Lula Lounge is an undisputed neighbourhood hub and a nexus for world music across the city and beyond. After 12 years in business, Lula has become synonymous with salsa and Latin American music in the same way the Bamboo Club was a centre for reggae and African music in the late 1980s and ’90s.
One of the highlights of LulaWorld was Wednesday’s show with NYC-based Latin Grammy winner Dafnis Prieto and his Proverb Trio (above) featuring keys innovator Jason Lindner (left) and Washington, D.C.-based vocalist Kokayi (right).
LulaWorld co-Artistic Director Tracy Jenkins, confirms that the club has really found its voice and its audience after a difficult decade of moving from challenge to challenge.
“None of us in the core group who started Lula had any real experience running a venue,” Jenkins confesses. “We weren’t restaurateurs, we were driven by the desire to create a space where amazing music could be presented. We made a lot of mistakes. Finally, now it’s really coming together — we’ve got a great kitchen and menu, we’ve got good front-of-house management and now we can concentrate on the programming while the other stuff takes care of itself.”
“Faith in the club is more evident now, too,” adds Jenkins. “People trust our programming, they’re willing to take a leap of faith because maybe they don’t know the artist but they like Brazilian music so they come and try it out.”
Lula Lounge is also benefiting from interest in music from the Caribbean and Latin America in the lead up to the PanAm Games. Jenkins’s co-AD, Jose Ortega, is an advisor to the PanAm cultural committee and Lula Music and Art Centre was awarded one of 26 cultural commissions for the Games — staging a powerhouse collaboration that will pair Danilo Pérez with other big Latin Jazz stars from across the Americas.
“Jose is very knowledgeable about the salsa scene in Toronto and internationally,” confirms Jenkins. The Lula programming team also relies heavily on the input of local musicians who come from and have ties to an array of other countries and cultures around the globe, not just in Latin America.
“The model we’ve been working with for a number of years is a collaborative one where we talk to local musicians about who they’d like to work with,” explains Jenkins. “Often the artists from outside are brought to us by local artists and we haven’t even heard of them. We hadn’t heard of Fred Martins before Luanda Jones said, ‘This is the guy I really want to work with.’”
“Similarly Roberto Occhipinti brought Dafnis to our attention and when we heard the CD we were blown away. There’s a quote on the internet to the effect that when Dafnis moved to New York it was like the city was hit by an asteroid. He’s really amazing. This is the first time the trio is playing in Canada and I wouldn’t have found them on my own if Roberto hadn’t brought them to our attention. The album is a really unique combination of sounds with crazily fantastic drumming.”
“We have a lot of people coming from New York this year,” notes Jenkins. “For us it’s a little bit easier than bringing somebody up from Brazil, for example.”
Another highlight of LulaWorld 2014 is a celebration of Mexican women in song featuring Latin Grammy winner Martha Gonzalez (left) with special guests Amanda Medina Pinedo and Mamselle, backed by Toronto’s own Café Con Pan.
Jenkins reserves special praise for the Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council and Celebrate Ontario, which is supporting the club’s powerhouse pairing of Jimmy Bosch & Ralph Irizarry and the Lula All-Stars at Dundas West Fest. “CBC Radio, CIUT and Jazz FM have also been amazing to us,” adds Jenkins.
“We always say how lucky we are to be working in this ecosystem, we get support from the city, we get support from radio and we enjoy the support of the musical community. There’s such an openness between the musicians to work with people from different cultures and different genres. It’s really, really exciting.”
LulaWorld 2014 at Lula Lounge, 1585 Dundas Street West, 416.588.0307 (Ticket prices vary)
Dundas West Fest is June 7 from 11AM-11PP (FREE)
Shared content by Christopher Jones for livewithculture.ca