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Global vibes — Chicago World Music Festival celebrates world beats

By Mary Houlihan | For the Sun-Times

Chicago’s festival season always goes out in a big way each summer with the annual World Music Festival (Sept. 11-22), a round-up of acts from destinations near and far.

“It’s the biggest world music festival in the country,” says festival director Carlos Tortolero. “It’s free and open to everyone who wants to get a taste of the world.”

Included among the more than 50 acts are an Ethiopian New Year celebration (various days); the return of Ragamala, an all-night celebration of Indian classical music at the Chicago Cultural Center (Sept. 18); and a performance by Manitoba artist Tanya Tagaq to complement a screening of the 1922 silent film “Nanook of the North” at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Sept. 19).

Now in its 17th season, the popular celebration of diverse sounds takes place in venues around the city. All performances are free. For a complete list of artists and venues, visit cityofchicago.org

Here are some highlights of this year’s offerings:

Ester Rada (9 p.m. Sept. 11, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln; 8 p.m. Sept. 12, The Promotory, 5311 S. Lake Park) Ester Rada’s Ethiopian roots are evident in her music but so is the influence of Israel where she grew up and now lives. Her songs showcase her powerful, soulful voice on a seductive mix of Ethiopian jazz, funk and R&B.

Ester Rada | PHOTO BY ADI HARARI
Ester Rada | PHOTO BY ADI HARARI

Dos Santos Anti-Beat Orquesta (9 p.m. Sept. 11, Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse; 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12, Chicago SummerDance, Grant Park, 601 S. Michigan) The roots of this Chicago-based band’s sound is cumbia and but the sound also riffs on chicha, the 1960s Peruvian flavor of cumbia that took the pan-Latin melting pot of sounds and fused it with psychedelic rock.

Dos Santos | Photo by Kerri Hacker for Chicago Singles Club.
Dos Santos | Photo by Kerri Hacker for Chicago Singles Club.

Cyro Baptista’s Banquet of the Spirits (8 p.m. Sept. 11, Martyrs’, 3855 N. Lincoln; 8 p.m. Sept. 12, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln) Cyro Baptista is one of the foremost percussionists in the world. He has worked with Paul Simon, Herbie Hancock, John Zorn, Laurie Anderson, Yo-Yo Ma and Caetano Veloso. Here he performs with his world music quartet Banquet of the Spirits.

Mahmoud Ahmed (3 p.m. Sept. 13, Millennium Park, Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph) A rare Midwest appearance by Ethiopian singer Mahmoud Ahmed whose song’s are rooted in tradition but also resonate with a funky, soulful groove. He is credited with bringing Ethiopian music to the world stage.

Estonian fiddler and singer Maarja Nuut | PHOTO BY RENEE ALTROV
Estonian fiddler and singer Maarja Nuut | PHOTO BY RENEE ALTROV

Maarja Nuut (Sept. 15, 6:30 p.m., Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 7 p.m. Sept. 16, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4545 N. Lincoln) Estonian fiddler and singer Maarja Nuut creates inventive arrangements of traditional songs from her homeland while also incorporating modern electronic layers and loops into her sound. She builds her performances layer by layer into a hypnotic cascade, taking listeners on a mesmerizing journey.

Orlando Julius & the AfroSoundz (9 p.m. Sept. 18, Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse; 3 p.m. Sept. 19, Millennium Park, Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph) Nigerian Afrobeat legend Orlando Julius plays classic Afrobeat with a psychedelic twist, heading into new and exciting directions. Few artists have been more crucial to the invention, development, and popularization of Afro-pop.

Kardemimmit (8 p.m. Sept 19, DePaul University Concert Hall, 800 W. Belden; 3:45 p.m. Sept. 20, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington) A Finnish folk quartet who sing as well as play the kantele, the national instrument of Finland, in both its 15 and 38 stringed forms. The music of Kardemimmit is fresh, but it has strong foundations in Finnish tradition.

Tal National (3 p.m. Sept. 19, Millennium Park, Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph; 7 p.m. Sept. 20, Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse) One of Niger’s most popular bands, Tal National is known for drawing on familiar West African elements — Congolese soukous, Nigerian highlife, Zimbabwean chimurenga — to create a distinct, finely-honed sound.

Lula Pena headlines City Winery on Sept. 22 | SUPPLIED PHOTO
Lula Pena headlines City Winery on Sept. 22 | SUPPLIED PHOTO

Zedashe Ensemble (8 p.m. Sept 19, DePaul University Concert Hall, 800 W. Belden; 5:45 p.m. Sept. 20, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington) The ensemble performs polyphonic songs and folk dances from the Republic of Georgia. They are the keepers of these songs, which were mostly lost during the Communist era.

Lula Pena (8 p.m. Sept. 21, City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph; 6:30 p.m. Sept. 22, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington) Portuguese singer-songwriter Lula Pena’s longing lyrics and wandering guitar lines descend from the 200-year old fado tradition, which has provided fertile ground for her unique musical reinvention of the style.

Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.