When multiple musical traditions, sounds and styles are the inspiration for one's compositions, it could be easy to fall into cacophonous chaos. For the Sultans of String, such a trap is easily avoided simply by getting to the heart of the story.
"Our music is all about telling stories," said Chris McKhool, who plays violin in the ensemble. Through its music, which is largely instrumental, the Toronto-based band attempts to share the beautiful places they have been, the people they have met, the scenes they have witnessed and the stories they have heard and shared.
"I think one of the things we really enjoy is figuring out what style, groove or mood best fits. It's really about allowing the song to tell us what it means," McKhool said.
The band's 2007 song "Luna," for instance, was about a killer whale in Nootka Sound in Canada's British Columbia, who was killed in 2006 after a tugboat accident. Another was inspired by the horses on Sable Island, off Nova Scotia.
"We want to share our passion of Canada," McKhool said, adding that the band is continually inspired by the country's diverse landscape, rich heritage and cultural history.
During the past several years, this world-music ensemble has steadily gained attention and critical praise for its mix of styles, which include gypsy jazz, Arabic folk, flamenco, Cuban rhythms, Celtic sound and other world rhythms. It has been a winner or nominee for several music award programs, including a Canadian JUNO nomination in 2010 for its record "Yalla Yalla!" It was the 2014 SiriusXM indie award winner for world artist group.
It has released four records, including the most recent 2012's "Symphony," which had the group -- that also includes guitarist Kevin Laliberte, bassist Drew Birston, guitarist Eddie Paton and percussionist Rosendo "Chendy" León and often special guests -- backed by a full symphony orchestra for an album of arrangements that earned nominations and awards.
The Sultans of String are expected to perform at the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts in Westport for two shows in the coming days, but don't expect a full orchestra.
"They don't fit in my Subaru," said McKhool, who will instead drive south with fellow bandmates Laliberte, Birston and León to put on a show for children and families on Wednesday, Aug. 20. On Thursday, Aug. 21, the band will delve into the Sultans of String repertoire.
This is the second consecutive year that the band has performed in this summer concert series.
"We are super excited, not only about being back there, but about adding a children's show as well," said McKhool, who first learned violin at about 7 years old. "It is a fantastic way to reach out to families and young people.
"We pride ourselves on creating a family show that is as much for the parents as it is for the kids," said McKhool, who also has earned awards for his children's music, which he calls FiddleFire! "This is awesome, fun, participatory world music."
Children can expect to get up on stage, and play some of the instruments McKhool has found from all over the world. Some may be familiar, while others are a bit more unusual. There will be washboards, drums and dried-seed pods. There will even be a shaker from Peru that gets its sound from the dried nails of goats.
"It's really a fantastic instrument," McKhool said. "That's really the fun part of the show, explaining all the instruments and getting the kids to participate."
Regardless of the age of the audience, McKhool said he and his bandmates love live performances, playing in the moment, going with the flow and keeping everyone, including themselves, at the edge of their seats. "We want them to go along on the ride, too."