World Music Festival Chicago 2003 | Festival | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Festival

World Music Festival Chicago 2003

by

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

comment

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.

In the past the WMF has always brought in some artists especially for the event, but 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 North American tours. At press time only one scheduled performer (Monica Salmaso of Brazil) had actually canceled due to the sort of visa problems that have plagued the festival since 9/11, but Cuban singer Issac Delgado and his band had yet to receive clearance from the Department of Homeland Security. In their place festival organizers have slated another Cuban act, Orlando "Maraca" Valle y Otra Vision, who were forced by similar circumstances to miss their appearance at Summerdance last month but have made it into the country this time. If Delgado and company do manage to show up in time for the gig, Saturday at the Park West, they'll play a set as well.

A final tally of two cancellations would seem low by the standards of 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 takes place 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 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).

For any further updates to the schedule see the online version of this guide at www.chicagoreader.com.

* = recommended

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18

11 AM

MUSEUM OF BROADCAST COMMUNICATIONS

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 sings and plays the Kyrgyz national instrument, the long-necked fretless lute called the komuz; 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 widely 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 jazz fusion group Panoramic. 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. Whether covering Bob Marley's "Jammin'" or tiptoeing through "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 on state

*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 the duo made its first album, 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 supports her lyrical solos and interjects 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

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, and he donates proceeds 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 emigrated 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. His 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 remarkable fluidity and sharp articulation; he performs with Indian tabla player Puranlal Vyas, who moved to Chicago in 1998.

6 PM

CHICAGO CULTURAL CENTER

Environmental Encroachment

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

6:30 PM

Preston Bradley hall, Chicago Cultural Center

*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), sometimes 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 gamelans coming through on tour--but there's a well-established ensemble right in our backyard. This nonprofit group based at the University of Chicago has been teaching and performing traditional and new gamelan music for more than 20 years. It'll 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

Liam Teague & Panoramic

See above.

7:45 PM

Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center

*Habibullah Wardak & Puranlal Vyas

See above.

PM

GAR Rotunda, Chicago Cultural Center

Jan Yrgagy

See above.

:45 PM

GAR Hall, Chicago Cultural Center

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; he's been performing around town ever since. While he's usually played 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

*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--plays a wide variety of maqam-derived music. The lineup 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

*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.

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 19

11 AM

Museum of Broadcast Communications

*Ellika & Solo

See September 18 entry.

Noon

Daley Center

*Razbar Ensemble

Formed in 1997 by Iranian Kurds living in Germany, the Razbar Ensemble is dedicated to playing the music of the Ahl-e Haqq, a mystical Sufi order with an estimated three million adherents, living predominantly in Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. Historically this music has rarely been heard outside of the sect's own religious ceremonies, but this group has been letting others have a taste. As heard on Razbar's second album, Leyli (Arion), its performances provide the kind of ecstatic release common to Sufi devotional music, ultimately reaching a feverish, nearly trance-inducing pitch. In three extended works, called zekr, the music builds slowly, as simple patterns played on tanbur (a twangy, long-necked lute) and kemence (a spike fiddle) are joined by hypnotic group chanting; the beat of the daf (a frame drum) gains in intensity and velocity, and the other players and the singers follow along. At its most frenzied the music seems as if it's about to spin out of control, but it's an illusion created with formidable precision. Razbar's live performances also include elaborately ritualized dancing.

12:30 PM

Museum of Broadcast Communications

*Taller de Compas de Almanjayar

See September 18 entry.

*Super Uba y Su Conjunto

Born and raised in a rural town on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, Ubaldo Cabrera grew up immersed in the famous musical styles of his country, merengue and bachata. At 19 he moved to the city of Santiago, where he learned to play guitar, and he was active there as a musician from the early 70s till 1995, when he came to the U.S. on tour with bachata star Leonardo Paniagua and settled in Brooklyn. These days artists like Elvis Crespo and Juan Luis Guerra have become Latino radio superstars with slick, export-only versions of the Dominican styles, but Super Uba's all-acoustic Tierra Lejana (Iaso) has an elegant simplicity they can't touch. Merengue's dominant characteristics are a rapidly shuffling beat--driven by the relentless groove of the guira, a metal scraper--and giddy accordion; Uba's group plays it with a guitar-driven sound more common to bachata, and tosses in a little Cuban son too. His lead guitarist, the bachata master Edilio Paredes, picks nifty little rhythmic licks and reels off high-velocity solos throughout the album, and Uba sings with a low-key, avuncular charm.

12:30 PM

Borders Books & Music on State

Perla Batalla

Discoteca Batalla (Mechuda, 2002) is named for the record store Perla Batalla's father ran in Los Angeles, where the Mexican-American singer received "an education of nonstop music that cut across genres and languages." But it sounds to me like she took a pretty light course load. Though most of the songs are in Spanish and some show glimmers of sensual Mexican balladry in the acoustic guitar playing and percussion, the overwhelming bulk of Batalla's music is just run-of-the-mill singer-songwriter fluff. She's got a lovely voice (she's sung backup for Leonard Cohen), but her inclusion in a world music festival is kind of a stretch.

12:30 PM

Borders Books & Music on 53rd

Cool Crooners of Bulawayo

Bulawayo, an industrial city in southern Zimbabwe, was home in the 1950s to two rival vocal groups--the Golden Rhythmic Crooners and the Cool Four--that mixed the ghetto sound of South African mbaqanga with the kind of hep harmonies practiced by Americans like the Delta Rhythm Boys and the Mills Brothers. Members of both bands were drawn into the struggle against minority rule in the 60s; one, Abel Sithole, spent a decade in prison for his role in the black nationalist movement. In the 90s he looked up some of his old running buddies with the idea of reviving the sounds of their youth, and the Cool Crooners were born. The Crooners have a more Zulu feel than most Zimbabwean music one hears; they sound South African. Unfortunately the production on their debut, Blue Sky (Globe Music), stifles the smooth, breezy vocal blend; the rhythm section is surprisingly clunky and heavy-handed, and the electronic keyboards are consistently distracting. Here's hoping the live show will give the singers more room to swing.

7 PM

Humboldt Park Boathouse

*Super Uba y Su Conjunto

See above.

7 PM

Mexican Fine Arts center Museum $12

Perla Batalla

See above.

*Maria del Mar Bonet

Born on the Spanish island of Majorca, Maria del Mar Bonet has been singing exquisite folk songs for nearly four decades. In the 60s she became a member of Els Setze Jutges, an influential group of musicians writing songs in their native language, Catalan, at a time when its use was seen by Franco's government as an act of civil disobedience. Over the years she's explored numerous ethnic styles, most notably the Arabic influences that link Spain with northern Africa and the Middle East, but also the music of Brazil, Greece, Italy, and Sardinia. Her recent album Raixa (World Muxxic, 2001) was recorded live on the occasion of her 25th annual performance at Barcelona's Placa del Rei; she's backed sometimes by lush orchestral arrangements, sometimes by an acoustic guitar or two, but the numerous a cappella passages prove that her gorgeous, stately alto doesn't need much help. Largely unknown in this country, she's a legend in Spain.

7:30 PM

Old Town School of Folk Music $12

Cool Crooners of Bulawayo

See above.

*Ellika & Solo

See September 18 entry.

7:30 PM

Museum of Contemporary Art $12

*Beat the Donkey

Beat the Donkey's eponymous debut on John Zorn's Tzadik Records was one of the best albums I heard last year: a feast of Brazilian rhythms and catchy melodies, with a dynamic range that keeps the listener on his toes. The ten-member group is anchored by a phalanx of percussionists and led by the great Cyro Baptista, who's played with everyone (and I mean everyone: Yo-Yo Ma, Brian Eno, Herbie Hancock, Derek Bailey, Laurie Anderson, Sting, etc, etc). The album is filled with cameos by Brazilian artists (Luciana Souza, Romero Lubambo, Nilson Matta) and downtown types (Zorn, Marc Ribot, Erik Friedlander) who flesh out the grooves into something approaching pop songs. Without warning the group veers from thunderous Carnaval breakdowns to wispy sambas to ambient mood pieces--and even tosses in a touch of jury-rigged gamelan music. In their live show, however, they stray a little too close to the line separating "unpredictable" from "goofy." Minus the guest instrumentalists, the band relies on gonzo performance tactics to break up the raw, ritualistic grooves: the album's "Sapo and the Prince" makes good use of the harmonic possibilities of blowing across the mouth of a bottle, but when the entire group started tooting on their Corona empties at a New York show earlier this year, I felt like I was watching Zoom.

Sergio Pires Quintet

This Brazilian singer and guitarist moved to Chicago in 1991; he's since added reggae and funk elements to the style known as musica popular brasileira, or MPB--already an amalgam of samba, bossa nova, and rock. Pires plays originals alongside covers associated with Brazilian greats like Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and Djavan.

PM

Rhythm $8, 21+

Drum Drum

This group from Darwin, Australia, in the tropical northern part of the country, is essentially a dance-pop outfit that tarts up its slick grooves with traditional percussion, bamboo-flute lines, and vocal chants from nearby Papua New Guinea, the birthplace of lead singer Tau Ingram. Sweet-voiced and charismatic, she's got the makings of a bona fide front woman, and there's plenty of visual spectacle--costumes, dancing, 12-foot-long log drums--but the mild funk-reggae fusion couldn't be more forgettable.

9:30 PM

Martyrs' $10, 21+

Zemog, El Gallo Bueno

Abraham "Aib" Gomez-Delgado was born in Puerto Rico to a father of Peruvian descent who loved classical music; when he was still a child his family moved to central Massachusetts, where he encountered hip-hop, metal, electronic music, and, later, free jazz. It's all there in Zemog, El Gallo Bueno, his high-voltage Boston eight-piece that plays salsa with the energy of a freaky rock band and the wandering curiosity of an improvisers' collective. The group includes Timo Shanko (best known as an upright bassist) on baritone sax and trumpeter Taylor Ho-Bynum, both big names in Boston's free-jazz scene, but despite bursts of avant-funk and punk-rock riffing and sideways excursions into Sun Ra territory, the music never loses its irresistible Afro-Caribbean groove; things can get strange, but the party keeps on going.

Los Hombres Perdidos

Guitarist Colin Bunn (Kevin O'Donnell's Quality Six, Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire) leads this Afro-Cuban derived group through some son classics and some originals designed to sound classic. Los Cubanos Postizos, the scrappy outfit led by New York guitarist Marc Ribot, is clearly the primary influence here--right down to the Arsenio Rodriguez covers--but this sextet lacks the personality and zip of its model.

10 PM

Empty Bottle $10, 21+

Si*Se

This New York group doesn't have much business on a world music roster. Yes, Si*Se's sultry front woman Carol C is bilingual, singing some of the material on their eponymous 2001 Luaka Bop debut in Spanish, and buried somewhere in the refined down-tempo grooves and DJ U.F.LOW's polite scratching are gentle son montuno guitar and tepid Afro-Caribbean drumming. But really this is the kind of trip-hoppy electronic soul you can't escape in trendy Wicker Park restaurants.

Youngblood Brass Band

I'm not sure what it is about this New Orleans-style brass band from Madison that New York underground-hip-hop types find so fascinating, but both of their albums have been released by Ozone, the label owned by Mike Ladd, and Talib Kweli has made a few guest appearances. As heard on their latest, Center:Level:Roar, all nine of these guys are fine players, but the dense arrangements are so polished they're practically inert: this is about as funky as a good university big band.

11 PM

Sonotheque $8, 21+

Grupo Okokan

Led by Juan Fuentes, this local 12-member troupe of percussionists, singers, and dancers plays exuberant, stripped-down Afro-Cuban rumba and Puerto Rican bomba.

DJ Hide

Originally from Japan, local DJ Hide Sukenari--a resident at Funky Buddha and Sonotheque--spins a mix of jazz, soul, and "obscure vintage grooves and modern global rhythms."

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 20

Noon

MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY

Drum Drum

See September 19 entry.

12:30 PM

Rogers Park

*Taller de Compas de Almanjayar

See September 18 entry.

1 PM

Borders Books & Music on Michigan

*Maria del Mar Bonet

See September 19 entry.

1 PM

Garfield Park Conservatory

Cool Crooners of Bulawayo

See September 19 entry.

2 PM

Rhythm $8

Minors must be accompanied by an adult

Cyro Baptista & Beat the Donkey

The Brazilian percussionist leads a workshop with members of his group Beat the Donkey (see September 19 entry).

3 PM

Borders Books & Music on Clark

Si*Se

See September 19 entry.

3 PM

Garfield Park Conservatory

*Super Uba y Su Conjunto

See September 19 entry.

7:30 PM

Old Town School of Folk Music $12

*Super Uba y Su Conjunto with El Bachatin

The New York-based group (see September 19 entry) is joined by a fellow Dominican, the wild, growling singer Alberto "el Bachatin" Moreno.

7:30 PM

Museum of Contemporary Art $12

*Razbar Ensemble

See September 19 entry.

Jan Yrgagy

See September 18 entry.

:30 PM

Polish Highlander Hall $12

*Duvo

Founded in 1976 in Salgotarjan, Hungary, Duvo is one of the country's oldest working folkloric groups and one of its best. Its repertoire, like those of most eastern European folk ensembles, ignores the lines on the map, featuring songs from Hungary, Transylvania, and Slovakia; what sets this band apart is its lineup of multi-instrumentalists, which lets it vary its sound while remaining faithful to tradition. While many pieces are dominated by dance riffs rapidly sawed on violin and kontra (a viola designed for playing chords), Duvo's members will also switch off on cimbalom (a hammered dulcimer), koboz (a Moldavian lute), furulya (flute), and hurdy-gurdy during the course of a set. Don't let the old-school getups and bushy mustaches throw you off--this is energizing stuff.

Siumni

This local septet plays the folk music of the Polish highlands in the Tatra Mountains--polkas, waltzes, and czardas--in regional costume.

9 PM

HotHouse $12, 21+

*Maria del Mar Bonet

See September 19 entry.

No em Pingo d'Agua

Choro, Brazil's great instrumental style, developed in the late 19th century. The music bears some resemblance to traditional jazz, with its extreme melodic leaps, frantic dance rhythms, and evolving emphasis on improvisation. Although its popularity had waned by the 40s, it's never entirely faded away in Brazil. In the late 70s a new generation of musicians sought to revitalize the style, and No em Pingo d'Agua (the name translates as "knot in a drop of water") were at the forefront of this movement, giving the music a contemporary jazz flair. While I find their stuff somewhat lightweight in sound and mood, the players are extremely skilled, and for fans of Brazilian jazz this is essential listening.

10 PM

Empty Bottle $12, 21+

Fiamma Fumana

This techno-pop quartet from northern Italy fleshes out its slick dance music with the traditional instrumentation of its homeland--piercing bagpipes, ethereal flute lines, reeling accordions--without ever making any of it seem like a good idea. Lead singer Fiamma navigates the group's high-velocity material with grace, accurately tracing elaborate folk melodies and harmonizing well with the other female voices, but heard against the relentless, overbusy throb of electronic beats, squelchy synthesizer licks, and frantically pulsing synthetic bass lines, the surprisingly Celtic-sounding folk elements seem cartoonish.

Zemog, El Gallo Bueno

See September 19 entry.

Martyrs'

10 PM $10, 21+

*Beat the Donkey

See September 19 entry.

Chicago Afrobeat Project

This recently formed local nine-piece is dedicated to advancing Afrobeat, the funky music developed and popularized by Nigerian legend Fela Kuti. In its tightly wound grooves the group displays a strong jazz sensibility a la electric Miles Davis and just the right amount of restraint: the horns sit out while the percussion percolates beneath extended electric-piano solos, and things are left to simmer for a while en route to the frenzied climaxes. What's missing from the classic Afrobeat recipe is vocals: call-and-response chanting worked well for Fela, and a bit of it here would help this band take it to the next level.

10 PM

Park West $15, 18+

*Spanish Harlem Orchestra

On the back of this group's recent debut, Un Gran Dia en el Barrio (Ropeadope), they're described as "Spanish Harlem's answer to Cuba's Buena Vista Social Club." But Ry Cooder's project brought a group of older Cuban musicians, great but forgotten, back into the spotlight; the Spanish Harlem Orchestra is a bunch of New York's elite salsa players--most of them Puerto Rican--all of whom are still in their prime and working regularly. Some of them, including pianist and musical director Oscar Hernandez (who played with Ruben Blades for many years) and trumpeter Ray Vega, have stepped out as leaders on occasion, but for the most part these guys aren't stars but top-shelf sidemen. That said, this 13-piece outfit is one hell of a band, and the album is a chance to hear the stylistic elements that put New York salsa on the map--the razor-sharp arrangements, concise solos, and raw, distinctly urban energy--in their original, unadulterated state.

*Orlando "Maraca" Valle & Otra Vision

Orlando "Maraca" Valle is one of Cuba's greatest Latin-jazz flute players, as evidenced by his work in the legendary Irakere and on solo albums like 1996's Havana Calling (Qbadisc). When the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon took off in the late 90s, however, Valle switched stylistic gears and began making music for dancers instead of listeners, delving into the son tradition that gave birth to Latin jazz. Superb albums like Sonando and Descarga total (both released in the U.S. on the Ahi-Nama label) showed he wasn't slumming: his band, Otra Vision, was filled with terrific instrumentalists and singers, and the mix of classic and newer material proved infectious and energizing.

He cast his net even wider on his most recent album, Tremenda rumba!, surveying not only Cuban forms--zesty son, stately danzon, the voice-and-percussion-driven guaguanco, contemporary funk-fueled timba, and the Carnaval form called conga--but other Latin American and Caribbean traditions as well. There's a bit of Colombian cumbia in "El fuelle," and guest vocalist Ammiel Castellanos brings a touch of Jamaican dancehall to "Castigala" (there's even a house-driven remix tacked on to the end of the album). While Valle's prodigious flute playing may be scarce, his wise leadership isn't--though the album's amazing cohesiveness can also be explained in part by the inherent flexibility of Cuban music, which has always elaborated on its past with ease. The unifying thread, of course, is those unrelenting rhythms. Valle and his band are last-minute replacements for fellow Cuban Issac Delgado (see below).

*Issac Delgado

Just about every recent solo record I've heard by the great Cuban singer Issac Delgado (who first made his mark with legendary timba pioneers NG La Banda back in the late 80s) has been hampered by slick production. His latest, Versos en el Cielo (33rd Street)--a lively homage to the great practitioners of Cuba's nueva trova tradition like Pablo Milanes and Silvio Rodriguez (who makes a cameo)--is no exception. Delgado continues to import funk, New York salsa, and hip-hop into his music, which, together with the ultra-polished backing vocals, factory-sealed horn charts, and keyboard-heavy instrumentation, just makes it harder to hear the things that make him extraordinary: his impeccable phrasing, his sharpness as an improviser, his soul. Luckily, much of this is remedied onstage: the contemporary timba flourishes are still there, but Delgado's powerful singing is always front and center. At press time Delgado and his band were still waiting for clearance to enter the country; if it comes through in time, they'll play.

11 PM

Sonotheque $8, 21+

Si*Se

See September 19 entry.

DJ Anthony Nicholson

This veteran Chicago house DJ and producer is a Sonotheque resident two nights a week and is largely responsible for developing the club's signature mix of jazz, soul, and urban grooves.

11 PM

Rhythm $10, 21+

*Djelimady Tounkara

Guitarist Djelimady Tounkara has been a force in Malian music for over three decades. He's best known as the longtime guitarist in the Super Rail Band, which back in the early 70s revolutionized the country's music by plugging Mande traditions into an electrical outlet and introduced the world to major vocalists Salif Keita and Mory Kante. When the group went stale in the mid-90s he stripped away the horns and keyboards and rebuilt its sound around his guitar. More recently he's been making spellbinding acoustic music. As heard on his superb Sigui (Indigo, 2002), Tounkara remains a master melodist, and the album's spare percussion, cascading kora patterns, and twangy ngoni licks set off his his solos beautifully. Last year at the Cultural Center he fronted a terrific band with Super Rail singer Samba Sissoko; this time he duets with fellow guitarist Samba Diabate.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 21

Noon

River East Art Center/Ogden Slip

No em Pingo d'Agua

See September 20 entry.

1 PM

Borders Books & Music on 53rd

Nothembi

South African singer and guitarist Nothembi Mkhwebane is a relative latecomer to music: although she learned the rudiments of guitar as a teenager on an instrument fashioned out of an old oil tin, she didn't begin her musical career until she was 30. She released her first record in 1984, and it was another ten years before she quit her day job as a maid. Her most recent album, Akanamandl' Usathana (Gallo, 2001), is steeped in South Africa's trademark Zulu harmonies and rhythms; she's a full-throated, soulful singer, and while her guitar playing is scrappy at best--nearly every song opens with a practically identical riff (although Elmore James did that too)--it nicely reinforces these fierce, loping grooves.

2 PM

Borders Books & Music on Michigan

Fiamma Fumana

See September 20 entry.

3 PM

Chicago Cultural Center

*Kushal Das & Samar Saha

As opposed to the purer, more ancient Carnatic tradition of southern India, Hindustani music is the result of the commingling of Hindu and Islamic forms starting in the 13th century, as elements of maqamat--the system of modes governing Arabic music--were applied to the structure of Indian ragas. To the rest of the world it's the dominant form of Indian classical music, with Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan its greatest living practitioners. The lesser-known Kushal Das is a superb sitarist from Calcutta, whose deep understanding of raga improvisation and impressive sense of restraint are well represented on a 2000 recording for the French label Ocora. He's accompanied on tabla by Samar Saha.

5 PM

Old Town School of Folk Music $12

*Duvo

See September 20 entry

Juliano Milosavljevic Ensemble

Accordion is the main instrument for Juliano Milosavljevic, a Serb who arrived in Chicago in the late 90s and now teaches at the Old Town School, but he's also adept on piano, guitar, bass, and drums. He does a lot of instrument switching on a demo of Yiddish and Gypsy music I've heard; unfortunately, the cheesy drum machine and synthetic strings don't give him much of a chance to impress anyone. Chances are Milosavljevic and his group will sound better live.

7:30 PM

Riviera Theater $25

*Youssou N'Dour

Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour is not just one of Africa's greatest stars--he's one of the most important pop singers in the world. Thanks to hit duets with Peter Gabriel (that's him on "In Your Eyes," but try not to hold it against him) and later Neneh Cherry, he became a global marquee name in the late 80s and made a series of crossover albums for several major labels, although none was without serious flaws. His magical voice--a creamy, weightless cry that can convey joy and sorrow in a single melismatic swoop--was too much for even the glossiest mainstream mix to overcome; still, the world wasn't hearing him at his best.

As a teenager in the late 70s N'Dour was the lead singer for the mighty Senegalese pop band Etoile de Dakar, but he soon broke away to form his own band, Super Etoile de Dakar, whose loud, guitar-heavy adaptation of Wolof music--a style dubbed mbalax--helped put old-fashioned bands like Orchestra Baobab out of business. By the mid-80s he'd started his successful solo career; even as he released slick albums in the West he continued to churn out more soulful and traditional recordings for the African market.

On Nothing's in Vain (Nonesuch), his latest solo album and his best in nearly a decade, N'Dour goes the unplugged route--explored recently by folks like Salif Keita, Baaba Maal, and Djelimady Tounkara--leaving the synthesizers and the big Western beats behind in favor of acoustic guitars and percolating percussion. There are still some disappointing crossover attempts (like the treacly bilingual ballad "So Many Men," with French pop star Pascal Obispo), but his voice has never sounded better, and the graceful use of traditional African instrumentation makes up for any missteps. N'Dour was supposed to perform here this spring but canceled the tour in protest of U.S. policy toward Iraq. This gig, with a ten-piece band, is his first in Chicago since 1994.

Nothembi

See above.

*Djelimady Tounkara

See September 20 entry.

11 PM

Sonotheque $8, 21+

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 Fela, 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.

DJ RikShaw

RikShaw (ne Richard Smith)--a founding member of the experimental dub outfit Rome and of the Deadly Dragon Sound System DJ collective--spins a mix of dub, dancehall, and roots reggae.

Add a comment