Mehter Ottoman Turkish Military Band
Mehter Ottoman Turkish Military Band

Both the Jazz Festival and the Blues Festival took a hit from the tough economy this year—the former lost its big Thursday-night kickoff show, the latter its entire Thursday—so I was expecting the World Music Festival to slim down too. In fact, early this summer festival director Michael Orlove told me that there would probably be only 20 acts total, about 60 percent fewer than in past years.

Foundation support is down from 2008, and the Department of Cultural Affairs has yet to patch the hole created by the loss of a few big corporate sponsors, most notably Borders, after the 2007 festival. But surprisingly the city’s contribution to the fest budget stayed more or less the same this year, and the lineup turns out to be roughly the same size too. A total of 60 acts will perform, and many of them—including Mostar Sevdah Reunion, Jair Oliveira, Momo, Hanggai, the Orchestra of Tetouan, Parno Graszt, and Naomi Shelton—will be visiting Chicago for the first time.

The arduous and arcane process of securing visas for international acts remains a huge hurdle, and this year Ethiopian singer Minyeshu was forced to cancel her appearances after her application was denied (at press time Orlove hadn’t been given an explanation). The weak dollar likewise continues to cause trouble for the festival—Orlove and his staff of two, Carlos Tortolero and Brian Keigher, have had to redouble their booking efforts because artists can make better money on European tours. All things considered, they’ve assembled a respectable roster with plenty of bright spots—especially impressive when you consider that the three of them also organize not only the Summerdance series but also the increasingly ambitious Music Without Borders concerts in Millennium Park.

World Music Festival shows take place at 21 venues around the city, 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 Watcha Clan on Friday night at Navy Pier 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 as part of 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

[Venue Info]


Noon | Claudia Cassidy Theater |

Markus James & the Wassonrai Singer and guitarist Markus James grew up around Washington, D.C., and while still in grade school encountered West African music at the Smithsonian Institute’s Folklife Festival, beginning a lifelong addiction. James is essentially a bluesman, and the circular grooves of Mali and Guinea in which he’s immersed himself are widely considered ancestral to the blues. Though he’s white, he’s got a deep feel for African and African-American traditions, and on his albums—the most recent is last year’s Snakeskin Violin (Firenze)—his original songs benefit from embellishments by great African instrumentalists like Mama Sissoko, Vieux Farka Toure, and Mamadou Sidibe. Unfortunately his tunes are strictly boilerplate, and he sings in a flat, unappealing croak. He’s joined here by two Guinean multi-instrumentalists, Karamba Dioubate and Amadou Camara, both of whom play kamele n’goni, calabash, and karinye and add backing vocals. —PM

Watcha Clan On last year’s Diaspora Hi-Fi (Piranha) this group from Marseilles, France, sings in six languages—French, Arabic, Yiddish, English, Spanish, and Hebrew—and borrows musical influences from the Mediterranean, northern Africa, and even the Balkans. The Watcha Clan’s dance-floor eclecticism is the kind that gives multiculturalism a bad name, though—not to knock dance music, but topping off programmed beats with superficial nods to a hodgepodge of traditions is hardly the best way to encourage your listeners to appreciate the integrity of other cultures. —PM

The Pai No Pai This Tokyo quintet treats traditional folk songs and ballads from its homeland to polished pop-rock interpretations so hokey and cliched they sound like unintentional parodies by clueless Westerners. The silly orientalism in the Vapors’ “Turning Japanese” hurts my soul less than this stuff. —PM

7 PM | Navy Pier |

The Pai No Pai See above.

Jair Oliviera
Jair Oliviera

8 PM | Old Town School of Folk

Music | $15, $13 members

Mostar Sevdah Reunion presents Ilijaz Delic Formed in 1993 by producer Dragi Sestic, this ensemble from Mostar, Bosnia, revives sevdah, an achingly sorrowful ballad style that’s been crowded out of the marketplace in recent decades by treacly turbopop. Mostar Sevdah Reunion not only reclaims a piece of history with its dazzlingly vital music but also serves as a symbolic reminder of the multiethnic harmony of the prewar Balkans, with a lineup that includes Croats, Serbs, and Bosniaks. The ensemble has worked with brilliant Romany singers like Saban Bajramovic and Ljiljana Buttler as well, expanding its already vast repertoire to include many other styles from the region. On this trip they’re bringing their primary singer, Ilijaz Delic, a charismatic exponent of sevdah who pours himself into each melancholy tune as if it were his last, his voice jousting with moaning clarinets and woozy accordion. —PM

8 PM | Uncommon Ground | $5 suggested donation

Mar Caribe Led by Tom McGettrick, whose banjo provides the lead voice, this local instrumental outfit refracts traditional Latin and South American music through a prism of moody, soundtracky ambience. It’s pleasant enough, but it doesn’t seem to aspire to be be anything more than wallpaper. —PM

Markus James & the Wassonrai See above.

8 PM | World Music Company | $15

Cara Dillon I have an irrational dislike of Irish folk music—Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago can do that to a person—but when I really interrogate my reaction, I’m usually just aggravated by the piercing sounds of whistles and Uilleann pipes or the brainless, manic rhythms of a jig. It wouldn’t be fair of me to take my prejudices out a singer like Cara Dillon. She’s been the toast of the traditional Irish music world for a few years now, and I have to say, her new Hill of Thieves (Charcoal/Proper) is lovely—though I do prefer the songs without pipes and whistles. All but one song is traditional, and the subdued, contemporary-sounding arrangements by Dillon, her husband, and musical partner Sam Lakeman—which also include acoustic guitar, piano, fiddle, mandola, and bodhran—leave the focus squarely on her sweet, gossamer voice. —PM

8:30 PM | Chicago Latvian Community Center | $15

suggested donation, $10 students, $8 kids

Steve Gibons Gypsy Rhythm Project Over the past four years the band led by manic violinist Steve Gibons has grown into one of Chicago’s go-to groups for stripped-down, old-fashioned Roma music—and there’s only one ringer in the bunch, cimbalom virtuoso and Romanian expat Nicolae Feraru (who also leads his own ensemble). Gibons and company bring the improvisational sophistication of jazz to Romanian and Bulgarian Gypsy music without smoothing out its ragged edges; bassist Dan Delorenzo, accordionist Juliano Milo, and guitarist Mike Allemana embark on some pretty wild harmonic excursions, and drummer Tim Mulvenna deftly juggles the shifting meters no matter how brisk the tempo. Dance lessons begin before the show at 7 PM. —PM

Orkestar Sloboda Milwaukee’s Orkestar Sloboda are the Platonic ideal of the Balkan wedding band—sometimes when immigrants try to re-create the old country, what they end up with is more refined and transcendent than anything that ever actually existed back home. Master accordionist Milan Kontich formed Sloboda in 1972, drawing on the membership of two local Serbian Orthodox churches, and over the course of several hiatuses and regroupings its repertoire has come to include traditional tunes from Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Armenia, Russia, and Israel. (Yes, they will play “Hava Nagila” if you ask.) Kontich is still the star of the show, and rightfully so. —MK

9 PM | Navy Pier |

Watcha Clan See above.

10 PM | Martyrs’ | $12, 21+

Cheb i Sabbah DJ and producer Cheb i Sabbah is a Jew from Algeria, and ever since he began his career with a series of albums that remixed and technofied traditional South Asian sounds, his ideals of ethnic and cultural reconciliation through music have been highly influential. For his latest, last year’s Devotion (Six Degrees), he returned to India for his sources, producing a work that’s quieter and more patient than much of what preceded it—ragas and devotional singing (khirtan and qawwali) take the lead and his driving beats follow, with a sort of reverent sensuality. —MK


Red Baraat This young New York nine-piece, led by jazz percussionist Sunny Jain, calls what it plays “dhol ‘n’ brass”—a cute pun that didn’t prepare me for the vibrance and heft of the music. With six horn players and three percussionists, including superb jazz drummer Tomas Fujiwara, the band artfully hybridizes Indian bhangra and something akin to New Orleans second-line funk. I agree, it sounds iffy on paper, but Red Baraat kills it. On the group’s forthcoming debut, Chaal Baby (due in January), Jain leads the way on the double-headed Punjabi drum called the dhol, chanting terse phrases, shouting encouragement, and banging out the kind of snaky, propulsive beats you’ll recognize instantly if you’re ever heard a bhangra record. The group plays a mixture of originals, covers, and traditional songs, and despite the number of directions the music goes in at once—jazz-level improvisation, low-end funk courtesy of tubaist John Altieri, wild skeins of vibrato-heavy saxophone that suggest the great wedding bands of India—it never sounds schizophrenic. Plus it’s fun as hell. —PM

Radiohiro This veteran DJ and producer, half of the Bombay Beatbox crew, is best known for tweaking the sounds coming out of England’s Asian Underground, but his latest material is more ecumenical—some of it benefits from the presence of Panamanian native MC Zulu, an artist Chicago is lucky to claim as its own. His beats aren’t exactly au courant, though—as he proclaims on his Web site, “Radiohiro thinks Burning Man rocks (still).” —PM

10 PM | Uncommon Ground | $10 suggested donation

Beaba do Samba This lively local quintet—which includes three native Brazilians—plays lean, all-acoustic samba, pagode, and bossa nova tunes. Singer Silvia Manrique is a natural, delivering the sophisticated melodies with ease and sensuality. —PM

[Venue Info]


1 PM | Navy Pier |

Cara Dillon See September 18.

3 PM | Navy Pier |

Guy Mendilow Band Inasmuch as “world music” is a genre, Guy Mendilow—a singer-songwriter born to an Israeli family and a veteran of Palestinian/Israeli reconciliation group Seeds of Peace—plays it. He’s spent much of his life in South Africa and Brazil and is skilled at both overtone singing (of the Tuvan type) and berimbau (the signature instrument of Bahia, a sort of string-percussion hybrid)—two sounds that turn out to be pretty awesome together. However, the majority of his album Skyland (Earthen Groove), recorded in Boston, could just as easily be categorized as alt-folk: it’s by turns melodic, playful, awkwardly funky, scholarly, and melancholy. —MK

3 PM | Rogers Park World Music Festival |

Kusun Ensemble Most African music-and-dance troupes that make it to America cater so thoroughly to Western audiences that I often wonder if I couldn’t get a better feel for the original traditions from a library book. I’ve only seen Ghana’s Kusun Ensemble on a short DVD, but the group’s exuberant, acrobatic moves have a refreshing looseness—krumping’s got nothing on this stuff. It’s not that they aren’t carefully rehearsed—the focus just seems to be on the crispness and energy of the dances, not on wrapping them in a big showbiz production. The ensemble’s music—traditional percussion, melodic singing, and funky, infectiously fluid guitar, which they call “nokoko”—makes a fine backdrop for the choreography, and their 2005 album Nokoko (Kusun Productions) can generally stand on its own. —PM

6 PM | Navy Pier |

Parno Graszt
Parno Graszt

Red Baraat See September 18.

7 PM | Edgewater Gralley Festival | $10,

$8 in advance, seniors and kids $5, $4 in advance

Chicago Afrobeat Project Active since 2002, this local combo has stayed true to its name, rarely deviating from the hard-driving Afrobeat sound pioneered by Fela Kuti. On the group’s second album, 2007’s self-released (A) Move to Silent Unrest, it tightened up its attack, sticking to its guns stylistically despite some jazzy voicings from guests like guitarist Bobby Broom and singer Ugochi Nwaogwugwu (a regular collaborator of flutist Nicole Mitchell), and last year’s EP Off the Grid is more of the same. I find Nomo more compelling—they began with Afrobeat and then expanded into something intricate, hypnotizing, and totally sui generis—but the Chicago Afrobeat Ensemble can definitely deliver the goods. —PM

Kusun Ensemble See above.

Cara Dillon See September 18.

7:30 PM | Museum of Contemporary Art | $15

Orchestra of Tetouan Al-Andalus, as much of medieval Spain was known while under Islamic rule, was one of the great creative centers of the world. Literature, theology, architecture, astronomy, medicine, music, and the natural sciences all flourished in an environment of intellectual curiosity and relative tolerance, where Muslims, Sephardic Jews, and Christians influenced one another. Of course it couldn’t last, and as the Reconquista progressed south across the Iberian peninsula over the centuries, much of the resulting Muslim disapora passed through the Moroccan port city of Tetuan. Founded in 1944 and now in its third generation, the Orchestra of Tetouan aims to keep Andalusian musical traditions alive—its members play European instruments like violin and viola alongside oud, rebab, darbouka, and qanun and crown the austere and stately songs with haunting, wailing vocals. —MK

Al Sham Ensemble This local quartet, led by Syrian-born ney player Naief Rafeh, specializes in classical Arabic music. The group also includes Palestinian oud player George Zladeh, Syrian percussionist Omar al Musfi, and Palestinian violinist Zafir Tawil, who frequently works with trumpeter Amir ElSaffar. —PM

8 PM | Old Town School of Folk Music | $15,

$13 for members

Maria de Barros Like many contemporary stars of Cape Verdean music, including Lura, Maria de Barros is connected to the islands only through her family: she was born in Senegal and grew up in Mauritania. On the recent Morabeza (Sheer Sound) she draws not only on morna—Cape Verde’s best-known traditional music, made famous by Cesaria Evora—but also on coladeira, a brisk dance music descended from morna, and on international styles like fado and reggae. I find the production on her recordings a bit slick and fussy, but it doesn’t obscure the easy soul in her malleable voice. —PM

Markus James & the Wassonrai See September 18.

9 PM | Navy Pier |

Fool’s Gold I think it’s great that the members of this Los Angeles outfit, led by singer and bassist Luke Top and guitarist Lewis Pesacov (Foreign Born), are exploring African music alongside krautrock and 80s dance pop—I support bands with diverse tastes on general principle. Unfortunately, on their forthcoming self-titled debut for Iamsound, Fool’s Gold sound like they’re just doing impressions. One track imitates Kenyan benga, another the desert blues of groups like Tinariwen, a third the vintage sounds of the Ethiopiques series. They pull off some pretty good simulations, but I’d prefer to hear them incorporate the music they love into something that requires a touch of their own personalities. —PM

9 PM | Sonotheque | $12, 21+

Turntables on the Hudson Since 1998 this New York DJ crew, helmed by two guys known only as Nickodemus and Mariano, has been flavoring its mixes of disco, funk, electro, and house with international grooves like cumbia, reggae, dancehall, and Balkan brass. But make no mistake, this is club music first and world music second. —PM

DJ Shannon Harris In his work for his own Urbanicity label, this veteran Chicago DJ and producer has drawn mostly on techno, disco, soul, and funk, but he sometimes taps into international sounds too, like the Fela-style guitars on “Leroy B-Boy.” —PM

DJ Striz Chicago’s DJ Striz (aka Ben Stroh) maintains a residency at Sonotheque, spinning a mix of downtempo hip-hop, broken beat, and house that’s spiced with bits of funk and jazz. —PM

10 PM | Martyrs’ | $12, 21+

Orchestra Of Tetouan
Orchestra Of Tetouan

Parno Graszt Like Romania’s Taraf de Haidouks, Parno Graszt (“White Horse”) exist as a band mostly to satisfy the international hunger for Romany music—at home in Paszab, Hungary, they’re just part of the community, and whenever a wedding or other celebration calls for dancing music, the members who happen to be around get together to play. They’ve been playing as Parno Graszt for two decades, and on their three albums they bring unbridled vigor to traditional Romany material from northeastern Hungary and Romania. The songs on their latest album, 2007’s This World Is Made for Me (Podium), rocket along at breakneck speeds; a few tracks are enhanced by cimbalom, violin, and tarogato, but they’re driven by vigorously slapped double bass, multiple chugging acoustic guitars, and plenty of spirited vocals—charmingly ragged unison melodies, whooping choruses, and wordless percussive sounds (called “oral bass” in the liner notes). The music’s loose jazziness reminds me of the Quintette du Hot Club de France, but its careening energy and crazed tempo leaps are purely eastern European. —PM

Mostar Sevdah Reunion presents Ilijaz Delic See September 18.

[Venue Info]


Noon | Pritzker Pavilion |

Steve Gibons Gypsy Rhythm Project See September 18.

1 PM | Navy Pier |

Little Cow Little Cow, known in their homeland of Hungary as Kistehen Tanczenekar, fit right into the Eastern Bloc’s rich and splendid art-rock tradition—multitalented musicians, raucous energy, unsettling absurdist wit—and recently scored a surprise Internet hit with “Cyber Boy.” Last year front man Laszlo Kollar-Klemencz released A Man in a Tree (Yonas Media), a half-assed attempt at a solo album—I say “half-assed” because he didn’t make much of an effort to keep the other seven members of his band off it. They’re billed as “the Little Cow Melancholics,” and A Man in a Tree is basically a Little Cow album—charming and snarky, with shades of Syd Barrett, the Residents, and maybe even Andrew Bird (just imagine he’d grown up on the Danube). It even manages to capture a hint of the intricate fury the band can summon onstage. —MK

3 PM | Preston Bradley Hall |

Phyllis Chen New York-based pianist Phyllis Chen can hold her own playing the classical repertoire on a conventional instrument, but over the past decade she’s become one of the world’s leading proponents of the toy piano. Margaret Leng Tan precedes her as a virtuoso on it, but I know of no one doing as much to establish its legitimacy now. The music on her recent Uncaged Toy Piano (CAG) proves that the instrument’s principal limitation is that so few people treat it as respectfully as she does. In a 2005 Karlheinz Essl composition called “Kalimba,” which combines live performance with prerecorded toy piano played through a loudspeaker inside the instrument, it attains an otherworldly percussive resonance; in her own “The Memoirist” it attains such dignity that not even the kitschier elements of the piece (Chen playing a music box and frying an egg) can make it sound goofy. A few years ago she founded the Uncaged Toy Piano Composition Competition to encourage new works, and her program here will include a performance of the latest winner, Fabian Svennson’s “Toy Toccata,” along with a couple world premieres and a few pieces from the CD. —PM

4 PM | Navy Pier |

Chicago Afrobeat Project See September 19.

8 PM | International House | $10, $5 students

Orchestra of Tetouan See September 19.

8 PM | Martyrs’ | $12, 21+

Forro in the Dark New York’s Forro in the Dark loaded its debut album with splashy cameos from the likes of David Byrne, Bebel Gilberto, and Miho Hatori, but for its second disc, Light a Candle (due from Nat Geo Music on October 13), the group relied pretty much exclusively on its own talents—and the results are an undeniable improvement. (Brazilian Girls vocalist Sabina Sciubba and Norah Jones associate Jesse Harris each turn up on one track, but they’re the only guests.) Forro in the Dark’s sound is of course rooted in forro—a traditional dance music from northeastern Brazil that’s usually driven by insistent triangle patterns and pumping accordion—but from the start they’ve added bits of other Brazilian styles and elements of pop, funk, rock, and reggae. They set a mix of Portuguese and English lyrics to propulsive melodies, usually played on electric guitar or a wooden flute called the pifano, and drive everything with jacked-up grooves. On the new disc they seem more comfortable with their eclecticism, and the original tunes that make up the bulk of the record—like “Perro Loco,” written by singer and percussionist Davi Viera—don’t sound a bit out of place next to classics like Edmilson do Pifano’s “Forro de Dois Amigos.” The liner notes to Light a Candle list four members—Viera, Guilherme Monteiro (guitar, bass), Jorge Continentino (guitar, bass, pifano), and Mauro Refosco (percussion)—but only Continentino will be part of the five-member lineup performing here. Though core members often take time off from the group’s weekly residency at New York’s Nublu club to play other gigs, it still seems odd that so few would make it to a festival show like this—I don’t doubt that the four players filling out the band are superb musicians, but I’ll be crossing my fingers that they can re-create the chemistry on the album. —PM

Jair Oliveira The world of Brazilian music is full of family legacies. Children of Caetano Veloso, Dorival Caymmi, Elis Regina, Joyce Moreno, Martino da Vila, Wilson Simonal, and Joao Gilberto have all become stars in their own right, and you can add Rio’s Jair Oliveira—son of veteran sambisto Jair Rodrigues—to that list. (His sister Luciana Mello is an accomplished singer as well.) He started early, singing with his father, and emerged as a teen star, but he didn’t burn out like so many kids thrust into the spotlight do; in fact, his fourth and most recent album, 2006’s Simples (Unimar/S de Samba), is far and away his strongest. On his earlier records Oliveira worked toward a slick mashup of samba, funk, and soul balladry, and by 2003’s 3.1 (Trama) he seemed to have lost his way. Simples, though likewise modern and funked-up, is a largely acoustic affair that clearly draws inspiration from the samba soul of Jorge Ben, with intricate guitar and cavaquinho licks dancing over polyrhythmic grooves. His melodies update the sing-along vibe of classic samba with traces of contemporary R & B, and most tracks use nothing but vocals, guitar, bass, and percussion—which keeps the focus on his sensitive songwriting, where it belongs. This is his Chicago debut. —PM

DJ Peter Margasak I’ll be spinning records from my collection of Brazilian music. —PM

8 PM | Old Town School of Folk Music | $15,

$13 members

Luminescent Orchestrii Born out of New York’s experimental-theater and free-jazz scenes, this four-piece band—fronted by the mesmerizing dueling fiddles of Sarah Alden and Rima Fand, which sometimes imitate banshee screams, wind, or whale song—turns the music of Romania and Appalachia into a romantic, dramatic, playful hybrid. Its songs sound like creepy show tunes that puppets might dance to. —MK

Fishtank Ensemble The Fishtank Ensemble takes the art of cultural appropriation to absurd extremes—or, more generously, to giddy heights. The oddly addictive music on this LA combo’s self-released 2007 album, Samurai Over Serbia, doesn’t globe-trot so much as dash pell-mell from one continent to another in a drunken, orgiastic frenzy. Every member of the band is impressive, and they take turns showing off, like they’re part of a cabaret revue that would never make it through customs. The violins will dazzle and drug you, and you’ll wake up feeling like you’ve been mugged by a gang—except this gang has a ringleader not unlike Amanda Palmer and a chorus of flamenco-dancing yakuza. —MK

8 PM | Uncommon Ground | $10 suggested donation

Electric Junkyard Gamelan Terry Dame plays in a traditional Balinese gamelan based at the Indonesian embassy in New York, but her Electric Junkyard Gamelan is, as its name suggests, rather more “downtown.” The group uses several instruments of her invention, including the Sitello (a sitar/cello hybrid), the Clayrimba (a three-octave clay marimba), and the Big Barp (an electric rubber-band harp). The sound is grounded in gamelan, but only loosely—it meanders out to sea through a graveyard of ships, takes a detour into a low-budget TV version of outer space, beams down into Tom Waits’s garage, and finally shows up bedraggled but happy at a free-jazz loft gig. —MK

The Guy Mendilow Band See September 19.

9 PM | Bottom Lounge | $12, 18+

Blk Jks This rock band from Johannesburg, South Africa, starts its new album, After Robots (Secretly Canadian), on a serious high note: “Molalatladi,” one of several tracks featuring the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, rides a skittering groove that’s intersected by ringing, rhythmic guitar licks and topped by a mesmerizing unison vocal chant informed by Zulu harmony singing. When guitarist Lindani Buthelezi uncorks a screaming, tightly coiled solo halfway through, he ratchets up the exquisite tension between the song’s rock language and its African elements. But for most of the record Blk Jks sound like they could be from almost anywhere, slipping into tropes that have already been deployed with more individuality by TV on the Radio and the Mars Volta—and I could definitely do without all the falsetto caterwauling. Nobody’s obligated to play mbaqanga just because they’re from South Africa, but these guys are more compelling when they incorporate sounds from the homeland; if they want to cut it doing straight-up alt-rock, they’re going to need stronger songwriting chops or better musical ideas. —PM

Fool’s Gold See September 19.

9 PM | Hideout | $12, 21+

Parno Graszt See September 19.

RLittle Cow See above.

Megitza Quartet Bassist and vocalist Malgoritza Babiarz, a Polish highlander, leads this local quartet with jazz guitarist Andreas Kapsalis, accordionist Marek Lichota, and drummer Jamie Gallagher. Though they can do a lot with that lineup, last year’s self-released Boleritza also features plenty of guests, among them members of the Black Bear Combo, two violinists, and a clarinetist. The band’s sound is a sort of cabaret fusion of several eastern European styles, arch and self-aware, sometimes wanky and sometimes lovely. —MK

9 PM | Sonotheque | $12, 21+

Watcha Clan See September 18.

DJ Papa G This Chicago DJ specializes in the music of Jamaica, from roots reggae to dancehall. —PM

[Venue Info]


Noon | Claudia Cassidy Theater |

Blk Jks See September 20.

Blick Bassy Cameroonian singer and guitarist Blick Bassy, cofounder and ten-year veteran of the band Macase, belongs to the nomadic Bassa people and sings in their endangered language, but on his solo debut, Leman (World Connection), he sounds like the suave and cosmopolitan Parisian he’s become. American soul, Brazilian bossa nova, and glistening Afropop all inform his velvety, warm, gently frisky date-night music. —MK

Jair Oliveira See September 20.

Noon | Daley Plaza |

Electric Junkyard Gamelan See September 20.

Noon | Pritzker Pavilion |

Yves Francois et Rocambu Jazz Chicago trumpeter Yves Francois, a former colleague of the great reedist Franz Jackson, is principally interested in the traditional jazz and proto-swing played by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Hot Lips Page, and Freddie Keppard, but he’s got a sideline in vintage African pop, especially Ghanaian highlife, the earliest strains of Congolese rumba, and the repatriated Afro-Cuban music that dominated West Africa in the 60s and 70s. His compact ensemble jazzes up the music a bit, but it has a clear grip on the various styles. —PM

6:30 PM | Pritzker Pavilion |

Mehter Ottoman Turkish Military Band A leading theory says that the modern military marching band owes its origins to medieval Turkey, where the already badass Janissary corps—bodyguards to the Ottoman sultan and the empire’s first standing army—began drilling to the equally badass sounds of percussion-heavy ensembles known as mehteran. Today these bands fulfill a strictly ceremonial function, but the sound is still thoroughly badass, driven by huge, deep-voiced drums, crashing cymbals, martial chanting, and braying horns—and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t mightily enhanced by the accompanying pageantry, which includes not just brightly colored uniforms but horse-tail banners and ceremonial weapons. Extant songs written for these groups date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, and most have (as you might expect) patriotic and heroic themes. This is the local premiere of the military band assembled by the Turkish Ministry of Culture, and it’s bound to be a rousing spectacle. —MK

8 PM | Martyrs’ | $12, 21+

Jair Oliveira See September 20.

Blick Bassy See above.

9 PM | Hideout | $12, 21+

Blk Jks See September 20.

L’Orchestre Super Vitesse Now that his main group, the Occidental Brothers Dance Band International, is moving from vintage covers to original songs, Chicago guitarist Nathaniel Braddock has joined L’Orchestre Super Vitesse to dig into Africa’s musical past. This new instrumental octet, led by guitarist Antonio Carella (formerly of OBDBI and the Chicago Afrobeat Project), plays not highlife and Congolese rumba but rather the Cuban-influenced music produced during the late 60s and 70s in West African countries like Guinea, Mali, and Senegal—and it evokes that era accurately and elegantly. —PM

Credit: Phyllis Chen

9 PM | Uncommon Ground | $10 suggested donation

Paulinho Garcia Guitarist and singer Paulinho Garcia might be Chicago’s foremost authority on Brazilian music. Most of his projects over the years have revolved around bossa nova, but his new album, My Very Life (Chicago Sessions), shows off his knowledge of and facility with many other styles from his homeland, from choro to baiao. He makes no effort to reinvent them, but the 11 original tunes provide lovely testimony to his sensitivity and depth of understanding. —PM

[Venue Info]


Noon | Claudia Cassidy Theater |

Marta Gomez Quartet Singer Marta Gomez, a native of Colombia who’s been living in the U.S. for the past decade, has developed an original repertoire that combines flavors from Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Peru, and elsewhere with elements of Colombian forms like cumbia and bambuco. On her fifth and most recent album, Musiquita (Aluna), the clarity with which she shapes her pretty, often weightless melodies reminds me of Afro-Peruvian great Susana Baca, and her strong, flexible voice retains its natural beauty even when she sings forcefully. Her nimble band plays airy arrangements full of gentle, frothy polyrhythms, communicating a strong jazz sensibility without ever sounding merely “jazzy.” —PM

Mikrokolektyw This duo from Dolnoslaskie, Poland, which consists of trumpeter Artur Majewski and percussionist Kuba Suchar, has developed ties with Chicago jazz musicians who’ve toured through eastern Europe, and you can hear those connections in Mikrokolektyw’s music. They’ve collaborated with a couple projects led by cornetist and part-time Chicagoan Rob Mazurek, and the Chicago Underground Duo (Mazurek and drummer Chad Taylor) provides one obvious parallel—both groups favor fluid, richly melodic improvisations massaged by polyrhythmic grooves and circling synthesizer patterns (both members play electronics too). But Mikrokolektyw also takes inspiration from the influential duo work of Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell—recording as Mu in the 70s and 80s, they opened up postbop to accommodate ideas from as far away as India, Brazil, and Africa. The band plays nonfestival shows Thursday, September 17, at Elastic and Sunday, September 20, at the Hungry Brain, but unfortunately Suchar won’t be making the trip—he’ll be replaced for all the band’s sets by drummer Wojciech Romanowski. —PM

Kiko Klaus Young singer-songwriter Kiko Klaus hails from Recife—the capital of Pernambuco, a state in Brazil’s culturally fertile northeast—and his music uses the rhythms of maracatu, samba, and other Afro-Brazilian idioms, feeding them into gentle, romantic, and thoroughly modern tunes permeated with a restrained jazz feel. The flourishes of rock on his latest album, O Vivido e o Inventado (Camarada), don’t go down quite as smoothly, but it’ll be interesting to see whether he sharpens those edges or polishes them down when he plays live. —MK

Noon | Pritzker Pavilion |

Guitarra Azul Guitarra Azul is Chicago’s answer to the Gipsy Kings, minus the vocals and with a touch of smooth-jazz unctuousness. —PM

5:30 PM | Museum of Contemporary Art,

Terrace |

Mikrokolektyw with special guests Josh Abrams and Jason Adasiewicz See above. Two top-shelf local improvisers, cornetist Josh Abrams and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, will join the Polish duo for this set. —PM

6:30 PM | Homan Square Park |

Kiko Klaus See above.

Blick Bassy See September 21.

7 PM | Conaway Center |

Marta Gomez Quartet See above.

8 PM | Green Dolphin Street | $12, 21+

Los de Abajo On their recent albums this veteran combo from Mexico City, who took their name from a novel about the Mexican revolution, have dialed down the eclecticism in their sprawling hybrid sound, returning for the most part to the ska-punk they started with in the early 90s. But that doesn’t mean they’ve become predictable. On 2005’s No Borraran and the recent EP Actitud Calle, both self-released, Los de Abajo still launch into other styles—metal, cumbia, salsa, mariachi music—but only as interludes. Of course they don’t sound as novel as they did a decade ago, when Luaka Bop released the self-titled album that introduced them to the States, but they haven’t lost a bit of their old energy. —PM

Los Vicios de Papa This long-running Chicago outfit is one of many Latino rock bands obsessed with ska—Los Vicios de Papa especially take after Argentine groups like Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Todos Tus Muertos. They don’t bring much new to the table, but they get by on spirit. —PM

8 PM | Martyrs’ | 21+

Dame Pa’Matala The only tune I’ve heard by this combo from San Felipe, Venezuela, was pleasant if unspectacular Afro-folk. Most of their promo material stresses their community involvement, though, so maybe the music isn’t the whole point. This is Dame Pa’Matala’s U.S. debut. —PM

Rebel Diaz The members of this overtly left-wing bilingual hip-hop trio, all of whom are Chilean or Puerto Rican by heritage, grew up in Chicago and formed Rebel Diaz in New York in 2006 as an outgrowth of their activism in the arenas of immigration, education, and housing. —PM

Mohammed P.R. This MC from Gaza, who appears in the acclaimed 2008 documentary Slingshot Hip Hop, was a founding member of Palestinian Rapperz, which in the early aughts became one of the region’s first hip-hop groups. Though he now lives in Texas, he still rhymes about the brutal everyday conditions in his homeland. —PM

9 PM | Uncommon Ground | $10 suggested donation

Magic Carpet The serious musos in this local instrumental sextet cast a pretty broad net. They tackle bottom-heavy reggae, the Arabic classical music of Sayyed Darweesh, and the Ethiopian soul of Mulatu Astatke, reinventing everything they touch with their elastic, jazz-based style. —PM

[Venue Info]


Noon | Claudia Cassidy Theater |

Rhythm of Rajasthan For sheer loveliness, there’s no beating this traditional ensemble from the Thar Desert region of northwest India, made up of hereditary caste musicians who play an assortment of ancient instruments, including drums and percussion, woodwinds (like the pungi, the famous snake charmer’s flute), and strings (the kamaicha, a fiddle similar in appearance to the Persian kemanche, and the sindhi sarangi, which is like a cross between a sitar and a large, loud bowed psaltery). The sound is delicate, driving, sensual, and melancholy by turns—transfixing all by itself and downright overwhelming combined with the visual spectacle of the ensemble’s troupe of dancers. —MK

Momo Rio de Janeiro’s Marcelo Frota, aka Momo, is one of the most exciting talents to emerge from Brazil in the past few years. He played in the superb modern samba band Fino Coletivo, but his solo work—ambling, quietly soulful psych-folk built around buoyant but melancholy vocal melodies—doesn’t sound like much else I hear coming out of the country. His 2006 debut, A Estetica do Rabisco (Dubas Musica), recalls the music of Pernambucan heavies like Lula Cortes and Alceu Valenca with its thickets of fanciful flourishes, but last year’s self-released Buscador is both leaner and dreamier—and thanks in part to the songs’ relative directness, the hooks sink just as deep. For his Chicago debut he’ll sing and play guitar, accompanied by drummer Bruno Braggion and guitarist, keyboardist, and bassist Caetano Malta. —PM

Noon | Pritzker Pavilion |

Chicago Korean Music Ensemble Founded in 2001 and formerly known as Nirumsay, the Chicago Korean Music Ensemble is led by Seoul native Hyun-Chung Kim, a master of three different types of Korean bamboo flute. Rounded out by strings and percussion, the ensemble specializes in Korean chamber music, both traditional and original; it’s subtle stuff, full of graceful pauses and the kind of carefully engineered tension that can slowly fill a room with its power. —MK

6:30 PM | Washington Park |

Tambours Sans Frontieres This Congolese percussion troupe, led by Teber Milandou-Sita, formed in Brazzaville in 2000 and originally devoted itself to the traditional rhythms that existed centuries before soukous became the national sound. The group later moved to Bamako, Mali, and expanded its mandate, developing a transnational style that included spirited call-and-response chants, sparse balafon parts, and clattering polyrhythms; last year Milandou-Sita relocated to Chicago, and he’s assembled a new lineup here. —PM

7 PM | Conaway Center |

Vlada Tomova’s Balkan Tales Vlada Tomova has added her soaring voice to Balkan Beat Box and written soundtrack material for Dora the Explorer, but she specializes in Bulgarian music, which provides the jumping-off point for her international band, Balkan Tales. Though the group’s sweeping, romantic world-pop versions of traditional songs will surely sound diluted and toothless to some ears, the heart of this music—whether Romany, Byzantine, Turkish, or European—is its melodies, and Tomova’s beautiful singing does them all justice. —MK

7 PM | Preston Bradley Hall |

Snehasish Mozumder & Subrata Bhattacharya Following the lead of U. Srinivas, who ingeniously adapted the mandolin to Indian classical music, Snehasish Mozumder has done the same for the mandolin’s predecessor, the lower-pitched mandola, which he’s fitted with thick bass strings to get a darker, more dolorous sound. Also like Srinivas, he’s experimented with fusion: he devised a double-necked hybrid mandolin that he plays in electric contexts, and his New York-based ensemble Som conflates Indian classical music and bluegrass in a jam-band setting. On Mandolin Dreams (Latitudes) he displays a firm grasp of classical technique—the idiom’s exquisite motific elaboration is much in evidence—but he sometimes drops twang-kissed licks into his rapidly moving lines, seeming to displace himself momentarily from Calcutta to the Blue Ridge Mountains. For this concert Mozumder will perform traditional Hindustani music with tabla player Subrata Bhattacharya, who’s worked with the likes of Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, L. Subramaniam, and Shahid Parvez Khan. —PM

8 PM | Martyrs’ | $12, 21+

Hanggai Ilchi, the leader of this Chinese ensemble, grew up in Beijing and for most of his early 20s devoted himself to punk rock. When he heard the traditional overtone singing known as hoomei, though, he had an epiphany. Soon he was making regular trips to his father’s homeland in Inner Mongolia, where the style has long thrived, learning the techniques, repertoire, and culture; he also met two music students, who would later help him form Hanggai. The material on the group’s most recent album, Introducing Hanggai (Introducing), combines stirring, multiphonic throat singing with steady-galloping rhythms and hypnotizing melodies played on morin khuur (horse-head fiddle) and tobshuur (two-stringed lute). It’s very similar to Tuvan folk music—hardly surprising, since Tuva borders Mongolia. Producers Robin Haller and Matteo Scumaci add flourishes like electric bass, washes of guitar, and a variety of drums, bells, and rattles not native to the style, but they don’t make the mistake of trying to prop up the songs—instead they merely ornament Hanggai’s spirited performances. —PM

Rahim Alhaj Iraqi oud master Rahim Alhaj studied under the brilliant Munir Bashir in his native Baghdad but fled his homeland in 1991 after his activism attracted unwanted attention from Saddam Hussein’s government; he spent almost a decade in exile in Jordan and Syria before the U.S. granted him refugee status, and since 2000 he’s lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The 2006 album When the Soul Is Settled: Music of Iraq (Smithsonian Folkways), where Alhaj is accompanied only by percussionist Souhail Kaspar, showcases the stark beauty of his playing; his extended improvisations (taqsim) within traditional modal structures (maqam) are introverted, sorrowful, and patient. More recently he demonstrated his open-mindedness on Ancient Sounds (UR Music), a gorgeous cross-cultural collaboration with Indian sarod virtuoso Amjad Ali Khan that calls to mind the Silk Road fusion of India’s Shujat Khan and Iran’s Kayhan Kahlor. —PM

8:30 PM | Old Town School of Folk Music | $5

suggested donation

Rhythm of Rajasthan See above.

9:30 PM | Empty Bottle | $10, 21+

Kiko Klaus See September 22.

Momo See above.

[Venue Info]


Noon | Claudia Cassidy Theater |

Rahim Alhaj See September 23.

Aditya Prakash It’s easy to hear why sitar star Anoushka Shankar tapped this young Carnatic singer for her current crossover project. Though he’s just 21, Aditya Prakash has been performing for eight years; he has a riveting, crystalline voice and navigates the tricky rhythmic schemes of Indian classical music with an unfaltering grip on the melodic thread. In 2008 he was named best junior vocalist at the prestigious Chenai institution Vani Mahal, and he’s currently studying ethnomusicology at UCLA. He’ll perform solo here. —PM

Vlada Tomova’s Balkan Tales See September 23.

Noon | Pritzker Pavilion |

Tambours Sans Frontieres See September 23.

6 PM | Randolph Cafe |

Mikrokolektyw See September 22.

6:30 PM | Claudia Cassidy Theater |

Klapa Lisnjak You probably know about Bulgarian women’s choirs, but how about the men from Croatia? The word klapa refers both to a style of a cappella singing and to the groups who practice it—usually a first tenor supported by a second tenor, a baritone, and a bass, though the backing vocalists are often doubled or even tripled. Klapa singing has roots in liturgical choirs and sounds ancient, but it actually arose about 50 years ago; it’s particularly popular in the coastal Adriatic region of Dalmatia, where you can hear it in pubs. Klapa Lisnjak, a ten-member group from Srinjine, Croatia, creates a beautiful blend of powerful but silky-smooth voices, and despite the seamlessness of their harmonies every singer retains his individual personality. —MK

7 PM | Preston Bradley Hall |

Rahim Alhaj See September 23.

7:30 PM | Randolph Cafe |

Momo See September 23.

7:45 PM | Claudia Cassidy Theater |

Tambours Sans Frontieres See September 23.

8:15 PM | Preston Bradley Hall |

Aditya Prakash Ensemble See above. Prakash is accompanied here by violinist Nishant Chandran and mdridangam player Nirmal Narayan.

9 PM | Randolph Cafe |

Idilio Formed last year by singer and dancer Chiara Mangiameli, guitarist Diego Alonso, and percussionist Kassandra Kocoshis, all of whom have ties to Las Guitarras de España, Idilio mixes traditional flamenco songs with original material, judiciously adding bits of pop and jazz. —PM

9:15 PM | Claudia Cassidy Theater |

Vlada Tomova’s Balkan Tales See September 23.

9:30 PM | Preston Bradley Hall |

Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens Naomi Shelton has been singing for six decades—she started at age six—but her debut album, What Have You Done, My Brother? (Daptone), didn’t come out till this spring. Born in Alabama, she moved to New York straight out of high school in 1958 and settled there for good in ’63. For much of her life she sang soul in nightclubs and gospel in churches while eking out a living as a maid, but in 1999 she caught the ear of bassist and producer Gabriel Roth, who’d go on to found Daptone Records, the label that would launch Sharon Jones to fame. With her longtime organist and music director, Cliff Driver, she cut a single for Roth’s short-lived Desco label, but when it folded in 2000 she fell out of touch with Roth; they didn’t work together again till 2005, at which point it took three sessions and several lineup changes to finish What Have You Done. Shelton and Driver, supported by members of Daptone’s house band and a trio of backup singers dubbed the Gospel Queens, straddle gospel and soul as if it were still 1966, bringing secular grit to songs with sacred messages. Shelton sings with gruff power, digging deep down into her chest, her voice alternately raspy and creamy. The album closes with a knockout cover of Sam Cooke’s civil-rights anthem “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which gains an extra layer of meaning from her long perseverance. —PM

[Venue Info]

World Music Festival Venues

Bottom Lounge 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401,

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

Conaway Center Columbia College, 1104 S. Wabash, 312-369-7188

Daley Plaza 50 W. Washington, 312-744-3315

Edgewater Gralley Festival Granville and Glenwood,

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

Green Dolphin Street 2200 N. Ashland, 773-395-0066,

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

Homan Square Park 3559 W. Arthington, 312-746-6650,

International House University of Chicago, 1414 E. 59th, 773-753-2270,

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

Chicago Latvian Community Center 4146 N. Elston, 773-588-2085

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

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

Navy Pier 600 E. Grand, 312-595-7437,

Old Town School of Folk Music 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000,

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

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

Rogers Park World Music Festival Gale Community Park, 1610 Howard, 773-262-5051,

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

Uncommon Ground 1401 W. Devon, 773-465-9801,

Washington Park 51st and Cottage Grove, 773-256-1248,

World Music Company 1808 W. 103rd, 773-779-7059,