Old Town reflects on rich family history

What’s in a name? For one Parkdale singer-songwriter, a name holds enough inspiration to fuel an entire album. Born and raised in Toronto, Freeman Dre, of Freeman Dre and The Kitchen Party, is set to release his second album, Old Town. The album, he said, is a tribute to a fascination with history, heritage and ancestry, which has permeated his entire life. Even a question as simple as, ‘what’s your name?’ leads Dre to describe a rich history of immigration, escaping war and family stories. “I’ve always been fascinated with it (family history),” Dre said. “There is all this crazy history of names being changed and escaping countries and coming to this new place.” Dre’s given name is Andre Flak, an anglicized version of his Polish name Andrzej Falkowski. ‘Freeman’ is his mother’s maiden name, but even that isn’t as simple as it sounds. Generations ago, Dre’s family, on his mother’s side, immigrated to Canada from Ireland and upon arrival were given the name Freeman. “I guess they gave a bunch of people who used to be criminals ‘Freeman’ stamps on their documents when they came to Canada,” he said. “I don’t even know what my (mother’s) last name was before that.” The name Dre, is an affectionate form of his given first name Andre. “This whole album is in part about my fascination with my ancestry and immigration,” he said. “On my Polish side, we immigrated over here escaping Nazi persecution...that always fascinated (me).” His grandparents rarely spoke of their experiences in their old country and insisted on leaving their old life behind and moving forward as Canadians. Dre has himself visited Poland a number of times, but with little information about his lineage. “On my other side we have these Irish immigrants who had a whole different approach who were very proud to be Irish and loved to talk about the old country,” Dre said. “Everyone in Toronto has a version of that story,” he said. “Canada isn’t even 150 years old so everyone, whether they know it or not, they have some sort of version of how they got here and where their people were before.” Old Town is a self-produced 10-song folk-rock album recorded at Dale Morningstar’s Gas Station studio on Toronto Island and John Critchley’s Green Door Studios in Parkdale. Freeman Dre and The Kitchen Party consists of: Freeman Dre, lead vocal and guitar; Lonny Knapp, mandolin, guitars and harmonica; Marlon Chaplin, piano, drums and bass; Terry Wilkins, bass; and Mookie Komatsu, drums and percussion. But beyond this core group, there are a host of musician who appear in the album and in some shows with the group, all members of Fedora Upside Down. Fedora Upside Down is a music collective of about a dozen bands, a half a dozen theatre troops and a handful of visual artists and dancers. The collective has been working on events and parties for the past two years and includes, among others, the party-punk band Lemon Bucket Orkestra; improvised party brass band Michael Louis Johnson and Rambunctious; flamenco band Flamenguitos del Norte; and ragtime jazz band Boxcar Boys. Dre plays with his core band, The Kitchen Party, and then depending on the gig the band can swell to as many as 13 or 14 players plucked from the Fedora Upside Down collective, which draws players from all over Parkdale, West Queen West and Kensington Market areas. “For recording I have this great luxury of saying ‘I can hear a fiddle on that track’ then calling my friend to come down to the studio to do it,” Dre said. “I can just bring in whoever suits the song.” Fedora Upside Down has a regular Thursday night gig at The Cameron House where one or more of the member bands play. Some of the money the individual bands get from those gigs goes into a common pot and that money is used to throw big shows, like one recently called New Traditions Festival or to help finance albums. “One of the benefits is you are just surrounded by musicians all day and we aren’t all playing the same type of music... it is really inspiring,” Dre said. Freeman Dre and the Kitchen Party will host a record release party at the Horseshoe Tavern on Queen Street West July 19 at 10 p.m. They will be joined by Fedora Upsidedown friends Nick Teehan and the Lemon Bucket Orkestra. Old Town is available at freemandreandthekitchenparty.com or Sunrise Records on Yonge Street.;