Mahala Rai Banda
Mahala Rai Banda

Many of the city’s biggest lakefront music festivals have been downsized in the past few years—the jazz and blues fests lost days in Grant Park, and the Celtic, gospel, and Latin fests were relocated to the much smaller Millennium Park—so it’s remarkable that the World Music Festival is ten days long for the first time since its second incarnation back in 2000, and that its lineup has leaped from 60 artists in 2009 to 100 in 2010.

The festival began Tuesday, September 21, with India Calling, a three-day block of programming that’s been showcasing a variety of Indian arts, mostly at the Chicago Cultural Center; it was made possible by an infusion of money from Incredible India, a project of India’s Ministry of Tourism that financed a similar event at the Hollywood Bowl last year. The more familiar portion of the festival—a week of shows spread across a couple dozen venues all over the city—kicks off Friday. Michael Orlove of the Department of Cultural Affairs says he’s been able to maintain the size and scope of the event thanks to more sponsorship and new partnerships with private music presenters around town—the Indian Classical Music Society, Sound Culture, Rationation—that reduce the financial burden on the city while giving the presenters a promotional boost.

Processing time for artists’ visas has been greatly reduced, though the paperwork and fees remain a significant burden for festival organizers. The bigger hurdle this year, says Orlove, is the IRS’s newly aggressive enforcement of the tax rules that apply to visiting performers. The actual tax owed is determined by the same graduated rates applied to U.S. citizens, but promoters are required to withhold 30 percent of artists’ earnings, which is usually a much greater amount—to recover the difference, artists must file U.S. tax forms. This hardly makes the prospect of performing in the States more attractive. All things considered, Orlove and his staff—especially longtime colleagues Brian Keigher, who took the driver’s seat this year, and Carlos Tortolero—have assembled a respectable roster with plenty of bright spots. This is an especially impressive feat when you consider that the three of them also organize the Summerdance series and the increasingly ambitious Music Without Borders concerts in Millennium Park. As usual many festival artists, including Khaira Arby, Deolinda, Oreka TX, Mahala Rai Banda, Barbara Furtuna, and the Portico Quartet, will be visiting Chicago for the first time.

As part of Thursday’s India Calling program, the Chicago Tourism Center hosts an art exhibit (10 AM-10 PM); on display will be photographs by Steve McCurry (best known for his famous cover portrait of a green-eyed Afghani girl for National Geographic) and paintings by Indian artist Paresh Maity. Across the street at the Cultural Center, the G.A.R. Hall hosts a Rural Artisans Village Marketplace (5-10 PM). In the Cultural Center’s first-floor Garland Room, there will be yoga and meditation classes as well as workshops in kirtan, mantras, and music healing by M. Harre Harren (4-6 PM).

The larger festival also includes some nonmusic features this year. A program of three documentaries about fest performers screens on Saturday, September 25, in the Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater (and one film repeats Tuesday at Instituto Cervantes). Monday through Thursday, September 27 through 30, the G.A.R. Hall hosts World of Instruments, an exhibit of about 50 musical instruments from around the globe, all of them from the private collection of Andy Cohn, owner of the remarkable Andy’s Music (2300 W. Belmont). Store staff and performers from some of the lunchtime Cultural Center sets will offer hands-on demonstrations, and visitors can download an audio guide with sound clips. On hand will be relatively familiar instruments like the kalimba and qanun as well as obscure ones like an English dital harp, a large Bornean lute called a sape, and a double-barreled Balkan shepherd’s pipe called a dvojnice. Certainly the most conspicuous will be a multioctave set of tuned gongs more than 50 feet long. The display is open whenever the Cultural Center is open, but instrument demos will only happen 11 AM-3 PM and 5:30-9:30 PM (except on Thursday, when they’re extended till 11:30 PM).

World Music Festival shows take place at 29 venues, and except where 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 or see

The show with Mahala Rai Banda and Balkan Beats DJ Roberto Soko on Friday night at Martyrs’ will be broadcast live on WBEZ (91.5 FM), and the early weekday performances at the Claudia Cassidy Theater will air as part of Continental Drift on Northwestern University’s WNUR (89.3 FM). The festival once again 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

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