The Canadian string trio will stop by the Chocolate Church Aug. 4 for a special summer main stage show. Photo courtesy of Sultans of String

BATH — It’s amazing what can be done with wire and wood and to celebrate having done it successfully for a decade, Canadian world music troupe Sultans of String are on the road.

The trio has scheduled a stop in Bath on Aug. 4, with a 7:30 p.m. show at the Chocolate Church.

Sultans of String — more on the name in a bit — formed in Toronto in 2001, after violinist Chris McKhool met guitarist Kevin Laliberte at a gig. McKhool heard Laliberte warming up by playing a rumba rhythm and was smitten with the sound.

“You can put a rumba rhythm behind pretty much any kind of song and it gives it this energy and drive, and I really love that,” McKhool said. “I said, ‘Let’s get some gigs and make some stuff up!’”

After improvising their way through regular three-hour Friday night gigs at a small basement club north of Toronto, the pair figured they had something.

Bassist Drew Birston joined the group shortly afterward, and soon their live shows began to feature an increasingly diverse roster of players mixing Middle Eastern sitar with Afro-Cuban percussion and Acadian-flavored zydeco.

“One of the nice things about the band is what everyone brings to it,” McKhool said. In addition to his own Lebanese-Egyptian heritage, “Kevin has French roots if you go back far enough and with Drew you’ve got everything from French Canadian to English.”

A quick check of Spotify or iTunes reveals that Sultans of String loosely is categorized as World music, but the description is inadequate. Within the space of a single album the group routinely pivots from acoustic adult contemporary pop to Middle Eastern meditation to Western swing-influenced boot stomp, swishes through flamenco, bossa nova and salsa compositions, tiptoes through plaintive and sparse Canadian Maritime reels and then overhauls covers of Neil Young (McKhool’s most profound musical influence) and Bob Dylan.

Their latest record, “10,” is a retrospective to commemorate the group’s tenth anniversary. McKhool describes the decision to release it on heavyweight, audiophile-quality vinyl as “a total self-indulgence, an homage to the musical world I grew up in.”

Close listeners will catch yet another homage to his formative years on the record “Subcontinental Drift,” in the chorus of “A Place to Call Home”: “Like David and Goliath, I need a magic slingshot / Or the strength of Luke when he decides to leave the farm / Except that I’m no hero …”

Yes, that would be a Star Wars reference to Luke Skywalker. When queried, McKhool just laughs.

“I didn’t know how many people would catch that when I wrote it but I thought I’d put in there anyway,” he said.

Occasionally, the records feature a loosely defined musical theme, as well. “Move,” for example, released in 2011, is a dance record, featuring big band- or South American-flavored songs that encourage hip swinging and lively feet.

“Symphony!,” from 2013, is a fully orchestrated effort that required editing, condensing and revising many of the band’s past catalog to fit a full orchestra.

Because a working band never truly rests while touring in support of “10” McKhool, Laliberte and Birston also are splitting time in a Toronto recording studio for a Christmas album due to be released later this year.

Summer is touring and festival season in the northeast, and Sultans of String is part of the annual caravan. The endless touring is due to changes in the music industry and the technological media that deliver the music. If musicians aren’t playing, they’re not earning. It’s a grind, but “it hones your performance and songwriting skills and keeps the project alive with the immediacy of an audience in front of us,” McKhool said.

“All you own as a musician now is your intellectual property and your live performance, and really it’s so hard,” he said. “I’m not bemoaning what I do because I’m truly lucky to be a musician.”

And what about the name? Don’t be fooled; it’s a bit of an inside joke that has nothing to do with Dire Straits.

Well, almost nothing.

“You know, it is so, so hard to pick a band name,” McKhool said. “We made a short list of the five or 10 names that we liked and asked a bunch of people that we knew, and that one kept coming up as being fun as well as evocative of the kind of music we were going to play.”

But most important of all? McKhool says, when he and Laliberte were brainstorming band names, “Sultans of String” was available for trademark.

“The domain name wasn’t taken yet, which is the most important thing in the world in today’s day and age!”

But there’s more to it than that, right?

“It’s got that playful quality about it that shows we’re there to have fun entertaining the audience,” McKhool said. “There’s nothing more tedious than going to a (concert) where people are like, ‘Oh, listen to the clever chord substitutions I’m playing; I’m going to solo over that for 18 minutes.’

“I’m a sucker for the cheap pun or easy alliteration,” McKhool said. “We like to have fun. We’re more outward facing than navel-gazing, which I think is why we’ve lasted for 10 years because we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’ve tried to make it interesting for our audiences, as well as ourselves.

“There was kind of an easy sense of familiarity by using that name, which definitely has all the meaning in the world to us: ‘Sultans’ meaning kings in some parts of the world, especially in the Middle East where some of our influence comes from. And, of course, we’re all string players, so it just felt like, ‘Okay, that’s it!’”

The Aug. 4 show will feature opening performances by local artists Heather Pierson and the Hollowbody Electric Band. Tickets are $25 advance, $28 day of show, and can be had by calling the box office at 442-8455 or browsing

“We’re not able to do it without the support of the presenters, and we’re really excited about the Chocolate Church show,” McKhool said. “It should be a really exciting night.”
For more information or to listen to selections from the band’s discography, check out