Dr. Zoo
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Dr. Zoo

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2003 | SELF

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada | SELF
Established on Jan, 2003
Band World Folk


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"Afro-Celtic Reggae meets fiddles and penny whistles at Van Gogh’s (Guelph, ON)"

Afro-Celtic Reggae meets fiddles and penny whistles at Van Gogh’sThe Ontarion on March 10, 2011 with 0 Comments
New sound of African, Celtic blend makes its way to Guelph

Beth Purdon-McLellan

A new sound drifted out of Van Gogh’s Ear last Thursday as ‘Afro-Celtic’ Reggae group Dr. Zoo made Guelph one of its stops on their cross-Canada Tour.

But what, exactly, is ‘Afro-Celtic’ Reggae? As a fan of traditional Irish folk, one might be surprised by such a combination, and lovers of reggae would likely feel the same. What it amounts to is an infusion of East coast music, with the warmth of accompanying jembe and guitar rhythms. In the case of Dr. Zoo, rich choral singing interplays with fiddle tunes in a musical set that is nothing short of inspiring.

Dr. Zoo’s lead singer, Randal Arsenault, made his way to Swaziland, Africa in 1996 to complete his doctorate in zoology. He lived there for ten years, and in that time the country had a profound effect on him. He developed as a musician and began to create his own repertoire of African music.

“I’m very connected to the place,” said Arsenault. “I write more songs when I go back to Swaziland, which is my home away from home.”

This piece of Arsenult’s past explains the ‘Afro’ in ‘Afro-Celtic,’ but does little to explain how the penny whistle and fiddle tunes made their way into the picture.

“It’s because I’m a Newfie,” exclaimed Arsenault, insisting that another part of his past contributed to his unorthodox blending of genres. “I grew up Celtic. I was Celtic before I became African. Celtic music is part of my blood.”

Not only is Arsenault from a part of Canada steeped with Celtic music, but from a folk music family as well. His father is a successful multi-instrumentalist with three albums of his own.

“I grew up in the bars singing all the Celtic standards,” said Arsenault. “I mean, I did the whole downtown St. John’s thing, George St., [I] sang for years. So yeah, it’s steeped in my bones… Musicians should remember that you have to do well in your own backyard before you really go out and show everybody else.”

Arsenault’s music has grown out of intricate and extensive roots. The diverse history behind such musical experience helps to make sense of why there aren’t too many bands like Dr. Zoo on the Canadian music scene.

“Yeah, we’re totally different than most things out there,” said Arsenault. “But I think that’s where music is heading. It’s about doing it for yourself first. And let’s say you create something beautiful and unique and people see it for what it is – well, that’s creating a niche. And that’s where music is heading. Don’t try to be like everyone else. I don’t think art was ever supposed to be that way anyways.”

It’s their diversity that makes Dr. Zoo so enthusiastic about what they do. With Juno award winning African Drummer Youssou Seck from Senegal, Sudanese guitarist David Kabbashi, Celtic fiddler Roxanne Young, Alberta based Justin Kudding and Reggae drummers Kent MacRae, the group takes its eclectic style to heart.

“Of the themes that Dr. Zoo promotes, multiculturalism is at the top of the list,” said Arsenault. “It’s showing that cultures can get together and have a really good time and make great music together. And that’s the same as ‘well, get to know your neighbor though they have a different culture.’ Everybody has love in their hearts. At the end of it, you can make great friends no matter what you do or come from.”

Not only an enriching cultural experience, Dr. Zoo’s performance was also an incredibly good time. They performed with spirited and spontaneous energy, engaging directly with their crowd. When the audience was dancing, Dr. Zoo played with them, altering the music when an audience member put on some particularly good moves. Van Gogh’s didn’t seem like a bar as much as some funky hybrid kitchen party.

“We’re very accessible. We like to get people dancing, to get people singing and to enjoy the ideas. It’s really about entertaining, as well as us loving what we do. But yeah, it’s unique, and when you have something that’s different it has its rewards. Sometimes people go ‘What?’…The only way to understand it is to come see it live really,” said Arsenault.

After being initiated into a new avenue of music, Arsenault’s advice seems the only practical next step. Cave to curiosity. See it live.

- The Ontarion

"Reviews by Arts and Culture Centres"

Karin Galliot, Manager
Coner Brook, Newfoundland

"My first encounter with Dr. Zoo was through the website drzoomusic.com and I was magically swept away by the lovely sounds of "Welcome to Africa." For days I kept this catchy tune on my desktop....the beautiful sounding Zulu and Swahili words and the echos of drums pulling me into that Dark Exotic Continent as Paul Simon's Graceland did many years ago."

"Then I was able to experience the show where Randal Arsenault weaves a tale about a young man's journey through life. The angst, the trials, the wars are all there and well described in lyric and melody. Don't miss an opportunity to journey with this free spirit called Dr. Zoo. It is indeed the circle of life!!"

Ellen Turner, Manager
Labrador City, Newfoundland and Labrador

"Randal's evening of stories and music took me on a wonderful journey. I love the CD and songs. His story of the young man's journey to Africa and back is one that should be shared with many young people as well as adults. His connection with 'his inner dork' really spoke to me and I think would certainly speak to many young people on their life's journey." - Managers (February 2008)

"53 North, February 2008"

DR. ZOO ENTERTAINS YOUNG AND OLD A night of new rhythms and song

February 24th, the audience at the Labrador West Arts and Culture Centre was treated to a night of entertainment and fun as Dr. Zoo (Randal Arsenault) brought his brand of Afro-Celtic folk rock to a crowd of all ages.

Dr. Zoo takes the audience on a journey alongside his fictional character ‘the boy’ as he travels from Labrador to Africa and back again searching for the meaning of life. Most of the music in the show was from the new album ‘42’, which is a direct reference to ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide ToThe Galaxy’. The songs weave a story, along with Zoo’s banter in between setting up the songs and relaying the story to the audience. Though the story is fictional, it does loosely follow Arsenault’s personal life story, as a boy from Labrador City who traveled to Africa, where he studied Zoology.

The performance saw the audience invited to participate as they sang along with Dr. Zoo’s catchy brand of folk music and even learned a little bit of the African language. “Labrador City was a great highlight,” he says. “I was a little more nervous coming into this show because I grew up there, and the show touches on a teenage rebelling of home and family, but also coming home in the end.” The crowd was in for a treat as Randal’s father, local physician, Dr. William Arsenault, joined his son on the stage for a number. A little ditty with a Newfie feel. “It was a true home coming for me. I was very happy that my father got up and sang the last song with me,” Randal says, “a fantastic way to end the night.”

A great time was had by all in attendance as they were caught up by Dr. Zoo’s rhythmic folk rock guitar styling and catchy melodies which begged one to sing along.

• Kurt Costigan
53 North
Labrador City
Newfoundland and Labrador - Dr. Zoo Entertains Young and Old

"Sponsorship Letter from Sennheiser Canada"

It is my great pleasure to announce our involvment as a Sponsor for Dr. Zoo. Your outstanding performances at our three 2004 Sennheiser Lounge events at the Junos, ECMAs and Canadian Music Week really created a special buzz, as the crowd strongly reacted to each show.

I believe that Dr. Zoo's original material has most commercial potential to achieve worldwide success, adding to the long list of Canadian talent representing Canada around the globe.

Dr. Zoo is joining an impressive list of Sennheiser sponsored artists, such as Avril Lavigne, Celine Dion, Nelly Fertado, Simple Plan, Sass Jordan, Finger Eleven, Our Lady Peace, Matt Dusk, Planet Smashers, Sam Roberts, Subb, Vulgaires Machins, Gabrielle Destroismaisons, Meesh, Sarah Mc Laughlan, Blue Rodeo, Big Sugar, Butterfly, Eve.

By joing the Sennheiser worldwide sponsorship network, artists are provided with the most recent microphones and wireless audio technology for touring and studio recording. You can also count on our �around the world� touring technical support. In return, we are expecting Dr. Zoo to exclusively use Sennheiser microphones in all public appearances, as well as Sennheiser logo display on your web site, posters, CD booklets and concert sites.

Wishing you and Dr. Zoo a long and prosperous career touring around the world. Welcome to the Sennheiser family!

Marc Vincent
VP Sales & Marketing
Sennheiser Canada Inc. - Marc Vincent, VP (April 2004)

"Career Highlights"

Nominated for ECMA 2009 World Recording of the Year

Opened for Johnny Clegg and Freshly Ground in Swaziland April 2008

Nominated for 2006 SOCAN Songwriter of the Year by Music NL

Opened for Oliver Mtukudzi at House on Fire in Swaziland, March 2006

Invited to showcase at the 2005 East Coast Music Awards

Invited to perform at the 2005 Tour Tech Post Aids Benefit, Halifax

Japan Tour sponsored by The Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, April 2004

Invited to showcase at the 2004 ECMA's in St. John's, CMW's in Toronto and the Junos
by Sennheiser Canada

Finalist in the 2003 CMW National Songwriting Competition

Nominated for 2003 Alternative Artist of the Year for 2003 by Music NL

Showcased at 2003 Canadian Music Week and ECMA Yamaha Jam

Showcased at the Songwriter's Circle for 2003 Music NL Conference; also featuring Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea, Ron Hynes, and Damhnait Doyle

Opened for Canadian rock band 54-40 at the 2003 St. John's George Street Festival

Regular interviews and live performances on TV and Radio, including NTV, Breakfast Television, Q104's Route 104 in Halifax, the East Coast Kitchen Racket, Halifax NS, The Songwriters, CHMR-FM, St. John's, NF, Roger's Out of the Fog, CBC - Dr. Zoo

"The Telegram, September 2008"

Charting new territory
Dr. Zoo embarks on tour with music from two homes

Special to The Telegram

When Randal Arsenault embarks on an extensive cross-country tour this week, he will be offering something to Canadians perhaps no Newfoundlander ever has - a blend of traditional music and African sounds, or "Afro-Celtic Rock" as he calls it, coupled with extensive storytelling from his "two homes."

Arsenault, or "Dr. Zoo" as he's known musically, and his band kicked off the tour at Bianca's on Water Street Saturday night with a release party for "Southern African Field Studies," a six-track effort of re-worked songs from his successful sophomore album "42."

Since 2003, Arsenault has been steadily carving out a niche for himself in the local and Southern African music communities. He earned nominations for a Music NL Award in 2003, a SOCAN Songwriting Award in 2006, and achieved finalist status in the 2003 Canadian National Songwriting Competition.

Now, after more than a decade of splitting his time between Newfoundland and Southern African countries like Swaziland, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, and entertaining audiences in both continents, he's done more than charter new territory as a musician.

The Dr. Zoo moniker reveals another side of the worldly Newfoundland troubadour. Arsenault is also a zoologist and studies wild African herbivores like wildebeest, impala, and rhinoceros when overseas.

In fact, the title of the album is named after a field school he is in the process of starting in Swaziland, where he hopes to help students who share his passion for African wildlife achieve their dreams.

After earning a PhD in wildlife ecology from a university in Johannesburg, Arsenault says he achieved his "second dream."

His first was to make music for a living. "I thought, 'Jeez man, if I can (achieve) my second-biggest dream, I'm sure I can get the first dream.' So I went to producers in Johannesburg and brought them demo tapes and got the interest of the top producer in South Africa to record my first CD."

Fast forward five years and Arsenault is still basking in a lifestyle that allows him to simultaneously pursue his dual passions.

"The act of doing something fearful, in a way ... breaking down those fear barriers, it was a huge life change for me," he says, explaining the "just go for it" mentality he used to put everything on hold and make his way to Africa for grad school. "A lot of the themes I deal with in my songs are actually about that, challenging ourselves and what society expects of us."

The evolution of his music reflects his growing relationship with Africa. The songs from "Southern African Field Studies" feature his African band backing him and a fuller African embodiment in the music.

During his Saturday night showcase of the newly "Africanized" versions of his songs were the enchanting moments of innocence and naivete of a Newfoundlander exploring lands and culture so distant from home, at the same time searching for the "meaning of life."

During the anthemic "Welcome to Africa" Arsenault had the Bianca's crowd singing in various Southern African languages. Equally captivating were songs like "Come to Newfoundland and Labrador" and "Rub A Dub Dub," both possessing local relevance and the latter which Arsenault's father, a songwriter himself, penned decades ago. A re-writing of the song, which originally portrayed a Newfoundlander sailing around the island in his bathtub, now depicts a boy sailing around the world and witnessing the coastlines of places like Spain, Africa and Ireland.

"Let Me Go" most successfully epitomized the Afro-Celtic character of the music while covers of "Under African Skies" and "Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes," both from Paul Simon's "Graceland," revealed an obvious inspiration to Arsenault's music.

Already shortlisted for a 2009 Maritime theatre tour, Arsenault's "Southern African Field Studies" should be warmly received by listeners. And, considering the timing of its release, don't be surprised if his name surfaces when the East Coast Music Award nominees are announced. - Dr. Zoo Charting New Territory

"Reviews for Dr. Zoo "42""

"Dr. Zoo's new CD "42" is a bold and intriguing step that solidifies Randal Arsenault as of one Newfoundland's most talented and versatile songwriters!" Terry Parsons, CHMR 93.5 FM St. Johns, Canada

"...this collection of thoughts and experiences really connects. Let's listen together and discover every gem!" Rod Stockley, The Coast 101.1 FM St. John's, Canada
- Radio DJ's, October 2006

"Media Reviews from ECMA 2009"

Tara Mullowney
The Telegram 03/03/09
St. John's, Newfoundland

"...Other local acts which caught the attention of music lovers and industry representatives during the conference.....St. John’s-based musician Dr. Zoo, a.k.a. Randall Arsenault, was nominated for World Recording of the Year (which went to New Brunswick’s Ryan LeBlanc). He and his “Afro-Celtic rock” band, which consists of members from Newfoundland and Africa, performed on the MusicNL stage Friday night. He had the crowd clapping, dancing, and singing along to Zulu words by the end of his first song."

The Scope
St. John's, Newfoundland

"Never seen/heard these cats before, but dude’s commitment to Africa is staunch. Visit their website, omg it’s awesome. ECMA2009 nominees Dr. Zoo bust out “Afro-Celtic Rock and Stories from Newfoundland to Africa in Search of the Meaning of Life.” Vocalist Randal Arsenault has had a relationship with the sub-continent, and particularly southern Africa, since 1996, studying, travelling, and living. He’s on a mission to give us all a little language, so keep this in mind: Hello (English) / Sawubona (Zulu) / Jambo (Swahili). Got it?"

CBC Radio has identified the Dr. Zoo showcase as one of the highlights of ECMA, Angela Antle, CBC Radio - Various Media (March 2009)

"Industry Reviews from ECMA 2009"

David Hayman
Creative Producer/Music Supervisor
Toronto, Canada

I saw Dr. Zoo for the first time in Corner Brook Newfoundland at a rock show at midnight in a sea of ready-to-party teens and young adults. I had heard from Randal, whom I had met earlier in a pitch session, that the band had been focusing on the youth and adult audiences but when Dr Zoo performed they had every single young person in the crowd on their side. The entire crowd, myself included, was totally sold on the idea of Dr Zoo because from the first note it was clear that the band was both authentic and extremely talented.

Only after the amazing set did I find out that the band had just recently formed as an ensemble and had only practiced separately. I was floored. The band sounded tight as can be and had the entire audience sold on their presence at this rock show. The crowd was into it, so was I. They had us clapping along, shouting lyrics we had just learned and roaring with cheers on almost every band member's solo's.

Africa meets Newfoundland.... never thought it could work but now I can't imagine Dr. Zoo being anything other than what they are, a fusion of cultures that represent the diversity of Canadian music and once again proves that art based on personal experience is always shines the brightest because it is authentic and from the heart. There was a lot of love for Dr Zoo that night. I hope to hear a lot more from Randal and the band in the years to come. They are truly something special.

Doreen McCarthy
Director, Arts and Culture Centres
St. John's, Newfoundland

I just want to let you know how much my colleagues from the Deptartment and I enjoyed your first class showcase at the ECMA Conference in Corner Brook. Your band's energy, professionalism, talent and full engagement with the large audience were a delight to behold. Your original lyrics and dynamic celtic-african rhythms were absolutely compelling. I am confident you will receive numerous requests to tour, and we will certainly be reviewing that possibility for Arts and Culture Centres during our post-budget programme meetings in April.
- Various


Randal Arsenault and Dr. Zoo "Dr. Zoo's Last Dance" (2014)

- Nominated 2015 ECMA World Recording of the Year

Dr. Zoo "Southern African Field Studies" (2008)

- Nominated 2009 ECMA World Recording of the Year

Dr. Zoo "42" (2006)
- Nominated 2006 SOCAN Songwriter of the Year (Music NL) for "I Wish"

Dr. Zoo Self-titled (2003)
- Nominated 2003 Music NL Rock Artist of the Year
- Finalist in 2003 National Songwriting Competition for "Can Only Get Better"

In addition to festival, club and corporate shows,

Dr. Zoo performs school (and festival) workshops exploring music, drumming, culture, geography and ecology of Africa.



Afro-Celtic World: Paul Simon's Graceland meets The Pogues

Dr. Zoo is led by Randal Arsenault, singer/songwriter from the Celtic Island of Newfoundland, Canada, who is also the Director of the Southern African Field School. The band includes David Kabbashi from South Sudan (guitars), Darryl Swart from South Africa (drums; fmr Tree 63), Ghanaian-descent Nikki Hylton (vocals) and Alberta farm-girl Megan Brown (fiddle/guitar).

Dr. Zoo has garnered nominations for 2015 and 2009 East Coast Music Awards (ECMA), 2006 and 2003 Music NL Awards, and songwriting finalist for 2003 Canadian Music Week and 2012 South Country Fair.

Since 2003, Dr. Zoo has has toured throughout Canada, including festival and theatre tours, as well as tours to Japan, UK and South Africa. Dr. Zoo has opened for Johnny Clegg (Juluka/Savuka), Hugh Masekela, Freshly Ground, and 54-40, and showcased at the JUNOs, ECMAs, Canadian Music Week, Ontario Contact, Manitoba Arts Network, and Contact East. 

See video headlining Canada Day Festival: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DquJWdi8Jsc

David Hayman (Music Supervisor, VAPOR MUSIC Toronto) says:

"I saw Randal Arsenault and Dr. Zoo for the first time in Corner Brook Newfoundland (ECMA 2009) at a show at midnight in a sea of ready-to-party teens and young adults. I had heard from Randal, whom I had met earlier in a pitch session, that the band had been focusing on the youth and adult audiences but when Dr Zoo performed they had every single young person in the crowd on their side. The entire crowd, myself included, was totally sold on the idea of Dr Zoo because from the first note it was clear that the band was both authentic and extremely talented.....They had us clapping along, shouting lyrics we had just learned and roaring with cheers on almost every band member's solo's".

Website: www.drzoomusic.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/drzooworld/

Band Members