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World Music Festival

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The big news about this year's World Music Festival is that it's smaller--reduced by half in both duration and number of performers--thanks to the weakened economy. It's laudable that organizer Mike Orlove was able to keep the festival going at all (some at the Department of Cultural Affairs thought it would be better to cancel this year and bounce back in 2004), but the current edition seems a bit lackluster after the diverse sprawl of 2002.

The majority of this year's acts are U.S.-based (a lot of them local), and just about all the foreign performers are playing here as part of national tours. In the past the WMF has always brought in some artists especially for the event. At press time only one scheduled performer (Brazilian singer Monica Salmaso) had canceled due to visa problems, which would seem a welcome change from previous years, but according to Orlove the prospect of difficulties with the INS has discouraged many international artists from trying to come to the States in the first place.

As usual the festival goes on at numerous venues; events are free and all-ages unless otherwise noted. Advance tickets to shows with an admission fee are normally available from the venues; more information is available from the city's World Music Festival hotline (312-742-1938). The performances Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at the Museum of Broadcast Communications will be aired live on local radio: Mosaic, the world music program on Loyola University's station, WLUW (88.7 FM), will host the 11 AM concerts; the 12:30 PM shows will be heard as part of Continental Drift on Northwestern University's station, WNUR (89.3 FM).

The following are annotated listings for performances taking place Wednesday and Thursday, September 17 and 18; they're accompanied by the remainder of the festival schedule, which will be covered in full by a pullout guide in next week's paper.

--Peter Margasak

* = recommended

Wednesday, September 17

11 AM

MUSEUM OF BROADCAST COMMUNICATIONS 78 E. Washington, 312-629-6000

Luis Jahn

Born and raised in Gualeguaychu, Argentina, this singer and guitarist moved to Buenos Aires (where he worked as a sound technician) as a teenager, then to Chicago at age 22, in 1989. There are some rhythms from his native land as well as a trace of South America's nueva cancion folk tradition on his new Spanish-language album, Compromiso (Del Sur Music), but generally his sentimental, unmemorable tunes are free of such distinguishing characteristics. Inappropriate production moves--the wash of distorted guitar on the title track, the Kenny G-weight soprano-sax flutters on "Cada Familia"--don't help.

Issa Boulos

Palestinian oud player and composer Issa Boulos moved to Chicago nearly a decade ago to study at Columbia College. Since then he's become a major local proponent of Arabic music. He's involved with several different projects: his quartet's original music straddles Arabic music and jazz, the al-Sharq Ensemble focuses on a traditional Arabic folk and art music, and the University of Chicago Middle East Ensemble (which he directs) plays classical and folkloric music from the Middle East, Turkey, and the Balkans. This year he founded the Arab Classical Musical Society, a networking group for musicians. He'll perform solo here.

12:30 PM

MUSEUM OF BROADCAST COMMUNICATIONS 78 E. Washington, 312-629-6000

Dan Boadi

Ghanaian bandleader Dan Boadi has been a Chicago fixture for two and a half decades, but his hipness saw a major uptick last year when the local Aestuarium label reissued "Money Is the Root of All Evil" b/w "Play That Funky Music," a rare 12-inch single he released in 1978. It fits in perfectly with the rash of funky African records from the 70s that have been reappearing on European labels like Strut and Comet over the last few years: the A side delivers an impossibly deep groove that's part disco, part post-Fela hypnotism, and part psychedelia, while the flip runs jazzy organ and flute solos over an imperturbably funky bass line. It's a snapshot of a bygone moment--it doesn't accurately reflect the mix of highlife, reggae, and soukous Boadi's band plays these days--but boy, is it good.

* Jim Stoynoff

Chicago-born clarinetist Jim Stoynoff understands and plays the music of his Greek and Macedonian ancestors as well as anyone from the old country, and his superb Return to Our Roots (American Recording Productions, 2002) is a tribute to the Greek folk-music albums of the 20s and 30s. On moody ballads like "Skopos Tis Avgis," with ominous backing from John Roussos on the dulcimerlike santouri and Pete Mestousis on percussion, his dark, pure solos have the fluid precision of calligraphy; on jauntier dance pieces he careens through the instrument's upper register without letting his tone sour. A preservationist as well as a player, Stoynoff is the curator of the music exhibit at Chicago's Hellenic Museum & Cultural Center. Here he'll be joined by guitarist Bill Demis and possibly a hand percussionist.

12:30 PM

Borders Books & Music 830 N. Michigan, 312-573-0564

* Taller de Compas de Almanjayar

This young group--its members range in age from 14 to 21--originated in the late 90s as part of a cultural project sponsored by the Gypsy organization Anaquerando in Almanjayar, a depressed neighborhood in Granada, Spain, with a large Gypsy population. Taller de compas translates as "rhythm workshop," and on its superb debut album, Cale-Cale, the group gives just that. Artistic director Jose Luis Garcia Puche keeps the emphasis on flamenco rhythms, and aside from a few cameos--electric bass on the funky "Rap del Primo," piano on "Jam Session por Bulerias"--the music consists entirely of voice and percussion. Although the latter includes darbuka, djembe, congas, cajon, and other instruments, flamenco's trademark hand claps and foot stomps dominate, propelling a blisteringly soulful trio of female singers. In its youth and minimalist instrumentation, if not its musical style, Taller de Compas is strangely reminiscent of New York underground funk legends ESG.

:30 PM $5 suggested donation

OLD TOWN SCHOOL OF FOLK MUSIC 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000

* Taller de Compas de Almanjayar

See above.

Thursday, September 18

11 AM

MUSEUM OF BROADCAST COMMUNICATIONS 78 E. Washington, 312-629-6000

Jan Yrgagy

Since the fall of the Soviet Union the once-suppressed traditional music of central Asia has made a comeback. Nurak Abdyrakhmanov and Bakyt Chytyrbaev started performing in 1990 in an effort to preserve the folk songs of the nomads of their native Kyrgyzstan; though discouraged at first by a lukewarm reception in their own country, by the end of the decade they'd found enthusiastic audiences in Europe, and in 2000 they made a folkloric album for the Czech label Pirala. Abdyrakhmanov plays the Kyrgyz national instrument, the long-necked fretless lute called the komuz, and sings; Chytyrbaev plays the kyl kyjak, a dry-toned spike fiddle. The melodies, instrumental sounds, and subject matter of the graceful, melancholy songs recall the better-known music of Tuva.

Liam Teague & Robert Chappell

The steel drum is typically regarded as a Caribbean novelty, but Liam Teague has worked hard to raise its stature; since premiering Jan Bach's "Concerto for Steelpan and Orchestra" at Symphony Center with the Chicago Sinfonietta in 1995, he's performed it with seven more orchestras, including the Czech National Philharmonic and the Saint Louis Symphony. A native of Trinidad and Tobago, he lives in the Chicago area, teaching the instrument at Northern Illinois University and leading his group Panoramic, a jazz-fusion project that recalls the work of Andy Narrell. His chops are undeniable, but his style hopping strikes me as glib--reggae, Indian, and Afro-Cuban rhythms all get a once-over--and his precision as antiseptic. Covering Bob Marley's "Jammin'" or tiptoeing through the spiritual "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," Teague sounds like he's auditioning for a gig on a cruise ship. Here he's joined by Panoramic's Robert Chappell on keyboards, marimba, and tabla.

12:30 PM

Borders Books & Music 150 N. State, 312-606-0750

* Ellika & Solo

Swedish fiddler Ellika Frisell and Senegalese kora player Solo Cissokho first performed together at a 1998 poetry reading in Stockholm. The success of the combination can't have been a total surprise--Cissokho, who's lived in Norway since the mid-90s, has some experience in pairings like this, having played with Norwegian singer Kirsten Braten Berg and Indian violinist L. Subramaniam. Last year they made their first album as a working duo, Tretakt Takissaba (Xource), and it's one of the most compelling examples of cross-cultural collaboration I've heard in some time. On African-derived pieces Cissokho's spindly kora licks cascade beautifully over Frisell's stuttering pulse, while on Swedish polskas and waltzes he returns the favor, supporting her lyrical solos and interjecting deft, punchy asides. Cissokho also sings on many of the pieces, with the deep soul of a West African griot.

12:30 PM

MUSEUM OF BROADCAST COMMUNICATIONS

78 E. Washington, 312-629-6000

Guerra Freitas

Guerra Freitas became involved in humanitarian efforts in his native Angola after losing his first wife and child and several other relatives to the country's long-running civil war; since 1998 he's been in Evanston running his organization SHAREcircle, which raises money here to aid victims of the war back home. In 2000 he made Angola: Um Pais Fabuloso no Mundo (Africa Latina), a CD of original songs recorded with his current wife and several other Chicago musicians, with proceeds going to the charity. His cause is a good one; I wish I could say the same of the album. Everything plods to the same midtempo groove, and calling Freitas's singing workmanlike is giving him too much credit. The great Angolan musicians--like Bonga, Waldemar Bastos, and Ruy Mingas--have drawn from their rich dual heritage of African rhythm and Portuguese lyricism; this stuff is strictly talent-show material.

* Habibullah Wardak & Puranlal Vyas

Thirteen-year-old Habibullah Wardak has been playing the rubab--a short-necked plucked lute that's the primary instrument in Afghan classical music and a forerunner of the Indian sarod--for more than six years now, and while I'm no expert on the style I can say with confidence that the kid's got it. His family moved to the area a couple of years ago (before the U.S. invasion), and he's currently a freshman at Warren Township High School in Gurnee. The instrument has a dry, twangy tone, and the Afghan repertoire is closely related to the classical music of Pakistan and India, sharing many of the same modes but emphasizing rhythmic rather than melodic development. Wardak's playing is distinguished by a dazzling fluidity and sharp articulation; he performs with Indian tabla player Puranlal Vyas, who moved to Chicago in 1998.

6 pm

CHICAGO CULTURAL CENTER 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630

Environmental Encroachment

This local group uses elaborate costumes, puppetry, and video projections to spice up what is essentially a tedious drum circle augmented by electric bass and various brass instruments. They'll perform all evening in various locations throughout the building.

6:30 PM

Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center

78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630

* Friends of the Gamelan

A 20-volume series of CDs issued in the 90s by Smithsonian/Folkways lavishly demonstrated the rich variety of traditional Indonesian music, of which the tuned-percussion orchestra called the gamelan is just the best-known example. But there's a great deal of variation within the gamelan form itself--gamelans use different configurations and types of percussion instruments (usually metal but sometimes wooden) and may sometimes be accompanied by singing, flute, or spike fiddle. Given the number of trained personnel required for a performance and the sheer heft of the instruments, we don't get many touring groups coming through town--but there's a well-established ensemble right in our backyard. This nonprofit organization based at the University of Chicago has been teaching and performing traditional and new gamelan music for more than 20 years. The group will be joined by Javanese composer and musician I.M. Harjito and will play some of his work.

6:45 PM

Randolph Cafe, Chicago Cultural Center

78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630

Liam Teague & Panoramic

See above.

7:45 PM

Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center

78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630

* Habibullah Wardak & Puranlal Vyas

See above.

:00 PM

Gar Rotunda, Chicago Cultural Center

78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630

Jan Yrgagy

See above.

:45 PM

Gar Hall, Chicago Cultural Center

78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630

Morikeba Kouyate & the Jaliya Ensemble

Morikeba Kouyate, a Senegalese kora player and griot, was stranded in Chicago in 1991 when the dance company he was touring with ran out of money, and he's been performing around town ever since. While he usually plays solo, collaborative recordings made by kora great Toumani Diabate (Kulanjan with Taj Mahal in 1999 and this year's Malicool with jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd) have inspired him to put together a band. Here he'll be joined by singers Jontan Sosu Jackson and Mame Sarr, drummer John Knecht, dobro player Ben Lansing, djembe players Yaya Kabo and Michael Taylor, and upright bassist Jeremy Johnston.

9:15 PM

Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center

78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630

* Radio Maqam

The system of maqamat, or modes, is the melodic basis of nearly all traditional Arabic music and much of the music of eastern Europe and central Asia. Each maqam employs a different quarter-tone scale to convey its distinctive mood, and while there is no definitive count, as many as 60 different maqamat are in general use. This new local ensemble--which features Palestinian oud player Issa Boulos and Greek-American clarinetist Jim Stoynoff (see separate September 17 entries)--plays a wide variety of maqamat-derived music. The group, making its live debut, is rounded out by percussionist Omar Musfi, cellist Kinan Abu-Afach, qanun player Ishik Acet, and percussionist Wanees Zarour.

9:45 PM

Randolph Cafe, Chicago Cultural Center

78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630

* Taller de Compas de Almanjayar

See September 17 entry.

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