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Out of This World

The 2009 Chicago World Music Festival has nearly every country covered - here's what's worth the trip.
Friday Sep 11, 2009.     By Ben Rubenstein
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

"I hate world music," David Byrne famously wrote in a 1999 essay for The New York Times, calling the term a "catchall" for non-Western music of all kinds, and a "name for a bin in the record store signifying stuff that doesn't belong anywhere else."

Despite his concerns, though, we're guessing the cosmopolitan musician would have a hard time boycotting Chicago's World Music Festival, the latest installment of which runs September 18-24 in venues throughout the city. This year's fest again boasts a talented lineup, which this year includes 27 acts making their Chicago debuts. While there are plenty of worthy local acts on the bill as well, we'll stick to recommending the ones you can't see very often. Sorry, David - foreignness just seems more exciting.

Fools Gold
Fool's Gold
September 19 at Navy Pier, September 20 at Bottom Lounge
This LA collective's grooves are rooted in African and Middle Eastern rhythms (guitar-centric, not horn-heavy) but with plenty of Western pop influences to keep things from getting too, you know, weird. The opening - and addictive - track on Fool's Gold's new self-titled release, "Surprise Hotel," is a perfect example of how the group makes hemispheres meet on the dance floor.

Red Baraat
Red Baraat
September 18 at Martyrs', September 19 at Navy Pier
If New Orleans' Second Line brass bands took to marching through New Delhi, they might end up sounding something like the New York-based Red Baraat, which calls itself the first and only "dhol 'n' brass" band in the States. The horn- and percussion-heavy songs (a dhol is a double-sided, barrel-shaped North Indian drum) waver between influences, but never lose their groove. Expect a show full of flashy performances and a new way of looking at the world.

Blick Bassy
photo: Hans Speekenbrink
Blick Bassy
September 21 at Martyrs', September 22 at Kelyvn Park Fieldhouse
This super-soulful Cameroonian singer admits that it's not as much about what he sings as the way he sings it, and it's true - he could be insulting all of Chicago in the sweetly flowing "Massa," and we'd still find the song irresistible. Bassy pairs his warm, understated vocals with guitar, kora, calabash and bass to offer rhythms that don't exactly hit you over the head, but linger with you long afterward.

September 20 at Bottom Lounge, September 21 at Hideout
This South African band has four members, but it sounds as if there could be about ten. The sound isn't necessarily big, but it's densely packed with influences ranging from psychedelic rock and dub to jazz and funk. In a sense, this is the sound of a country mining its musical past to come up with something wholly new. Fortunately, you don't have to be familiar with the history to enjoy the present.

Electric Junkyard Gamelan
Electric Junkyard Gamelan
September 20 at Uncommon Ground on Devon, September 21 at Daley Plaza
This band, led by Terry Dame, hails from New York City. Its influences are primarily Balinese (though other elements, such as klezmer, funk, hip-hop and Indian music, have been added to the mix). Its instruments? Totally from another planet. The Big Barp (an electric rubber-band harp), Sitello (electric cello/sitar combo), Clayrimba (a three-octave-tuned clay pot "marimba") and other noisemaking devices were all invented and produced by the group members themselves. As you'd imagine, this makes for some pretty unorthodox sounds. But more often than not, all those twangs and clangs mesh into exceedingly danceable grooves.

Forro in the Dark
Forro In The Dark
September 20 at Martyrs'
If you don't find your foot at least tapping a little upon hearing this Brazilian band's high-energy party music, well, you might want to lay off the horse tranquilizers. The syncopated forro sound has been filling rural dance floors for years; these guys (now living in NYC) have urbanized and updated it for a whole new group of listeners. Take a listen to the hyper, flute-filled "Bandinha" and just try to say they haven't succeeded.

Little Cow
Little Cow
September 20 at Navy Pier and Hideout
Eastern European music has seen a surge in popularity stateside in recent years, thanks to acts like DeVotchKa, Gogol Bordello and Beirut. But Little Cow is the genuine article, having built a huge following in its native Hungary since 2002. It's not hard to see why, as the horn-filled, Gypsy-dance tunes are all about fun.

Los De Abajo
Los De Abajo
September 22 at Green Dolphin Street
If you came away from August's Viva! Chicago Latin Music Festival and Art Fair with a renewed interest in the diversity of Latin music, this Mexico City act would be a good place to start studying. The eight-piece band focuses on Latin ska (yes, there is such a thing), but also includes elements of reggae, cumbia, banda and straightahead rock in its eclectic sound. The group is known for its highly energetic live shows and strong politics, so come prepared to get sweaty and, possibly, inspired.

September 22 at Museum of Contemporary Art, September 24 at Chicago Cultural Center
Drummer/trumpeter duos are a pretty rare thing - but so are musicians of this caliber. This mostly acoustic (with occasional electronic accompaniment) Polish pair offers avant-garde jazz that wouldn't be out of place at the Hideout's Immediate Sound Series (which is exactly where the band will be playing on the Wednesday before the fest). If you like your jazz with a bit of sadness sewn in, this is something to try.

Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens
Naomi Shelton and The Gospel Queens
September 24 at Chicago Cultural Center
Recent Daptone Records signee Naomi Shelton seems to be constantly torn between her spiritual side (developed through years of singing gospel in the church) and the urge to sin (via fiery funk). She finds a good balance on her new release, What Have You Done, My Brother, which is equal parts heaven and hell - sometimes in the same song ("Am I Asking Too Much"). If you don't believe in a higher power, you probably will after this show.

Watcha Clan
Watcha Clan
September 18 at Navy Pier, September 20 at Sonotheque
If you missed this hypnotic French act when it was last in town, for the Chicago Folk & Roots Festival in July, you owe it to yourself to correct the mistake. Led by Sista K, the multi-lingual group (songs are performed in French, Arabic, Hebrew and English) pulls its influences from all over the world, with one thing being a constant: the groove. Fans of Thievery Corporation, here's the next step in your world-music journey.

Kusun Ensemble
Kusun Ensemble
September 19 at Rogers Park World Music Festival and Edgewater GRalley Festival
Chicagoans have been lucky to get so many legendary West African acts come to our city in recent years, including multiple appearances by Mali's Vieux Farka Toure and Amadou & Mariam, and Senegal's Orchestra Baobab. Now comes the Kusun Ensemble, a Ghanaian group that's doing things a little differently. Its Nokoko music uses traditional instruments to create a new, unique African jazz sound - and the dancing that comes along with it makes a good seat very necessary.


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