrate Holi at the National Banquet Hall, 7355 Torbram Rd. Mississauga at 11 a.m.

Friday, March 10

Event: Holi Milan
Details: Hindu Heritage Centre, 6300 Mississauga Rd. will be hosting a Holi celebration at 6 p.m. Well-known flutist Deepankar Ganguly will be performing. Event includes cultural performances, dinner and more.
Contact: Here

Event: International Women’s Day
Details: The Punjabi Community Health Services (pchs)will host a gala to mark International Women’s Day at the Pearson Convention Centre, 2638 Steeles Ave. E. at 6 p.m. Five exceptional women will be honoured.
Contact: Here

Saturday, March 11

Event: Rang Barse
Details: KC Group, which was among the first ones to host Holi celebrations are at it again. This year’s event will take place at the National Banquet Hall, 7355 Torbram Rd. Mississauga at 11 a.m. Enjoy gulaal, lunch and entertainment.
Contact: Here

Event: Balam Pichkari
Details: Balam Pichkari is a dance party celebrating Holi at Moonlight Convention Centre 6835 Professional Crt. Mississauga at 6:30 p.m. Organizers say they will provide clothes for you to play Holi. Cost of tickets is $50/person.
Contact: Here

Thursday, March 23

Event: Dance Diaries
Details: Sanskriti Arts Ensemble (SAE) will be hosting two famed artists/choreographers Shampa Gopikrishna and Nishant Bhat at its dance studio, 2359 Royal Windsor Dr. unit. Also, there will be final performance at the Maja Prentice Theatre, Saturday, March 25.
Contact: Here

Friday, March 24

Event: Doule Gujarati Comedy
Details: Swar Sadhana Music Lovers’ Club will host a Gujju comedy/drama at the York Woods Library Theatre, 1785 Finch Ave. W. in North York at 7 p.m. Cost of tickets is $15/person.
Contact: Here

Saturday, March 25

Event: Indian Classic Music Concert
Details: Raag-Mala Music Society of Toronto will host a classical Indian music concert at McLeod Auditorium, Medical Sciences Building, 1 King’s College Circle, Toronto at 7 p.m. Featured artist include: Ronu Majumdar (flute), Harshad Kanetkar (tabla), S.V. Ramani (mridangam) and U. Rajesh (mandolin).
Contact: Here 

Event: Let’s Nach
Details: Gurdeep Ubhi’s annual fundraiser to support of Mt. Sinai Hospital will take place at Chandini Convention Centre, 5 Gateway Blvd. Brampton at 6 p.m. Cost of tickets is $40/person (adult).
Contact: Here 

Shereen Ladha’s Roots will take you on a magical journey of colour and sound

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Roots: A Journey Through India is a show that combines dance, music and history. It comes to the Rose Theatre in Brampton, Saturday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m.

Whenever I chance upon something amazing: a good book, a watchable movie, an incredible entrée or even an interesting conversation, there’s a good chance, I will not simply shut up about it.

Sometimes, I even write a whole blog.

So pretend for a moment, these words are being delivered via a bullhorn.

I, for one, plan to stop by the Rose Theatre in Brampton, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. to watch Roots: A Journey Through India.

Having sampled a small snippet on video (you can watch the earlier post), I know it’s just the kind of thing to appeal to all my senses— high-energy dance, opulent costumes, familiar Bollywood tunes and a story line.

Shereen Ladha, 29, the director and creator of Roots as well as owner of popular YouTube channel, dancewithSL has conceived the show by combining her love for dance and choreography, India and Bollywood music.

When she started dancing at four,it was because it was, “so organic, almost like breathing.”

Then on, it was all hard work and grit and following the path.

Magnificent, mesmerizing and magical

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Shereen Ladha, creator and director of Roots: A Journey Through India is a versatile artist proficient in many genres of dance. Supplied photo

Roots can be described as a panoramic, visually stunning musical show that through Shereen’s signature vision wefts and weaves silken threads of romance, laughter and drama through several touchstones of India’s cultural heritage. The rich tapestry is sewn together with Bollywood music.

“I think what makes Roots so unique is its multi-generational and multi-cultural appeal,” said Shereen who considers Madhuri Dixit and Michael Jackson her idols. “It will remind our grandparents and parents of home; the younger generation will connect to our heritage and for people of other cultures, Roots will demonstrate the length and breath of India’s cultural diversity and richness…”

By the way, the last two shows sold-out.

Some 16 or more talented artists execute Shereen’s vision on stage. Mississauga’s Shama Kassam, 26, is one of them.

ken_5721Shama and Shereen are best buddies bound by their passion for dance. When she’s not swaying to music, Shama channelizes her energy into making the body, mind and breath connection as a yoga instructor at Power Yoga Canada Mississauga.

Roots, must be watched to be believed, she says

“I, like many Indians and non-Indians alike, grew up with a love for classic Bollywood and have always been inspired by the feminine grace of movement in Indian dance styles,” Shama said. “My parents love Bollywood music and our house is always willed with Indian music from the 70’s to modern day. I also grew up with a lot of interest in Hip-Hop music and that influences the style of dance I love, and the types of music I’m drawn to.”

Naach baliye, naach

Shereen, a Toronto native is a choreographer, dance visionary schooled in many genres: Hip-Hop, Ballet, Kathak and jazz, all of which she assimilated by the time she was 10.

“Intense dance training is really at the heart of that (dance repertoire),” said the artist whose day job is working with a strategic consulting firm. “I’m a strong believer in having a good foundation in dance. I believe a dancer really should never stop learning, a reason why I started my Master Classes in Bollywood.”

Sorry? Nah, Maafi

You probably recall Shereen from her viral hit Maafi, a cover of Justin Bieber’s chartbuster Sorry. The remix video garnered almost a million views before Sony Music grabbed the copyright.

“One my friends wanted me to do a choreography piece to Sorry by Justin Bieber as part of my regular channel videos, but I thought the original video and choreography was so good that I wanted to do something more unique and put my own spin on it,” Shereen told TDD. “So I got my music producer, J-Raj, and my team on board and Maafi was born.”

On the video going viral she says:

“I think it’s one thing to have fame, however long or short-lived it is, and another thing to make an impact,” Shereen says. “Sharing my art, educating people about my culture, and changing perceptions though dance is something I value so much more, and I feel strongly that I won’t ever compromise the quality of my work to achieve any level of fame.”

Check out Maafi!

To buy tickets for Roots, visit here or call 905-874-2800.

Toronto artist with Down Syndrome thumbs her nose at naysayers

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Gurvir Singh, 24, an artist/songwriter/fashionista founded Power of One, an initiative that through art teaches participants the impact of words when it comes to discrimination.

Sassy, artistic, brave, and a total diva.

Gurvir Singh, 24, is unlike any woman I have met.

She hasn’t let her disability (Down Syndrome) become her identity rather, with the support of her family this amazing artist is carving quite a niche for herself as a fashionista, songwriter and an advocate.

When I met her, Gurvir sported a black top and jacket, paired with a sapphire blue scarf and trendy accessories. She exuded confidence I wish I could borrow.

Each of the pieces of art she brought along, turns out was the result of a powerful creative stirring she experienced when she watched: Harry Potter series, the azure blue ocean she glimpsed when she visited her sister Sara in Halifax, the music of One Direction and so on.

Without art, Gurvir would have probably carried the hurt of the words her bullies hurled at her all through her school years. Even though she was bullied, she didn’t let the bullies win.

“Words can hurt,” said Gurvir. “I was called names all through my school and one day, during a hip-hop class, one of the boys called me fat.”

I have to interject here. Sahil Prashar, whom I wrote about earlier, too was bullied.

I can’t understand the mindset of families that nurture these bullies. Children learn aggression and behaviour from their parents and then expel their cruelty outside. If I had my way, I would parade the parents and shame them like the media does with impaired drivers during the annual RIDE (Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere) program.

So, back to Gurvir.

gurvir2One day, after she went through yet another volley of taunts at school, Gurvir and her sisters Sara and Navprit, launched Power of One, an arts initiative that offers series of workshops to help participants understand the impact of words in bullying and discrimination. At the end of each session, folks create a tangible piece of art to take home.

I am amazed at Gurvir’s spunk. Even though it would have hurt horribly to go to school every day and be at the receiving end of her bullies’ cruelty, she did not give up her learning. She graduated and hoped to pursue a university degree in fashion, except there are none for students with disabilities.

The Singh Sisters, as I like to call them, have taken it upon themselves to advocate for educational opportunities for those with disabilities.

“Watching Gurvir and all the barriers she faces made my family want to become advocates of change,” said Sara Singh, Gurvir’s older sister explained adding her non-profit Broadening Horizons’ mandate is to help, educate, inspire and mobilze youth to use creative expression as a tool to address social issues. “We urge people to promote inclusion in their workings whether it’s through employment or artistic endeavours. Through inclusion we can educate not just ourselves but other people as well on what inclusion and exclusion is.”

Gurvir has no time to dwell in the past. She keeps busy creating t-shirts with personalized art, writing songs and painting. Her advise to those getting bullied?

“They should stand up for themselves and maybe talk to a teacher, principal or someone they trust,” said Gurvir. “As you grow up, things change and you become stronger and that helps too.”

Amen, sister, Amen.

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Gurvir flanked by the “rocks” in her life, sisters Sara (right) and Navprit. The Singh Sisters are advocates for those with disabilities and run Broadening Horizons, a non-profit group. Photo by Bryon Johnson/Metroland Media Inc.

 

 

Non-verbal autistic teen from Toronto sings in three languages

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The two subsequent blog entries belong to Sahil Prashar, 17, and Gurvir Singh, 24. Both have disabilities and both have experienced bullying. I was able to put my life in perspective after meeting them. I hope you will too, after you read about them.

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Sahil Prashar, 17, is a non-verbal autistic teen and a savant who can sing in three languages. Supplied photo.

 The autistic teen with the voice of an angel

The 45-minute drive through the rural roads of Caledon and Orangeville took us into the bowels of inky darkness of a fall evening.
As the GPS announced our destination, all I could think of was: Why on earth would a desi family, with young children – Sahil and Jiya – choose to live in virtual isolation?

Minutes into my conversation, Anoop Prashar — Sahil and Jiya’s dad — as though reading my mind, answers my question.

Anoop and his wife Sudha Prashar chose to move away from the bright lights of city so they could escape the insensitive taunts families and children hurled at their non-verbal autistic son Sahil, 17.

In Hindi/Punjabi or for that matter in other Indian dialect, there’s a complete absence of language and word that has both sensitivity and compassion for individuals that don’t conform to a cookie-cutter mold.

So, people resort to the harsh and inappropriate “paagal” (or crazy). Imagine for a moment, how the reference may have made the Prashars wince. To toss the ubiquitous “Paagal” at anyone with autism, Down syndrome, learning disability or mental health, is cruel.

So, understandably when society gave them the cold shoulder, the Prashars tried spirituality.

“Those preaching/visiting temples and Gurudwaras are interested in chasing religion, not humanity,” observes Sudha who has had to watch her son being bullied at school. The adults too exhibited zero compassion.

Sahil, an extraordinary teen on the Autism spectrum, cannot speak, read or write, but he can sing. Boy, can he sing.

“Sahil has recorded more than 50 YouTube videos in three languages: English, Hindi and Punjabi,” Anoop shares. “Do you know any other 17 year-old with autism that can sing Marvin Gaye and other Motown hits, Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga along with bhajans and ghazals?”

That’s a truly impressive feat, except the Prashars are not social media savvy or well connected, so they have not been able to share Sahil’s gift with the world.

No takers/no supporters

On a recent day, when Sahil’s voice began to hit the notes of a spiritual song about a mother pleading to the deity, it took every ounce of willpower not to break down and sob.

The innocence on Sahil’s face as he stared into space, twisted my heart. His voice was pure.

A dad – who’s the breadwinner – leaves for work and interacts with others as part of his work, but a stay-at-home Mom’s sole focus is her child. She makes several journeys to hell and back, protecting him from pain, discomfort and the world. Worse, she has to hide her tears, so her son can see the strength and hope.

There’s no doubt, this vulnerable youngster, who cannot take care of himself or defend himself from his bullies , is enveloped in a warm and solid fortress of love. But, the question, one that likely keeps parents of  children with disabilities awake at nights is: what will happen to our child after us?

“Till date, Sahil has not had anyone his age come over to the house to play video games, he has not been invited to any birthday parties,” Anoop said. “To society, he’s invisible because he’s disabled…”

When their child was three, Sahil’s parents noticed he did not talk and missed key milestones. To their amazement, he would sing along to songs on the car’s radio.

“When he was a child, Sahil had this toy piano that he would play with until it broke,” his father said. “When it broke, we would go get another one (same make).”

This song is from the heart

Anoop, who works in the trucking/construction industry, decided to share Sahil’s incredible talent with the world, some three years ago.

Each day, he would play a song whose lyrics and melody Sahil would instantly pick, thanks to a photographic memory. Hours of practice later, the duo would record the number. The sound system they use is primitive and out dated, a second-hand Karaoke system that doesn’t capture the acoustics or inflection of sounds well.

When they had recorded a fair number of songs, armed with links to the videos, Anoop and Sudha knocked on doors of media/bloggers/YouTube influencers urging them to share Sahil’s gift. No one bit.

The Prashars are completely at loss. Music makes Sahil happy and all they want is to give him a stage on which he can perform and share his love for music.

“I want Sahil to be a world-famous Canadian,” Anoop said adding they would welcome any band/studio that was willing to work with Sahil.

To check out Sahil’s talent, visit his Facebook page here.

Ayaz Virani has the voice and the heart to become Canada’s top crooner

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So, when the presser about North York’s Ayaz Virani found me, I read it with more than cursory interest.

It’s not everyday a South Asian singer wins a coveted prize for his original work, a mellow pop/soul number with undertones of R&B.

Before, I ramble on, let me introduce the man whose song–Take it From me– strikes more than a chord with listeners. It has a “It” factor.

I am about to make this entire blog irrelevant by suggesting people hit play on the video now.

Recently, a panel of musicians and music industry experts chose Ayaz as the 2016 recipient of the Emerging Artist Music Mentorship Program, courtesy, a Canada’s Walk of Fame initiative.

Ayaz will receive $25,000 worth private studio recording time, introduction to an already established artist, face time with executives and get couple of opportunities to perform.

Here’s where his win gets more impressive. The panel received more than 350 hopefuls from coast-to-coast.

Music, not soccer makes my heart, beat

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North York resident Ayaz Virani is scaling the ladder of success after he won the 2016 Emerging Artists Music Mentorship program from Canada’s Walk of Fame. Photo courtesy Canada’s Walk of Fame

Ayaz grew up listening to a medley of musical styles as a result of Toronto’s multicultural vibe: Bollywood, ‘70s soul music, hip-hop and more

“The passion for music was always there, but I ignored it,” he said. “I am happy, I am now taking charge of my life.”

Yes, this story, like others narratives featured in this blog is about to meander down a predictable path: a young man (Ayaz), brimming with potential, abandons his artistic interests to pursue a profession worthy of his immigrant ancestors.

Childhood was all about playing soccer, attending math programs (outside of school) and performing at myriad cultural shows South Asian parents invariably drag their kids to.

Making his grandpa proud

After high school, he put his music away in cold storage and switched tracks with a B.Sc. in human kinetics from University of Ottawa. This path, he hoped would lead to him becoming a physician. Three tries later, Ayaz managed to pass the stringent MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), but was told, he was eligible to pursue medicine in Ireland, not Toronto.

That sobering news woke him from his reverie and self-imposed musical exile.

“I finally came face-to-face with my reality,” Ayaz told Toronto Desi Diaries on his lack-lustre interest in medicine. “Music is all I wanted.”

His parents surprisingly were supportive.

“South Asian parents want us to take these classic routes because of all that they sacrificed to bring us to this country and the opportunities they let go,” he said. “To them, that (engineering, medicine, accountancy) degree is about stability. My grandfather was an accountant back home (Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania), who brought his family to Canada in 1972 and worked as a janitor here for pretty much the rest of his career…”

The perfect storm of emotions

Take it From me, is a pure sublime melody wrapped in insightful words. Ayaz’s voice oozes pure Maple syrup. The guitar accentuates the singer’s velvety cadence and is just right, not overwhelming, nor too timid. In this song, Ayaz serenades the listener. He observes, he muses and questions love.

It’s always a broken heart that sings, right?

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North York resident Ayaz Virani. Photo courtesy Canada’s Walk of Fame

“This song in particular poured out of me,” he admits. “Sometimes you feel something so intensely that there’s nothing else you can do, but release it.”

The girl that broke the floodgates of the artist’s creative energy happens to be Ayaz’s current girlfriend, who at that time, decided to get back with her “ex.”

“I got off the phone, quite heartbroken and couldn’t sleep,” he recalled. “I got out of the bed at 2 a.m., pulled my guitar out and by 5 a.m., I had a full song…”

The rest, is still unfolding.

Follow Ayaz on Instagram

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You can catch Ayaz as he opens for Juno-nominated Matt Dusk with jazz/blues artist Florence K, Sept. 21 at Mod Club, 722 College St. Tickets are $30/person.

Then, on Saturday, Sept. 24, he along with other finalists from Canada’s Walk of Fame’s emerging artist music mentorship, will perform noon to 2 p.m. at Yonge-Dundas Square.

 

September ’16 events elevate Toronto as a Mecca for artists

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Janak Khendry Dance Company will be hosting a dance/drama Ganga at 3 p.m. at the Sir Fredrick Banting Secondary School, 125 Sherwood Forest Square, London, Ont. on Sunday, Sept. 25. Photo courtesy of the Janak Khendry Dance Company

Thursday, Sept. 1

Event: Salim-Sulaiman Concert
Details: The Kidney Foundation of Canada wants GTA residents to experience a musical evening with Bollywood composing duo- Salim and Sulaiman. Event is happening at Mississauga Living Arts Centre. 4141 Living Arts Dr. in Mississauga at 7:30 p.m.
Contact: For tickets visit, Here

Saturday, Sept. 3

(Please note, this event has been cancelled)

Event: Kalangan Series
Details: Samprada Dance Academy will welcome Aditya Prakash Ensemble for its signature, Kalangan Series at the Samprada Theatre, 4-3250 Rideway Dr. at 7:30 p.m. The concert will blend traditional Indian vocals/ragas with western musical instruments. Tickets cost $20 (adults) $15(students). Check out the accompanying video to get a sample. The sounds are magnificent.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Sept. 10

Event: Rung De’ One
Details: Since its launch few years ago, the Holi-inspired event has been adding colour to the social scene in the GTA. This year, the action shifts to Scholars’ Green (outside Sheridan College Campus), 275 Prince of Wales Dr. from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Contact: Here

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Rung De ONE, an event inspired by the Indian festival of Holi made its debut in Toronto. Organizers invited not just South Asians, but everyone to sample the culture of India. Supplied photo

Saturday, Sept. 17

Event: Swayamvar
Details: Dubbed as one of the largest singles events in the GTA, the evening, kicking off at 3 p.m. at Tich Restaurant, 2314 Lake Shore Blvd. W. Toronto combines an exhibition portion as well as some components of speed dating. So, if you’re sleepless in Toronto, head there. Tickets are $35/person.
Contact: For more, visit Here

Saturday, Sept. 24

Event: Bhangra/Reggae concert
Details: Small World Music Festival and Dhol Foundation are bringing a wonderful concert at  noon featuring sounds of Bhangra, infused with reggae as part of in/future – an 11-day festival of arts and music at Ontario Place, 955 Lakeshore Blvd. W.
Contact: Here

Sunday, Sept. 25

Event: Ganga (dance/drama)
Details: Janak Khendry Dance Company is hosting a dance-drama Ganga at 3 p.m. at the Sir Fredrick Banting Secondary School, 125 Sherwood Forest Square, London, Ont.
Contact: Here

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Janak Khendry Dance Company will be hosting a dance/drama Ganga at 3 p.m. at the Sir Fredrick Banting Secondary School, 125 Sherwood Forest Square, London, Ont.on Sunday, Sept. 25. Photo courtesy Janak Khendry Dance Company