The Black Bear Combo, courtesy of the World Music Festival.

“2012 World Music Festival Preview”
By Benjamin Ortiz, Contributor
September 20, 2012

Skip from tune to tune on your digital MP3 player, and imagine landing in the show you’re sampling, not just the bare musical file but a universe entire, incarnated in a shuffle of piquant vocals, multiple instruments both familiar and foreign, stylized bodily call-and-response discotheque moves, and multihued costumes bespeaking textures and traditions that are now your birthright, your heritage as a Chicagoan.

Truly, the globe is ours every day of the year, but the 14th Annual World Music Festival, running from September 21 to 27, brings “One World Under One Roof” across 70-plus performances that are all absolutely free for the first time, now including more venues around the city that offer rare access to notable out-of-town artists and a taste of the year-round global sounds that are always ours to tour.

We’re lucky to have multi-cultural empresarios, post-national programmers, and a variety of venues plugged into a global pulse, and this Festival is as much a celebration of their consistent work as a chance to welcome new performers and spaces into the mix, from rock clubs to Park District pavilions and downtown salons of the city’s cultural institutions.

The Old Town School of Folk Music, for example, provides a constant roster of instruction and performance that crisscrosses the planet, but Matthew “Mateo” Mulcahy (Director of Community Projects and Events) especially looks forward to their presentation of Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto, “the godfather of a very unique and spectacular genre of music specific to Colombia,” he says. “I have been trying to present this band for several years and had wanted to bring them for the bi-centennial of Colombia’s independence two years ago, so I am especially excited about that show.”

Featuring the indigenous “gaita” flute, Latin Grammy winners Los Gaiteros will add not only specific Colombian folkways and instrumental expertise but also danceable panache through the wildly popular cumbia, one of the hottest pan-Latino rhythms around town signifying the mix of African, European, and Native American peoples in our hemisphere. Los Gaiteros appear at the Old Town on Sept. 26 and the National Museum of Mexican Art on Sept. 25, along with local dance/musical group Tarima Son digging into traditional Mexican strings and percussion by way of Pilsen.

Aside from the Old Town’s contributions to the Festival, Mulcahy looks forward to satisfying his own musical tastes: “I am most excited about Fatoumata Diawara and Pedrito Martinez … They are both fantastic artists and a great introduction to the genres that they represent. Super live shows!”

Appearing at the Mayne Stage (Sept. 23) and the Cultural Center (Sept. 24), Malian singer, dancer, and actor Diawara blends African traditions with European influences into powerful vocal delivery with fiery messages of empowerment and self-determination, accompanied by her own guitar strumming and percussion, weaving her ancestral Wassoulou heritage with pop, jazz, folk, and soul.

Cuban percussionist and band leader Pedtrito Martinez likewise appears at the Festival twice, and his gig with Buya  Bomba Ensemble at the Humboldt Park Boathouse promises a rumba blowout right in the heart of Puerto Rican Chicago.

Carlos Tortolero, Program Coordinator for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), points out that the Festival provides a significant Chicago debut for Los Gaiteros and Diawara. His description of organizing the event, with colleagues in his office and Sound Culture DJ/curator David Chavez, sounds like the construction of a collaborative playlist ranging novel fusions and cultural collisions across klezmer, samba, tango, flamenco-rock, Afrobeat, Latin jazz, gypsy punk, Slavic brass, and beyond.

As a local DJ and tireless world-music curator, Chavez simply doesn’t sleep on the most cutting-edge performances he can bring to town, and he has hosted a number of Festival events in previous years. He says that the advent of new personnel at the DCASE promises more open and participatory programming in years to come, with folks regularly involved in the international music scene on board. “This is a unique time for people who are a little bit adventurous in checking out new music, and it’s a chance for Chicagoans to explore their own city’s diversity without financial risk.”

His turntable alter-ego, Sound Culture, will also be cueing up DJ after-sets for Festival shows at the Mayne Stage, unleashing a smattering of the global bass traditions that he shares in his year-round lounge residencies.

To Chavez, the lineup of performers “serves as a beacon for the city internationally, showing that we are a global city and we celebrate that fact by producing the World Music Festival every year … Even though we’re a city known for being as segregated as it is, world music is one of those things that helps push diversity and helps bring awareness and exposure to people who might not typically be exposed to Indian culture, West African culture, and so on.”

Other notable local acts involved include the lively brass/drum Black Bear Combo, dance/percussion troupe Swing Brasileiro, and Afro-flamenco fusion artists Las Guitarras de España, and the festival concludes with an all-day finale at the Cultural Center.

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