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The Reader's Guide to World Music Festival: Chicago 2009

Friday, September 18, through Thursday, September 24, at venues around the city



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

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