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It's a Small World After All: World Music Fest Chicago 2007 Preview

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 14, 2007 3:47PM

2007_09_WMF2K7.jpgOf all the city-sponsored music festivals, few utilize as much of the city limits like the World Music Festival (check out the festival's Myspace page, also). In its nine years, World Music Fest has become a showcase event, even though it lacks the resources the city pours into Blues Fest, Jazz Fest, and Viva! Chicago. Its drawn visitors to the city from around the world, done a remarkable job in shining a much-needed spotlight on Chicago’s numerous music venues (the only festival in the city to truly do so on a regular basis), introduced Chicago residents to neighborhoods they would not have otherwise visited, raised awareness and created fans of so-called “world music” and proved that Chicago has an audience base with the interest to sustain and support many of the acts featured in previous versions.

World Music Fest 2007 will also mark the first version of the festival without the participation of HotHouse, still “itinerant” since it left its South Loop digs in July. Long before there was a World Music Fest, HotHouse was the only place to go to find a wide array of musical styles from around the world. But the show must go on, and following the jump we have a list of recommended performances for those of you interested in participating in what, to this Chicagoist writer, is the best musical festival in the city. The artists' names link to their respective websites or Myspace pages.

Cyro Baptista & Beat the Donkey:

This Brazilian percussionist and songwriter who’s played with artists such as Sting, Paul Simon, Herbie Hancock, Laurie Anderson, Cassandra Wilson, and Trey Anastasio, brings his long-standing band back to town. The highly energetic, theatrical and anarchistic Beat the Donkey incorporates Brazilian musical styles with hard rock, funk, jazz, Caribbean and West African music. The energy of their stage show is off the charts. Led Zeppelin might serve themselves by checking out Beat the Donkey’s cover of “Immigrant Song” while they’re rehearsing for their one-off reunion show. (Wednesday, 8 p.m. at Martyrs’, $12 with Mc Rai; Thursday, 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. at Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater).

Spam All Stars

This Miami collective, led by DJ Le Spam, dabbles in a mélange of Afro-Caribbean styles, house, and hip-hop that proves true the rule espoused by longtime Chicago Samba dance instructor Edilson Lima: “the booty is made for shaking.” House heads, hip-hop fans, jam band sycophants, and folks who just want to groove should enjoy this band. (9 p.m. Saturday at Martyrs’, with Pacha Massive and former HotHouse booker David Chavez spinning between sets, $12; 6 p.m. Sunday at Navy Pier. DJ Le Spam will also spin a solo set Saturday afternoon at Truman College as part of the Afrique Rhythm Fest).

Yohimbe Brothers

Individually, DJ Logic and Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid are inventive musicians with no known musical boundaries. Reid has our lifelong respect based solely on the LC classic "Time's Up." As the Yohimbe Brothers, the two push and pull their way across a cornucopia of styles that might be hard to sit through. But when they’re locked in, they’re amazing. This could be one of the best shows of the fest, or one of its biggest disappointments. There will be no happy medium. (Saturday, 10 p.m. at Kinetic Playground, $12, with Haale).


This New York-born Iranian singer/songwriter makes a game attempt of meshing the traditional Sufi and Farsi melodies of her parents’ homeland to Lower East Side art rock. Her concert at HotHouse last spring left us wanting; we kept waiting for something to spark inside her and kick the performance up a notch. Playing on the same bill as Yohimbe Brothers Saturday night might be what’s needed for Haale to bring her “A” game. (Saturday, 10 p.m. at Kinetic Playground with Yohimbe Brothers, $12; Sunday, 3 p.m. at Borders on Broadway).

Eastern Blok

Croatian guitarist Goran Ivanovic has carved a niche for himself locally with fans of his technically flawless Macedonian folk and classical guitar playing, but he also brings more than enough emotion to his craft to offset what could otherwise be construed as instrumental masturbation. His regular working band, featuring bassist Matt Ulery, drummer Michael Caskey, and saxophonist Doug Rosenberg, has perfected a sublime blend of jazz, Balkan rhythms, and classical guitar that appeals to both fans of musical fusion and the jam band, noodle-dancing goofballs. (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., Museum of Contemporary Art, $12).

Louis Mhlanga

Another in a long line of strong guitarists from Zimbabwe, Mhlanga got his first break backing up countryman Oliver Mtukudzi, and later collaborated with the likes of South African legend Hugh Masekela. Masekela’s later-day fascination with smooth jazz apparently rubbed off on Mhlanga, but his sharp, lyrical guitar lines are a joy to behold, even with such watered-down, lowest common denominator rhythms backing him. (11 a.m. today at Claudia Cassidy Theater; 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Old Town School of Folk Music with Dobet Gnahore, $12).

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt

A longtime student of sitar legend Ravi Shankar, Bhatt traded in that instrument in favor of Hawaiian slack key and slide guitar, which he then adapted to traditional ragas to create a musical style he calls “mohan veena.” The guitar Bhatt uses is outfitted with 20 strings, only eight of which are picked. The other dozen slowly vibrate from the sounds of the picked strings, creating a sound similar to the sitar. (Tuesday, 7 p.m. at International House; Wednesday, 12:30 p.m. at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater).

Kiran Ahluwalia

A master interpreter of Punjabi folk and ghazals (an ancient Indian form of love song), Ahluwalia updates the styles with flourishes of jazz and pop music. Her songs have an immediacy to them that appeals to casual listeners, but her borrowing of Western elements in updating the form has drawn criticism from fans of traditional ghazals. (Thursday, 12:30 p.m., Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater; 6:30 p.m. at Preston Bradley Hall).