Catalina Maria Johnson

International radio broadcaster, bilingual cultural journalist, music curator


Feature photo of Mrigya

There’s going to be several stages, two buildings, several auditoriums and a long city block packed with so much amazing music it’s going to be hard to experience it all in three days. But in terms of visiting artists, here’s my picks for four not-to-be-missed acts at Old Town School of Folk Music’s inaugural Square Roots Fest, now the institution’s flagship summertime festival (having replaced the much-loved Folk and Roots Fest celebrated in Welles Park for the last 13 years ).

Orquesta Macabeo

This will be the Chicago debut of Orquesta Macabeo, formed in 2008 by twelve self-taught musicians from Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico. As veterans of the underground scene on the isla del encanto, with backgrounds in rock, punk, ska and reggae, their intense, driven, highly percussive and almost jazzy salsa (a style which originated in the seventies, called salsa “brava” o “gorda”) is tinged with a bit of all of those influences and will have you dancing to salsa without having to take a single class.

Sidi Touré

Malian singer-songwriter and guitarist Sidi Touré’s music, a sweet desert blues of delicately textured flair is often called “Songhai blues”, as Songhai is the name of his native language and the melodies and rhythms which draw from the folklore of Gao, his hometown in eastern Mali, are reminiscent of Mississippi blues. Touré will also be jamming in the East Building lobby on Saturday afternoon with members of Chicago’s own Occidental Dance Brothers, so head there to take in not just the cool a.c. but the coolest African rhythms around.

M.A.K.U. Sound System

Fiercely activist and known for putting their music where their hearts and minds are, this 8-member Queens-based band hails mostly from Colombia (the one exception is the trombone player, from Georgia). They transport Colombia’s afrocolombian and traditional big-band sound to brave new worlds of psychedelia, funk, jazz, punk and beyond and function as a true collective both philosophically and musically, putting out a richly-layered high power sound that propels audiences easily into a dancing frenzy.


One of the greatest hits by this eight-member ensemble from New Delhi ensemble is called “Rock the Raaga”, and indeed they do that well – the group includes not just the classic violinist and tabla player, bass, keyboards, guitar and drums as well. They name as influences Ravi Shankar and the Beatles, as well as the electric trance orchestra of the seventies, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and experimental jazzist Joe Zawinul, so their upbeat groove finds delightful common ground between classical Indian melodic patterns and a whole lot of blues, funk, folk and jazz.

Square Roots Fest will be held on Lincoln Avenue between Montrose and Wilson as well as within Old Town’s two buildings on July 20, 21 and 22

Check Catalina’s  radio show Beat Latino  (On FB and itunes too!) as well as recent NPR features to explore the past, present and future of Latin music.

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