Chicago 2007

September 14-20

Early on the first night of the Viva! Chicago Latin Music Festival, a Saturday in late August, I happened to be driving south past Grant Park on Lake Shore Drive. I knew the festival was happening, of course, but if it hadn’t been for all the tents and sponsors’ banners I might’ve wondered–the lawn surrounding the Petrillo Music Shell was empty except for a few clusters of people sitting on blankets.

The Mayor’s Office of Special Events presents Viva! Chicago as well as Taste of Chicago, the jazz, blues, and gospel festivals, and this weekend’s Celtic Fest. The lineups for those fests all have their bright spots, but Viva! Chicago has become a real disaster. Though the festival is intended to represent the rich variety of music from around the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world, it almost always focuses on schlocky commercial stuff from Mexico and Puerto Rico. According to the city’s numbers, this year fewer people attended both days of Viva! Chicago than attended one day of Blues Fest–especially damning given Chicago’s large Mexican and Puerto Rican populations.

The World Music Festival, which kicks off today and runs through Thursday, is a project of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs–the mayor’s office helped get the fest off the ground in 1999, but it hasn’t been involved since 2000. No festival in Chicago has a broader lineup or represents more of the city’s diverse population–and this year, as usual, the WMF outdoes Viva! Chicago on its own turf, presenting music from Cuba, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Portugal, Spain, and Brazil.

Without the muscle of the mayor’s office to bring corporate sponsors aboard, though, WMF organizer Michael Orlove–whose entire staff consists of two assistants, Brian Keigher and Carlos Tortolero–has to struggle for funding every year. He usually gets only about 60 percent of the money he needs from the city; unlike other festival bookers, he has to scramble for the rest himself, and if he can’t find it the festival suffers. This year, he says, was especially hard, and his failure to sign on enough sponsors resulted in a budget almost 35 percent smaller than the one for 2006–and a lineup with about 20 fewer acts.

That’s not to say there’s a shortage of excellent music at this year’s festival. Two high points should be Morocco’s Orchestra of Tangier, which plays an austere and ancient strain of Arabic classical music, and New York’s Jose Conde, who blends a wide variety of Latin American styles without watering any of them down. The Department of Cultural Affairs was also responsible for this summer’s free Music Without Borders series in Millennium Park, thanks to a second consecutive annual grant from the Governor’s International Arts Exchange Program of the Illinois Arts Council–if you think of the fest as unofficially starting with that amazing lineup, which included the likes of Seun Kuti, Carlinhos Brown, Andy Palacio, and Toumani Diabate, then it hasn’t really lost any firepower at all.

World Music Festival shows take place at 26 venues around the city, and except where otherwise noted they’re free and all-ages. Advance tickets to events with admission fees are usually available from the venues; for more information call the city’s World Music Festival hotline at 312-742-1938, visit, or try the festival’s new MySpace page at

The concert headlined by Jose Conde on Friday evening at the Logan Square Auditorium will be broadcast live on WBEZ (91.5 FM), and the early weekday performances at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater will air on two local college stations: Loyola’s WLUW (88.7 FM) will broadcast the 11 AM concerts, and the 12:30 PM shows can be heard on Continental Drift on Northwestern University’s WNUR (89.3 FM).

As it has for the past few years, the festival closes with “One World Under One Roof,” a free extravaganza that transforms the Cultural Center into a minifestival, with overlapping sets in three different halls inside the building. PM



Guitarist Louis Mhlanga got his start as a sideman in Zimbabwe, most notably backing local star Oliver Mtukudzi, but his nimble, lyrical style has long embraced American influences as well as the Shona traditions of his homeland. He made his name across the border in South Africa, in collaborations with iconoclastic musicians like Hugh Masekela and Busi Mhlongo that let those influences shine through, but he undercuts his firm grasp of genres from across Africa and the West with a weakness for cloying, lightweight production better suited to smooth jazz. PM


In 1999 vocalist Dobet Gnahore moved from the Ivory Coast to France, the world epicenter of the African-music business, and her career took off. She’s thrown herself voraciously into the mix of pan-African sounds in her new home: on her recent second album, Na Afriki (Cumbancha), she sings in seven different African languages and creates polished, mostly acoustic, and equally polyglot music, aided by her husband, guitarist Colin Laroche de Feline. She’s a terrific singer, imbuing her pretty melodies with deep soul and devising novel percussive uses for her voice–some of her songs remind me of an unplugged version of the venerable Afro-European group Zap Mama. PM

Ismail Lumanovski & the NY Gypsy All-Stars

R Led by excellent young Macedonian clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski, this New York group–whose roster also includes members from Turkey and Greece–kicks up a hell of a ruckus for a quintet. Lumanovski, whose mastery of Roma traditions is reinforced by classical training, shares the front line with kanun player Tamer Pinarbasi, who gets an almost guitarlike sound from the instru-ment; the bandleader’s astringent, sorrowful horn lines tangle with the fleet, percussive runs Pinarbasi ham-mers out on his dulcimer. Kit drummer Jordan Perlson and darbouka hotshot Seido Salifoski keep up an insistent, funky throb, no matter how knotty and lopsided the time signatures get, and though bassist Panagiotis Andreou sometimes drops a bit too much sci-ence–he occasionally comes off like a fusion wanker–that’s hardly enough to spoil the fun. PM

12:30 PM | BORDERS ON STATELouis Mhlanga

See above.

7 PM | CHICAGO LATVIAN COMMUNITY CENTERChris Bajmakovich & Muzika 4 U featuring Ljupco Milenkovski

Based in Gary, Indiana, this group ofMacedonian-Americans plays Roma dance music with plenty of zest, but on the recording I’ve heard, bandleader Chris Bajmakovich too often sets aside his accordion to play a chintzy electronic keyboard–and he sounds just as weak doing it as the thousands of Balkan lounge lizards who’ve preceded him. With any luck the presence of guest musician Ljupco Milenkovski–a fellow Macedonian-American and a master of the traditional bagpipe called the gajde–will make this such a special occasion forBajmakovich that he’ll leave the cheap synth at home. PM


This local quintet of Croatian-Americans renders the Roma music of the Balkans and Hungary in a toothless form that’d be perfect for an Adriatic cruise ship. PM

7:30 PM | OLD TOWN SCHOOL OF FOLK MUSIC | $12Dobet Gnahore

See above.

Louis Mhlanga

See above.

7:30 PM | MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART | $12Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan

R Because so much of the Roma music we hear in Chicago comes from eastern Europe, it’s easy to forget that the Romany people–and yes, they are a single ethnic group, to the extent anyone can be these days–have their origins in northern India. The ancestors of these Rajasthani performers didn’t end up migrating quite so far over the past thousand years, so you could argue that their songs, dances, and costumes represent an earlier, purer form of the culture–though I suspect it’s just as mongrelized as any Balkan tradition, I doubt anybody alive can remember the ancient strains that went into it. Thankfully this band doesn’t try to rely on a pedigree, instead getting right down to the business of blowing you away. The six musicians stay seated during the show, but their reedy, keening, stirring sounds are totally riveting–in fact they don’t even get upstaged by the other two members, a sinuous female dancer and a fakir who walks on a bed of nails and eats fire. MK


This local band calls itself “Gypsy surf” but claims to have harvested rhythmic influences everywhere from Egypt to Peru–and as you might expect given that sort of ambition, it sometimes gets tangled up in its own eclecticism. Not all cuisines work well on the same plate, after all, and even if you’re lucky enough to end up with something yummy, it won’t necessarily be nourishing. Usually when you add rock ‘n’ roll to a stew like this, it gets blander by an order of magnitude, but fortunately these folks have just the right touch with that stuff–I’m not gonna say I can taste everything they say they’re putting in, but the end result is uplifting and exuberant all the same. MK

PM | LOGAN SQUARE AUDITORIUM | $12Jose Conde yOla Fresca

R Singer-songwriter Jose Conde was born in Chicago to Cuban parents but raised in Miami, where he absorbed a dizzying range of Afro-Caribbean sounds. His terrific Revolucion (Pipiki/Mr. Bongo), though grounded in Cuban music, is strongly American in its hybrid vigor: guided by unjaundiced ears, he creates imaginative blends of all kinds of party-stoking grooves. The compas of Haiti, the cumbia of Colombia, the joropo of Venezuela, the soca of Trinidad, even good old stateside funk–it all goes in, and what comes out is like a flare of supernova-bright inspiration bursting from Conde’s head, not a calculated combination or a formalist exercise. He’s got a killer band, Ola Fresca, to bring his notions to life, and the presence of an occasional high-profile guest–Meters drummer Zigaboo Modeliste, trombonist and salsa dura kingpin Jimmy Bosch–sharpens everyone’s performance instead of turning the tune into a showcase for the visiting star. No matter how many rhythmic or stylistic accents it manages at once, this music breathes organically, with slinky, propulsive beats supporting Conde’s simple melodies and pleasantly low-key vocals–rather than pile up flashy variations on a simple framework like a showboating sonero, he puts his faith in the strength of his songs. PM

Pacha Massive

This Bronx duo–Dominican multi-instrumentalist and producer Ramon Nova, formerly of King Chango, and Colombian bassist Maya Martinez–proves once again that electronica can absorb just about any kind of music and make it sound bland. On All Good Things (Nacional) Pacha Massive lays down a matrix of dub, drum ‘n’ bass, trip-hop, and hip-hop and uses it to soak up a blend of neutered Latin rhythms–if you need a soundtrack for sipping chocolatinis in the chill-out room, this ought to do fine. Colombian singer Lucia Pulido turns in a great cameo on “La Verdolaga,” but her splendid voice makes the music’s lack of personality even more starkly obvious. PM


There’s not much competition, granted, but Alla is far and away Chicago’s best Spanish-language rock band–and Jorge Ledezma, the group’s producer and one of three core members, writes sophisticated pop hooks that few English-language outfits in town can match. On Alla’s newest recordings, lush, elegant studio-crafted atmospheres cradle the pretty singing of Lupe Martinez, and the combination of sunny melodies and seductive beats recalls both the delicacy of bossa nova and the retro-futurism of Stereolab. PM

9 PM | HEARTLAND CAFE | $10RIsmail Lumanovski & the NY Gypsy All-Stars

See above.

Steve Gibons & Gypsy Rhythm Project featuring Nicolae Feraru

R These locals, led by manic violinist Steve Gibons, might be the city’s best practitioners of Roma music–and there’s only one ringer in the bunch, cimbalom virtuoso Nicolae Feraru, a Romanian expat who also leads his own group and a few years ago backed Serbian legend Saban Bajramovic at HotHouse. Gibons’s band brings the improvisational sophistication of jazz to Romanian and Bulgarian Gypsy music without smoothing out its ragged edges; bassist Dan Delorenzo and guitarist Mike Allemana spin some harmonically wild interludes, and drummer Tim Mulvenna deftly juggles the shifting meters no matter how brisk the tempo. PM

10 PM | SONOTHEQUE | $10 | 21+Barrio Boogalu: the Super Barrio Brothers vs. the Agœzate DJ crew

R The time seems right for a boogaloo revival. A variant of New York salsa with heavy strains of soul and R & B, boogaloo was wildly popular in the late 60s thanks to ultracatchy hits by folks like Joe Bataan, Joe Cuba, and Pete Rodriguez–the sound became so ubiquitous that just about everyone on the scene, including vets like Tito Puente and Celia Cruz, dipped into it at least once. Over the past couple years new owners have resuscitated Fania Records, a powerhouse New York City label that was at the heart of that scene for much of the 60s and 70s, and the music is becoming available again. Tonight two teams of local crate diggers, the Super Barrio Brothers (Joe Bryl and Supreme Court) and the Agœzate DJ crew (Abner Bardeguez and Omar Torres-Kortright), go head to head to see who has the best collection of Afro-Latin grooves. PM



R Balla Kouyate, a superb young balafon player from Mali, has already been through town supporting kora player Mamadou Diabate, but his band World Vision has legs of its own. The instrumentation is unlikely–Kouyate’s gorgeous, fluid balafon is accompanied only by the djembe of Pablo Dembele and the violin of Patty Tang–but it sure does work. Tang mostly stays in the background, sometimes approximating bass parts–her harmonies and countermelodies work like glue, connecting Kouyate’s warm and inventive lead lines to the simple, hypnotic hand-drum grooves. Most of World Vision’s material is traditional, but they do a killer version of “Chan Chan,” the Cuban classic by Compay Segundo. PM

1 PM | NAVY PIERChirgilchin

R Burned out on Burning Man? I’m a fan of immersive experiences in alien cultures, homegrown or otherwise, and I was mighty tempted by the 12-person camp that Chirgilchin’s label, Pure Nature Music, organized in the southern Siberian republic of Tuva this August–on top of traditional Tuvan meals, accommodation in actual yurts, a visit to a harvest festival, and lessons in Tuvan language and music, campers got to sit in on rehearsals with this masterful mixed-gender trad quartet. (Well, not entirely trad, since there are very old taboos forbidding women from throat singing.) Chirgilchin’s latest, last fall’s Will Teach, translates some of their pedagogical techniques to disc: many of the songs are demonstrations of throat-singing styles from particular regions and as mastered by particular individuals. And of course we get to hear more of their instrumental prowess–austere, galloping rhythms, played on traditional lutes and spike fiddles built by Aldar Tamyn, whose handiwork is in demand across much of Mongolia and Siberia. MK

1 PM | BORDERS ON MICHIGANRJose Conde yOla Fresca

See Friday, September 14.


The DJ from the Spam Allstars (see below) spins a set of his own.


Born in New York to Iranian parents, singer-songwriter Haale tries to work elements from the music of her ancestral homeland into the music of her cosmopolitan hometown, but arch Manhattan art-pop dances uneasily with the transcendent chants of the Sufi mystic tradition–and in cases like this, is David Byrne’s endorsement a blessing or a curse? Thankfully the power and conviction in her voice–buoyed by surging percussion and swirling figures played on an Iranian lute called a setar–carry her two self-released EPs, Paratrooper and Morning. And you can’t go wrong nicking lyrics from the poetry of Rumi and Attar . . . well, you can, but she doesn’t. Morning is the stronger disc to my ears, largely because it draws more on Persian sounds and less from pop, making for a richer, less structured version of her particular fusion. MK

3:30 PM | NAVY PIERLenka Dusilova

Slick, mediocre alt-rock exists just about everywhere, and singer Lenka Dusilova–a top 20 star in the Czech Republic–proves that eastern Europe is no exception. PM

4 PM | AFRIQUE RHYTHM FESTRBalla Kouyate & World Vision

See above.

6 PM | NAVY PIERPuerto Plata

R Singer and guitarist Puerto Plata (born Jose Cobles) is a living repository of vanishing traditions from the Dominican Republic. Now 84, he’s long had to struggle to get his music heard–because he grew up during the reign of dictator Rafael Trujillo, when guitar-based folk music was stigmatized as vulgar and low class, he could only find gigs in the seediest bars in the rough-and-tumble Santiago neighborhood of La Jolla–and he’s got the magnetic charisma of a man who’s been down but never out. He excels at the Dominican version of son, delivering his elegant, stripped-down songs with soulful gusto, and his repertoire also includes boleros, rancheras, a grassroots take on bachata, and an early form of merengue that’s long since been overshadowed by varieties based on accordions and saxophones. On the forthcoming Mujer de Cabaret (IASO), his first recording to be distributed internationally, he plays with the fire of a man one-fourth his age. PM


See Friday, September 14.

7:30 PM | MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART | $12Hazmat Modine

R It’s hard to find much of Old New York in New York these days, but on their latest, Bahamut (Barbes), Hazmat Modine sound like everything you might’ve heard spilling out of the windows on a Lower East Side street a century ago–except all mashed up into one seam-splitting mutant genre and amplified to within an inch of its life. I hear klezmer, blues, and swing, plus folk musics from Italy, Ireland, Germany, and Appalachia, and the instrumentation includes–well, God knows what it includes, actually, but the band’s fronted by gonzo dueling harmonicas, and I can positively identify slide guitar, saxophone, trumpet, a tuba that sounds like it’s been backed over by a truck, and (with help from the liner notes) a Chinese mouth organ and an Armenian double reed called a duduk. Oh, and Tuvan throat-singing stars Huun-Huur-Tu guest on three tracks–those are less “Doctor Who Meets the Gangs of New York” and more “Genghis Blues From the Black Lagoon.” MK


See above.


Romano Drom, a band from Hungary led by Antal “Anti” Kovacs of the venerated Ando Drom, were scheduled to play this show until Wednesday–according to festival organizer Michael Orlove, they were denied a security clearance, though their visas were approved more than two weeks ago. Fortunately the Department of Cultural Affairs was able to find a replacement on extremely short notice. The nine-piece New York band Romashka, fronted by a Lithuanian-born singer, plays the Roma music of Romania, Russia, and the Balkans with instrumentation that includes tuba, accordion, violin, trumpet, guitar, and saxophone. PM

RIsmail Lumanovski & the NY Gypsy All-Stars

See Friday, September 14.

9 PM | MARTYRS’ | $12 | 21+Spam Allstars

It was only a matter of time before Miami produced a band like this–the city’s a

vibrant collage of Afro-Caribbean cultures, a hip-hop hot spot, and a center of innovation in dance music. Unfortunately the Spam Allstars don’t do their hometown justice with the recent Electrodomesticos (Spamusica), a collection of funked-up Cuban grooves that sound like a kind of electro-descarga for jam-band fans. I’m sure the Allstars can rock a party as well as any DJ, but the album–despite impressive guests like James Brown saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, Martin Perna of Antibalas, and Latin-jazz percussionist Sammy Figueroa–is seriously a snore. PM

Pacha Massive

See Friday, September 14.

DJ David Chavez

Veteran DJ David Chavez, booker at the defunct HotHouse for the past few years, spins a mix of house, Latin, Brazilian, soul, funk, and electronica. PM

10 PM | KINETIC PLAYGROUND | $12 | 21+Yohimbe Brothers

It shouldn’t surprise anybody that the Yohimbe Brothers, led by Living Color guitarist Vernon Reid and DJ Logic, seem to be trying to go in a zillion directions at once–both musicians have always been restless, jumping from hard rock to hip-hop to jazz to blues. Their most recent album, The Tao of Yo (Thirsty Ear, 2004), is an entertaining, sprawling mess, with Reid waffling between solo heroics worthy of Sonny Sharrock and restrained vamps that serve the group sound, but ultimately the band seems like a typically incoherent side project–a real shame given the amount of talent on hand. PM


See above.


1 PM | NAVY PIERAndreas Kapsalis Trio

Chicago guitarist Andreas Kapsalis is a brilliant talent still in search of his best setting. His romantic, Spanish-inflected playing with this jazz trio, decked out with airy scalloping and filigree, occasionally meanders into the desert of new-age formlessness or sinks into the merely pretty–but on the group’s self-titled 2005 debut, he just as often seems to find a real purpose, following his star to some genuinely breathtaking places. Kapsalis’s latest project is the score for Nick and Marc Francis’s documentary about fair trade coffee, Black Gold. MK


See Saturday, September 15.

2 PM | BORDERS ON 53RDRHazmat Modine

See Saturday, September 15.

2 PM | ELI’S CHEESECAKE FESTIVALRBalla Kouyate & World Vision

See Saturday, September 15.

3 PM | CLAUDIA CASSIDY THEATERHuong Thanh & Nguyen Le’s Fragile Beauty Quintet

Huong Thanh, born in Saigon but now living in France, is a stunning interpreter of Vietnamese traditional music, the sweet tone of her voice contrasting beautifully with her sharp-edged phrasing, but I’m not all that keen on the arrangements jazz-rock guitarist Nguyen Le has put together for this group. He’s clearly skilled–I love it when he mimics traditional Vietnamese string instruments with his electric guitar–but too many songs are marred by treacly smooth-jazz trappings. PM

3:30 PM | AFRIQUE RHYTHM FESTLouis Mhlanga

See Friday, September 14.

5:30 PM | AFRIQUE RHYTHM FESTLekan Babalola

As a young man Nigerian percussionist Lekan Babalola played in the Yoruba Christian Church run by his father in Lagos, then in 1980 moved to London to study engineering and ended up making music his profession. He was hired by fellow expat Gasper Lawal, an Afrobeat maestro who’d worked with rockers like Ginger Baker and the Rolling Stones, and Lawal’s broad perspective rubbed off–since then Babalola has landed work with everyone from Fela Kuti to Roy Ayers to Branford Marsalis to Ernest Ranglin. The open-ended Afrobeat on his recent Songs of Icon (Mr. Bongo) ripples with a strong jazz feel, using funk to propel rather than shape the grooves, and a second disc includes broken-beat and house remixes. PM


See Saturday, September 15.

6 PM | NAVY PIERSpam Allstars

See Saturday, September 15.

7 PM | INTERNATIONAL HOUSERDhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan

See Friday, September 14.

PM | MARTYRS’ | $12 | 21+Romashka

See Saturday, September 15.

RHazmat Modine

See Saturday, September 15.

9 PM | EMPTY BOTTLE | $12 | 21+Huong Thanh & Nguyen Le’s Fragile Beauty Quintet

See above.


R Lots of bands don’t even exist for as long as it’s taken the Eternals to find the sweet spot in their heavy-duty hybrid of dub, funk, art-rock, electro, and hardcore–these locals have been playing together in one configuration or another for a decade, but only in the past three or four years have all their ideas made the leap from the drawing board to the sound system. The recent Heavy International (Aesthetics) is the second album front man Damon Locks and bassist Wayne Montana have recorded with drummer Tim Mulvenna, who’s turned out in many ways to be the trio’s missing link. With his help they push a rock-solid sound in just about every direction it’ll go–their fearless progressive instincts are about as punk as it gets. Off-kilter grooves, anchored by Montana’s nimble, sculptural bass lines, remain at the core of the music, but unexpected flavors jump out everywhere. Locks nonchalantly skips from an eerie falsetto to a hectoring rant to a kind of rhythmic jabbering derived from dancehall, tossing in odd melismatic flourishes that seem inspired by Oum Kalthoum records or east African taarab singing–and Mulvenna’s intricate, hypnotizing beats draw from an equally wide range of influences. I don’t know if there’s another band anywhere doing such a killer job playing to both the head and the feet. PM

9 PM | SONOTHEQUE | $5Lenky Don

Born in Trinidad but raised in Brooklyn, Lenky Don delivers a slightly stale hybrid of dancehall and hip-hop. It ain’t bad, but if you were paying attention you probably heard something like it five years ago–and if you weren’t, he won’t inspire you to catch up. PM

DJ Rikshaw

Richard Smith, aka DJ Rikshaw, has one of the city’s finest collections of vintage Jamaican music–rocksteady, roots reggae, hard-core ska, mind-bending dub plates, and more. He’s been sharing it with Chicagoans since 1995, when he founded the Deadly Dragon Sound System DJ crew to soften up Wicker Park indie-rock types and get them on the dance floor. These days he’s the resident Sunday-night DJ at Sonotheque. PM

9:30 PM | HIDEOUT17 Hippies

This veteran world-music group from Berlin, which actually has 13 members at last count, is eclectic in a particularly annoying way: with only a half-baked understanding of anything they’re appropriating, they combine elements of traditional music from Romania, Morocco, and most points in between to create a deliberately zany melange that might appeal to people who think They Might be Giants are paragons of sophisticated wit. PM



See Sunday, September 16.

12:30 PM | CLAUDIA CASSIDY THEATERAmbi and L. Subramaniam

Indian master violinist Lakshminarayana Subramaniam has caught some flak from purists for his forays into fusion–he’s toured and recorded with the likes of George Harrison, Herbie Hancock, and Stephane Grappelli–but it needs to be noted in fairness that his violinist brother L. Shankar, best known for his role in John McLaughlin’s group Shakti, has played on two Phil Collins albums. Of course Subramaniam has also had many years of rigorous training in Carnatic music, the classical form of southern India–rock stars don’t exactly beat a path to your door if you haven’t earned your bona fides on your own turf–and here he’ll demonstrate the mesmerizing beauty of Carnatic melodies. His 15-year-old son Ambi accompanies him on second violin. MK

6:30 PM | PRITZKER PAVILIONL. Subramaniam &Ensemble

See above. The ensemble in question includes Subramaniam’s son Ambi and four percussionists: Mahesh Krishnamurthy on mridangam, Satish Pathakota on kanjira, Ullur Giridhar Udupa on the clay-pot drum or ghatam, and Satya Sai Ghantasala on the Indian jaw harp called a moorsing. MK

PM | PRESTON BRADLEY HALLOrchestra of Tangier

R This veteran orchestra, affiliated with the Conservatory of Tangier, plays ala, the Moroccan strain of a form of music developed during Islamic rule in Spain and exported from Andalusia to the other countries of the Maghreb following the Reconquest and the Inquisition. The great Ahmed Zaitouni, a devoted educator and violist, formed the group in 1981; at home he employs a 16-member lineup that’s double the usual size, but the ensemble making this rare U.S. tour, which is stopping in only four cities, is a traditional octet of two oud players, two percussionists, two violists, one violinist, and one player of the spike fiddle called the rebab. The orchestra’s repertoire is limited: the Andalusian canon consists of 24 instrumental and vocal suites called nubas, each of which can take many hours to perform, and only 11 have survived the centuries intact. The group’s playing is stately and carefully measured, and as its conductor Zaitouni controls the subtlest rhythmic and melodic variations–instrumental passages alternate with elegant vocal lines, and though in this case the musicians follow the score quite closely, bits of improvisation dot their renditions of the various cycles. It seems that every year the festival presents a group or a musical style that we’d be lucky to hear in person once in a lifetime–since most of us don’t have the funds to travel the world at will–and this concert is the one for 2007. PM

10 PM | EMPTY BOTTLELekan Babalola

See Sunday, September 16.

DJ Peter Margasak

The Reader’s Peter Margasak spins African music.



This New York group, anchored by theremin player Michael Hearst and accordionist Joshua Camp, put out Wake Them Up (Barbes) last year, but they’re still best known for the 2004 release As Smart as We Are (Soft Skull Press), a CD and book (and later DVD) where they match wits with an impressive crowd of famous writers that includes Paul Auster, Margaret Atwood, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Lethem, and Neil Gaiman. Many of the literary lyrics have a distinct whiff of bar-napkin scrawl about them, which pairs nicely with the laissez-faire drollery of the music, and the overall effect is a whole lot of what the hell. Wake Them Up is less dramatic but more effective, perhaps because it gives the band’s playful, cluttered, klezmeroid noodlings a bigger share of the spotlight–I’m hearing They Might Be Giants by way of Flight of the Conchords. MK


See Sunday, September 16.

12:30 PM | CLAUDIA CASSIDY THEATERMaurice El Medioni meets Roberto Rodriguez: Descarga Oriental

R Maurice El Medioni grew up poor in the port city of Oran, Algeria, and turned to music at age nine, when his brothers brought home a salvaged piano they’d bought at a flea market. A self-taught player, he first focused on the jazz and boogie-woogie imported by Allied soldiers during World War II and the French chansons favored by the colonialists , but he soon made his mark by finding a way to incorporate the piano into rai, a local pop style that had traditionally used only percussion and rosewood flutes. In 1962, after Algeria gained its independence, his family was forced into exile by financial hardships and moved to France; by 1967 he’d settled in Marseille, where he still lives, and was making a living playing Arabic-flavored jazz in nightclubs. This project had its genesis in 2005, when El Medioni traveled to New York to record with the great Cuban percussionist Roberto Rodriguez, a member of Marc Ribot’s Los Cubanos Postizos who’s cut several excellent discs for John Zorn’s Tzadik label that fuse Cuban and Jewish music. On last year’s Descarga Oriental (Piranha) they find a surprising amount of common ground–no doubt in part because Algerian and Cuban music have a shared ancestor in the centuries-old traditions of Spanish Andalusia–and El Medioni’s vibrant charm dissolves whatever dividing lines remain in their mix of Afro-Caribbean rhythm, French cafe music, and Middle Eastern harmony. PM

7 PM | PRESTON BRADLEY HALLRMaurice El Medioni meets Roberto Rodriguez: Descarga Oriental

See above.


R Slide guitarist Vishwa Mohan Bhatt is not only one of the most exacting performers of Indian classical music but also one of the most inventive. Following in the footsteps of Brij Kabra, who adapted the slide guitar to Hindustani music, Bhatt created what he calls the “Mohan veena,” which has three melody strings, five drone strings, and a dozen more that are never plucked–these sympathetic strings, coaxed into vibration by the sounds of the others, give the instrument a sitarlike sound and make it more amenable to raga playing. Bhatt is a tasteful cross-cultural collaborator: he’s worked with everyone from Ry Cooder to Palestinian oud and violin virtuoso Simon Shaheen and has an album on the way with David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, and last year he released Desert Slide (Sense World Music), a fantastic project featuring folk musicians from the northern Indian region of Rajasthan, where the migration of the Roma began a millennium ago. No matter the setting, the calming, lyrical beauty of Bhatt’s playing shines through, but here he’ll stick to classical music. PM

Ambi Subramaniam

See Monday, September 17.

PM | MARTYRS’ | $12 | 21+17 Hippies

See Sunday, September 16.

One Ring Zero

See above.


R Born and raised in Tunisia, MC Rai started out singing chaabi, the street pop of the Arabic world, and then a little more than a decade ago changed his sound to incorporate the rai music of neighboring Algeria. Many rai singers end up in Paris–so many, in fact, that it’s become the ad hoc capital of the genre–but rather than make that move, MC Rai chose San Francisco, arriving in 2000 and eventually settling in Los Angeles. I haven’t heard his early recordings, but last year’s Raivolution (Embarka/Tanit) is a compelling alternative to most contemporary rai, which in its pursuit of mainstream listeners has grown flabby and overstuffed, the Arabic elements watered down to just an accent. Though MC Rai isn’t a purist either, his music retains a strong Arabic flavor–and its punchy programmed breaks and powerful doses of rock and hip-hop give it impressive muscle, a nice complement to his sweet, almost feminine voice. PM



Although Slovenia, like Macedonia and Serbia, was part of Yugoslavia, its folk music lacks the unique Balkan flair of their traditions. But vocalist Brina Vogelnik does her best to compensate for that: accompanied by a flexible quintet of violin, guitar, accordion, upright bass, and percussion, she brings an unflagging energy to those old songs (and to the occasional original tune). The arrangements, which are further embroidered by a host of guest musicians, display touches of folk-rock, reggae, and chanson, but the focal point is Vogelnik’s clear, powerful voice. PM


See Tuesday, September 18.

NOON | DALEY CIVIC CENTEREstrella Acosta’s Guajira Project

The U.S. embargo of Cuba has long since outlived its usefulness, if it ever had any, but the current administration’s maddening policies continue to stymie the efforts of musicians from the island to tour in the States–the only way we can hear Cuban music live is through expats. As you might gather from their name, Netherlands-based singer Estrella Acosta and her band play guajira, the countrified version of son popularized in recent years by Compay Segundo and Eliade Ochoa–though their take on the style is relatively urbane, largely due to Acosta’s smooth, sophisticated voice. She reminds me a little of Afro-Peruvian great Susana Baca, but sometimes her singing seems a bit too pretty and delicate for the band’s earthy sound. PM


R If someone were to ask you to name a kind of accordion music from Argentina, you’d probably say tango if you could think of anything. But accordionist Chango Spasiuk is from Argentina–specifically the province of Misiones in the northeast, near Brazil and Paraguay–and he has nothing to do with tango. He plays chamame, a lusty folk style dominated by triple-feel dance rhythms–one product of the intermingling in the late 1800s of the indigenous Mbya-Guarani tribe, freed African slaves, and immigrants from Spain and eastern Europe (Spasiuk is of Ukrainian descent). You can definitely hear traces of polkas and waltzes on his 2004 recording Tarefero de Mis Pagos (Piranha), and at times the music sounds like a less rowdy form of ranchera, but it also has a dusky, heady quality that brings to mind the strikingly red earth Misiones is famous for. Spasiuk’s accordion tangles with bandoneon and violin on the front line, and thumping upright bass and booming cajon, or box drum, give the up-tempo tunes a propulsive bounce. PM

RVishwa Mohan Bhatt

See Tuesday, September 18.


See Tuesday, September 18.


R The melancholy Portuguese music called fado was long practically embodied by the great Amalia Rodrigues, and the genre’s recent renaissance has brought singers like Mariza, Ana Moura, and Cristina Branco to Chicago–all of which might suggest that it’s strictly a female art. But men have always sung it too, and Helder Moutinho is one of fado’s rising male stars. He wrote most of the songs on his latest album, Luz de Lisboa (Ocarina), and he sings with stunning purity and passion, his melodies combining beauty and sorrow to heartbreaking effect. Like Moura, he doesn’t tinker much with tradition: the instrumentation is the tried-and-true combo of Portuguese guitar, acoustic guitar, and upright bass, which leaves his crystalline voice–trembling with the slightest vibrato–front and center where it belongs. PM


See above.

Eastern Blok

Led by Croatian guitarist Goran Ivanovic, Eastern Blok (formerly the Goran Ivanovic Group) has been experimenting with a fusion of jazz, Balkan sounds, and flamenco for several years. On the brand-new Folk Tales reedist Doug Rosenberg, bassist Matt Ulery, and drummer Michael Caskey display an impressive mastery of the disparate genres that inform Ivanovic’s tunes, but too often they play with a proggy fussiness makes it hard to enjoy the music. PM

Lenka Dusilova

See Saturday, September 15.

7:30 PM | INSTITUTO CERVANTES | $15D3 Flamenco Jazz

One of the most profound innovations introduced by legendary guitarist Paco De Lucia was the incorporation of jazz-style improvisation into flamenco, but few musicians since have pulled off the combination credibly–and I would’ve preferred it if Al Di Meola had never tried. Saxophonist Jorge Pardo, who fronts D3 Flamenco Jazz with bassist Francis Pose and percussionist Jose Vazquez, is a veteran of De Lucia’s sextet, but on his own he inverts his old boss’s fusion, playing jazz subtly overlaid with the fierce, rigorous rhythms of flamenco. PM


See above.

PM | MARTYRS’ | $12 | 21+Cyro Baptista & Beat the Donkey

This pomo dance band, led by master percussionist Cyro Baptista, mixes and matches regional Brazilian styles with bits of jazz, reggae, funk, drum ‘n’ bass, hard rock, and even gamelan music. Crazed, kinetic percussion changes direction almost constantly under buoyant sing-along melodies delivered by a slew of vocalists and instrumentalists. I’m not a fan of Beat the Donkey’s kitschy, theatrical side–they’re sometimes so aggressively high-spirited they sound cut out for a PBS kids’ show. But that goofy stuff is probably an unavoidable side effect of the group’s go-for-broke onstage energy. PM


See Tuesday, September 18.

:30 PM | OLD TOWN SCHOOL OF FOLK MUSICRMaurice El Medioni meets Roberto Rodriguez: Descarga Oriental

See Tuesday, September 18.

Estrella Acosta’s Guajira Project

See above.

9:30 PM | HIDEOUT | $10 | 21+Mucca Pazza

R Though local “circus punk marching band” Mucca Pazza is usually 30 members strong, it’s apparently able to adapt that unwieldy lineup to almost any occasion–in the past two years the group has appeared on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, played Lollapalooza, taken to the Chicago River in a flotilla of canoes, and blasted sleepy music geeks awake with an impromptu morning parade at the WLUW Record Fair. Dressed in scavenged, mismatched marching-band finery, Mark Messing’s glorious noisemakers demonstrate a deliriously nerdy not-quite-precision in their more-or-less choreographed formations, rambunctious vocal chants, and boozy jazz-funeral horn brawls. Many of their shows have been benefits for local causes and charities, but their debut release, A Little Marching Band, only hints at their civic-mindedness and fondness for audience participation. This gig kicks off a four-day Mucca Pazza blowout at the Hideout–tonight the band will allegedly play music by Shostakovich, Bartok, and Black Sabbath, and members will collaborate with the Immediate Sound group (see below). MK

One Ring Zero

See Tuesday, September 18.

Immediate Sound series

Every Wednesday night the Hideout hosts the Immediate Sound series, one of the city’s most important showcases for jazz and improvised music. Tonight’s band is an ad hoc quartet of locals: trombonist Jeb Bishop, percussionist Michael Zerang, saxophonist Dave Rempis, and bassist Kent Kessler. PM


11 AM | CLAUDIA CASSIDY THEATERCyro Baptista & Beat the Donkey

See Wednesday, September 19.

RHelder Moutinho

See Wednesday, September 19.


R A flamenco singer from Huelva, Spain, Sebastian Cruz was added to the festival at the last minute to replace the Tuareg group Tartit, which canceled its U.S. tour a couple weeks ago, but judging by the live recording I’ve heard he’s no second-call act. Cruz sings with stunning gravitas and emotional depth, especially considering he’s only 30, and his classic style relies on subtle melisma and nuances of intonation rather than bombast; he’s accompanied for his stateside debut only by guitarist Raul Cantizano of Seville. In 2004 festival organizer Michael Orlove booked the young singer Pitingo at Chicago’s annual flamenco festival before he’d released any recordings, and now he’s a star in Spain. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cruz follows a similar path. PM

Kiran Ahluwalia

Kiran Ahluwalia sings what you might call neo-ghazals, updating that ancient form of love song with touches of modern pop and jazz–an approach that’s turned off a few traditionalists but attracted a few new fans too. Though she’s apprenticed with ghazal master Vithal Rao in India, Ahluwalia has spent most of her life in Canada, as have many of the Indian and Persian poets she’s tapped for lyrics. She’s operating in an entirely different context from the singers who gave the genre its shape, and she seems to have chosen to acknowledge that–she famously collaborated with Cape Breton trad fiddler Natalie MacMaster on her 2005 self-titled album. Her latest, Wanderlust (Times Square), doesn’t quite pierce the heart with longing, but it does manage to be simultaneously airy, buoyant, and haunting. MK

12:30 PM | BORDERS ON STATERChango Spasiuk

See Wednesday, September 19.

6:30 PM | PRESTON BRADLEY HALLKiran Ahluwalia

See above.

7 PM | CLAUDIA CASSIDY THEATERAmazones–Woman Drummers of Guinea

For centuries taboos have prevented women from playing the djembe in Guinea, but that hand drum is the instrument of choice for the ten-member percussion troupe Amazones. Their powerful polyrhythms and elaborate choreography create rich narratives without words. PM


See Wednesday, September 19.


See Wednesday, September 19.

9 PM | CLAUDIA CASSIDY THEATERCyro Baptista & Beat the Donkey

See Wednesday, September 19.


See above.

9:30 PM | RANDOLPH CAFERHelder Moutinho

See Wednesday, September 19.

Afrique Rhythm Fest Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson, 773-463-7200,

Borders 4718 N. Broadway, 773-334-7338,

Borders 2817 N. Clark, 773-935-3909,

Borders 1539 E. 53rd, 773-752-8663,

Borders 830 N. Michigan, 312-573-0564,

Borders 150 N. State, 312-606-0750,

Chicago Latvian Community Center 4146 N. Elston, 773-463-2288,

Claudia Cassidy Theater Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630,

Conaway Center Columbia College, 1104 S. Wabash, 312-344-7188,

Daley Civic Center 50 W. Washington, 312-744-3370,

Eli’s Cheesecake Festival 6701 W. Forest Preserve, 773-205-3800,

Empty Bottle 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401,

Garfield Park Conservatory 300 N. Central Park, 312-746-5100,

Heartland Cafe 7000 N. Glenwood, 773-465-8005,

Hideout 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401,

Humboldt Park Boathouse 1301 N. Sacramento, 312-742-7529,

Instituto Cervantes 31 W. Ohio, 312-335-1996,

International House University of Chicago, 1414 E. 59th, 773-753-2274,

Kinetic Playground 1113 W. Lawrence, 773-769-5483,

Logan Square Auditorium 2539 N. Kedzie, 773-252-6179,

Martyrs’ 3855 N. Lincoln, 773-404-9494 or 800-594-8499,

Museum of Contemporary Art 220 E. Chicago, 312-280-2660 or 312-397-4010,

Navy Pier 600 E. Grand, 312-595-5184,

Old Town School of Folk Music 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000 or 866-468-3401,

Preston Bradley Hall Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630,

Pritzker Pavilion Millennium Park, Michigan & Randolph, 312-742-1168,

Randolph Cafe Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630,

Sonotheque 1444 W. Chicago, 312-226-7600,