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Stars from afar: Highlights of two-week World Music Festival Chicago

Mariachi Flor de Toloache will perform at World Music Festival Chicago 2017. | Provided photo

Educating the general public about indigenous music from around the globe is the goal of World Music Festival Chicago. Now in its 19th year, the two-week event features 40 artists from 20 countries performing free at venues around the city.


When: Sept. 8-24

Where: Various venues

Admission: Free

Info: (312) 744-3316;

Opening the festival is the all-night Ragamala: A Celebration of Indian Classical Music beginning at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 8 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington. A tradition in India, this is the rare opportunity to hear the ragas (traditional scales or modes) during the early-morning and late-night hours as they were meant to be played.

Chicago Gypsy Jazz Festival & Caravan Art Festival closes out the festival (1 p.m. Sept. 24, Band of Bohemia, 4710 N. Ravenswood) with performances by Alfonso Ponticelli and Swing Gitan, Harmonious Wail and the Sara Labriola Quartet.

And here is just a taste of what you’ll find in between these two events at the World Music Festival. Check out the festival’s website for a complete list of acts.

Salif Keita (8 p.m. Sept. 9, Concord Music Hall, 2047 N. Milwaukee): Known as the “Golden Voice” of Africa,” Salif Keita is from Mali, a country known for music that is both traditional and bold. He’s a pioneer when it comes to experimenting with various musical forms beginning with the music of the Mande tradition while also reaching out to jazz and Western pop influences such as Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles.

Salif Keita | Provided photo
Salif Keita | Provided photo

Betsayda Machado y La Parranda El Clavo (3 p.m. Sept. 16, Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph; 2 p.m. Sept. 17, Humboldt Park Boathouse, 1301 N. Sacramento): Raised in the small Venezuelan coastal town of El Clavo, Betsayda Machado now lives in Caracas, where she’s built a rich solo career. But she’s never forgotten her roots. Her recordings with lifelong friends Parranda El Clavo have brought new attention to Venezuelan Afro-Soul, a vibrant blend of percussion and vocals.

Bitori (7 p.m. Sept. 22, The Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park Ave. West; 8 p.m. Sept. 23, Concord Music Hall, 2047 N. Milwaukee): Victor Tavares, better known as Bitori, is a master of funana, a once-suppressed musical style in Cape Verde that’s come roaring back. A master on the accordion, Bitori, now in his late 70s, recorded his first album in 1997, and it brought this rousing music to a wider audience.

<br> Bitori will perform at World Music Festival Chicago 2017. | Provided photo

Bitori will perform at World Music Festival Chicago 2017. | Provided photo

Mariachi Flor de Toloache (9 p.m. Sept. 16, Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport): The members of this all-female mariachi group hail from diverse cultural backgrounds: Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Australia, Colombia, Germany, Italy and the United States. This diversity helps define their unique flavor and sound — a blend of traditional and modern. The result is an edgy, versatile and fresh take on traditional Mexican music.

Hong Sung Hyun’s Chobeolbi (6 p.m. Sept. 20, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; noon Sept. 21, Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington): Percussionist Hong Sung Hyun is a master on the janggu, a traditional instrument of Korean music. A member of the prestigious Korean percussion ensemble U-so, he formed Chobeolbi in order to explore the melodic side of his hourglass-shaped instrument. The ensemble’s repertoire shines a contemporary light on ancient melodies.

Seun Kuti | Romain Rigal photo
Seun Kuti | Romain Rigal photo

Vox Sambou (8 p.m. Sept. 14, Martyrs’, 3855 N. Lincoln; 7 p.m. Sept. 15, The Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park Ave. West): Montreal-based singer and rapper Vox Sambou grew up in Haiti’s countryside, where he embraced traditional island music. As a teenager in Port-au-Prince, he connected with reggae and hip-hop. A sharp lyricist and charismatic performer, he often uses his songs to confront social issues plaguing Haiti.

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 (8 p.m. Sept. 23, Concord Music Hall, 2047 N. Milwaukee): At the age of 8, the youngest son of Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti began performing with his father’s band, Egypt 80. The singer and saxophonist was only 14 when he took over the band after his father’s untimely death in 1997. He’s carried on Fela’s funky, explosive sound while also finding his own artistic voice. Instead of maintaining a simple tribute band, he’s taken his father’s legacy into new territory.

Bharath Symphony (3 p.m. Sept. 9, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph): The world premiere of a piece commissioned by World Music Festival Chicago to commemorate the 70th anniversary of India’s independence. Indian classical violinist L. Subramaniam composed the orchestral epic, which will be performed later this year at London’s Barbican Centre with the London Symphony Orchestra.

La Tribu de Abrante (2 p.m. Sept. 17, Humboldt Park Boathouse, 1301 N. Sacramento): A 12-piece orchestra from Puerto Rico, led by Hiram Abrante, that melds traditional bomba and plena melodies with salsa, Latin jazz, funk, reggaeton and urban pop. La Tribu’s infectious music is the background for a modern dance party.

La Tribu de Abrante will performs at World Music Festival Chicago. | Provided photo
La Tribu de Abrante will performs at World Music Festival Chicago. | Provided photo

Eva Salina (7:30 p.m. Sept. 13, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 7 p.m. Sept. 14, The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia): Growing up in the U.S. Balkan diaspora, Eva Salina was mentored by some of the great Balkan musicians. Her rich vocals weave through the intricate melodies of Romani songs, proving she is a modern interpreter of Balkan styles.