Chicago Folk & Roots Festival: Etran Finatawa, Les Saltimbanks, Red Baraat, Leonard Jacome, and others Critic's Choice Recommended Soundboard

When: Sun., July 11, 12 p.m. 2010

They aren't the only so-called desert-blues band to emerge in the wake of Tinariwen's success, but Niger's ETRAN FINATAWA stand out as a multiethnic ensemble, including not just Kel Tamashek members (frequently referred to as Tuareg) but also Wodaabe—the latter are the fellows in feathered turbans and colorful face paint. Though the five-piece group's three Wodaabe musicians contributes a greater emphasis on percussion and an increased use of vocal polyphony in the call-and-response sections, Etran Finatawa's third album, Tarkat Tajje / Let's Go! (Riverboat), nonetheless relies on a bedrock sound similar to that of Kel Tamashek groups like Tinariwen—subdued but stinging guitar lines that stab out of and snake through loping, hypnotic grooves. The percussion creates a sonic depth of field it's easy to get lost in, with syncopated hand claps and the rattle of the akayaure (a kind of metal rattle or clapper tied to the leg) out front, the traditional Tuareg tende drum in the middle, and the muted clip-clopping and murky thumps of the azakalabo (a calabash floating in a bowl of water) behind everything. With only one lead guitar and one rhythm guitar—the bass is overdubbed on the album, and not part of the live show—Etran Finatawa can't match the mesmerizing atmospheric density of Tinariwen's music, but the way their guitars interlace with this matrix of polyrhythms is exhilarating in its own right.

Indian brass-band music remains largely unknown in the West, but its furious polyphonic puffing and rollicking grooves are a staple at wedding celebrations on the subcontinent. New York percussionist Sunny Jain, the son of Punjabi immigrants, has an abiding interest in musical hybrids—his recent recent Taboo (Brooklyn Jazz Underground) is a thoughtful adaption of the ghazal form for jazz quartet—and he formed RED BARAAT as an Indian brass band with a distinctly American flavor. The group combines the fizzy, exuberant melodies of bhangra—along with its propulsive dhol drumming—with the second-line funk of a New Orleans funeral, and pulls it off without insulting either tradition. The nonet's debut album, this year's Chaal Baby (Sinj), is as smart as it is fun, balancing busy, irresistible beats with high-level horn blowing on both sturdy original songs and bhangra hits by the likes of Daler Mehndi and Malkit Singh. The record is great, but onstage Red Baraat are even better, winding up the crowd with shouts of encouragement and boisterous audience invasions till they've turned the show into a dance party.

Red Baraat also plays Wednesday at Martyrs' and Thursday as part of Summerdance. —Peter Margasak

Price: $10 suggested donation, $5 for kids and seniors

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