Three artists from three continents joined forces and toured in a 1964 Lincoln Continental.
They are TRI-CONTINENTAL!!
In 1997, Sudanese Canadian musician Tarig Abubakar booked the Bamboo Club in Toronto during the International Folk Alliance Conference. He wanted to take advantage of the international buyers in town and an array of talent that he could coerce to join in the celebration of what would unfortunately be his final release Hobey Laik. That night at the Bamboo was an incredible, creative and joyful communion of spirit. There was one very special performance that happened out of the blue - it is this performance that became the seed for Tri-Continental.
A lone singer songwriter, Bill Bourne, in a top hat with foot in meter on a stomp box performing to the capacity audience. From back stage, a figure with a guitar emerged from the dark and began to embellish Bourne’s music with layers of Malagasy notes and rhythms. Madagascar Slim was well known to the Toronto audience and highly regarded for his technical guitar abilities. The two had jammed back stage and came together in perfect harmony for all to see and hear.
Hugo Rampen, musical visionary, collaborator, cultural curator wrote: “I was there as Tarig’s agent, and had been involved in world music and fusion music for a few years, and what I saw from Slim and Bill that evening was very special. Like all interesting things, you shelve the experience in your memory bank not knowing if anything will come of it. A year later we lost the wonderful Tarig Abubakar to a car accident in his birth place, the Sudan. The Toronto world music scene mourned for months.”
Tri-Continental came together in 1999 when Rampen found himself as Madagascar Slim’s agent as well as a young blues musician from Edmonton named Lester Quitzau. Quitzau had been nominated for a Juno with A Big Love, an album Rampen deeply admired. He booked him with Quitzau’s power trio and the gigs were well received. Quitzau approached Rampen about booking him and a guy named Bill Bourne into music festivals as a duo. That cue brought back the memory of the fabulous night at the Bamboo Club two years earlier and Rampen agreed that he would indeed book some festivals for Bourne and Quitzau.
One of the first calls he made was to the Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival Artistic Director, Linda Tanaka. She had presented both Quitzau and Bourne as solo artists and was very familiar with their work. If Madagascar Slim was touring, Tanaka said she would be interested in his band. Over the years Rampen had built a couple of very successful tours for Slim and his band, but it became more and more difficult to tour them because the entire band, except Slim, had to be imported from France.
After reviewing the logistics of bringing Slim’s band over to Canada, Rampen suggested to Tanaka that he package Quitzau, Bourne and Madagascar Slim together as a kind of super group. Tanaka agreed and it was her willingness to take a risk on a group so untried at this point that made the entire thing come together.
A quick call from Rampen to Slim and Quitzau, and then to Bourne via Quitzau confirmed all three were interested. They agreed that rehearsal was required and playing a few gigs prior to the Roots & Blues Festival would be in order. This was pretty amazing considering Quitzau and Slim had never met before. Slim flew to Edmonton a week early for rehearsal. The guys performed at the Side Track Café in Edmonton, The Vat in Red Deer, the Banff Centre and then crossed the Rocky Mountains to the Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival. That October 1999 festival in Salmon Arm is still considered by many who were witness to the coming together of Tri-Continental as one of the most stunning performances of their concert-going lives!
The road to recording began when Bourne called Rampen following the tour to say he felt there was something really special that needed to be recorded. Bourne felt the project had legs and could have a great future. The challenge was finding money to record.
Rampen recalls a little while after Bourne’s call, he met Wally Wapachee, a Cree man from Ouje-Bougoumou, Quebec. It became evident that Wapachee was a huge fan of all types of music and very knowledgeable about world music specifically. He asked Rampen if he had any special projects that he would like to pursue in the music world. Rampen told him about Tri-Continental, and right then and there, Wapachee said he would provide a loan to make the recording. This was an incredible gesture on Wapachee’s behalf. He didn’t really know Rampen and knew nothing of the three musicians in the project.
Rampen remembered: “As Bill was in the middle of one of his famous cross country odysseys and bound for Toronto, where Slim lived, it was decided that they should use this opportunity to make the recording. Lester Quitzau flew in from Edmonton and the trio was united in a small back alley recording studio in Parkdale. Joe Dunphy, analog gear head, and recording savant was hired to produce the record. Joe had been referred to Rampen by another musician from his agency’s roster, Grier Coppins of Rare Air and Taxi Chain fame. It was an excellent suggestion and Joe hit it off with the guys and magic was made in three quick days. Joe Dunphy would go on to produce some of the greatest folk/roots musicians of our time in Canada”.
After getting the tapes mastered, packaging was left up to Rampen and once the disc was ready, his agency sent the album to community radio stations across Canada and every CBC branch that he could get to. Album sales were strong and record reviews were very generous. The first Tri-Continental festival tour took place in 2000 and played every major Canadian festival that year. Their self-titled debut Tri-Continental won the 2000 Juno for Best Roots & Traditional album.
Rampen sent a copy of the album to his friend Volker Steppat, from Tradition & Moderne Records in Bremen, Germany. They had worked together on European tours before and Rampen felt the album would be something Steppat was interested in. Tradition & Moderne would license the first album and go on to produce several more records (Live in 2002, Let’s Play in 2003, Drifting in 2004) and numerous European tours for Tri-Continental between 2000 and 2007. Volker Steppat made Tri-Continental a headlining global roots and blues ensemble throughout Europe while Rampen continued to book the band in Canada for several festival and concert tours during these years.
Following the 2007 tours, members of Tri-Continental wanted to pursue their solo careers but did join together for one performance in 2009 at the Luminato Festival in Toronto, Ontario. During this break Bourne, Quitzau, and Madagascar Slim continued to perform, write songs and record as solo artists and with other collaborations. They also gave precious time to embrace life including building a marriage, farming, teaching, studying, digging deeper in to their craft and taking the time necessary to reflect on the loss of a loved one. The musicians were active with other pursuits that filled their well of artistic wealth, though they did not know what the future would hold for Tri-Continental.
During this eight year break, casual conversations were happening between band members that included the prospect of Tri-Continental joining together again. Madagascar Slim recalls that once in while he would call Bill Bourne or email him just to see how he was doing. During one of these conversations, Bourne suggested they should contact Lester Quitzau and see if he was interested. Coincidentally, Quitzau already had the seed planted for him from his partner Mae Moore…. mentioning over and over again how much she loved Tri-Continental and spoke encouragingly that the band should do something again. Slim was on tour with African Guitar Summit and one of their shows was on Pender Island BC where Quitzau called home. He helped set up for the show and Slim stayed at their place. Quitzau recalls: “…looking each other in the eye and saying how we should do something again…. there was an ‘aha’ moment and a spark in that exchange.… I knew we both meant it and that it was going to happen”.
In the autumn of 2016, Tri-Continental made a long awaited return to the concert scene with 14 performances across southern British Columbia. The tour culminated with a live audio and video recording of the performance from the Blue Frog Studio in White Rock BC. This tour also confirmed that Tri-Continental was back together and plans were set in motion for a future tour and recording a new album.
At the start of 2018, Tri-Continental invited drummer / percussionist Michael Treadway from Penticton, BC to join the band for three tours. The 2018 spring tour visited 6 southern, central and northern Alberta communities and marked a return to that province for the first time in eleven years. The successful tour was followed immediately with the recording of their new album Dust Dance with Treadway contributing on each song.
Dust Dance was recorded and mixed at The Audio Department in Edmonton, Canada and engineered by Harry Gregg who also played bass guitar on the tracks. The album was co-produced by all the members of the band and Gregg and was mastered by Joby Baker in Victoria Canada. Dust Dance was officially released in Canada on August 3, 2018 and within 6 weeks reached #1 at CJSR 88.5 FM Edmonton on both the Top 10 International and Folk / Roots / Blues charts and #5 on the !earshot Top 10 National International chart.
The band played a series of western Canadian festivals and club dates and wrapped up 2018 with a return to Europe and a 12 date festival and club tour through Germany. Tri-Continental was met with enthusiastic audiences who were thrilled to hear the band again. It had been 11 years since they performed in Europe and many of their faithful fans turned out to show support for the band and their music. The energy was infectious and before boarding their plane for the flight home to Canada, invitations were already coming in for return concerts in 2019 and 2020.
Tri-Continental are in their own rights well-recognized and respected artists with successful solo careers. They are indeed major players in the Canadian roots music scene who individually and collectively are the recipients of four Juno awards and ten Juno nominations. Bourne, Quitzau and Slim were on the leading edge at a time when their ‘fusion’ of styles were not as common as they are now. Their five albums recorded as Tri-Continental confirm, that when these artists from different parts of Canada come together, something very special and magical happens.
Tri Continental’s goal continues to keep growing musically, challenging each other to do different things than they would individually, and letting music be their common ground and inspiration. Bill Bourne, Lester Quitzau, Madagascar Slim and Michael Treadway are excited for this next stage of their musical careers and will be keeping it wide open and alive, captivating true believers and new audiences with their splendid musicianship, relaxed manner and wonderful music.
BILL BOURNE - vocals, guitars, stomp box
LESTER QUITZAU - vocals, electric guitar, dobro
MADAGASCAR SLIM - vocals, classical and electric guitars
MICHAEL TREADWAY - vocals, drums, percussion,