Catalina Maria Johnson

International radio broadcaster, bilingual cultural journalist, music curator

Kalapriya Dance - Fotografía Cortesía del Artista

One of the most special times in our city is about to take off: Chicago’s city-wide completely free series of concerts celebrating music from around the globe brings us 11 (eleven!) days and nights of literally dozens of performances, including an all-nighter of Indian music for dancing and trancing in the magnificent Chicago Cultural Center.

Don’t let yourself be limited by musics you already know and love — take a chance and find an amazing sound from some kind of somewhere to satisfy certain parts of body and soul you hardly knew existed!

Here’s just a few upcoming musical moments I’m looking forward to for the 2015 Chicago World Music Festival, this year in it’s 17th annual edition. The next weeks of Beat Latino will also highlight the Latin-related side of our World Music Fest’s global offerings.

The entire schedule is available here.

Inaugural Global Peace Picnic: Dancing for Peace at a Global Bass and Latin electronica extravaganza

Daniel Russo Garrido, aka Boogat, is a Paraguayan-Mexican Quebecoise rapper (now based in Mexico, D.F.) who can do no wrong in our book. HIs latest album, Neo Reconquista, continues a musical path that started with rhyming in French and is now solidly Spanish-language flow. Boogat will share the stage along with several other globally-rooted MC/DJ/Producers in what is sure to be a delicious Sunday afternoon at Humboldt Park which includes performances by Mr. Pauer (Toto González) Miami/Venezuela’s creator of the tasty tropical/creole mix of electrópico, DJ Ushka, with roots in Sri-Lanka, Thailand and Brooklyn as well as local global bass connoisseurs Future Rootz.

Aziz Sahmaoui: Moroccan trance tunes from a Mythical Crossroads City

Having had a chance to experience a mind-blowing Gnawa night recently in Morocco, I am particularly looking forward to the trance-inducing gnawa music to be brought to Chicago by Paris-based Aziz Sahmaoui, a virtuoso of plucked African lute-like stringed instruments like the gimbri and the ngoni. An ex-member of the famed Zawinul Syndicate, Sahmaoui was raised in Marrakech, Morocco, a crossroads city for trade routes from Senegal, Mali and Guinea, the black African countries which are the roots of gnawa. University Of Gnawa is mostly composed of Senegalese musicians: guitarist Hervé Samb, bassist Alioune Wade and keyboards and kora player Cheikh Diallo, which promises a night of music firmly rooted in gnawa’s African roots.

Tanya Tagaq: Primal force Inuit Throat Singing from above the Arctic Circle

Tanya Tagaq’s performance is one of the most anticipated of our 2015 World Music Festival, as we get to witness her fierce and unique solo take on Inuit throat singing, which is normally done in pairs. This primal, breath-driven vocal music which uses the artist’s entire body and the space around it as a percussive resonant instrument, is rooted in Tagaq’s childhood memories of her mother’s homeland, a pristine area above the Arctic circle, which Tagaq describes as magical, with jagged mountains and a rich in marine life, and from which her family was forcibly relocated by the Canadian government. Tagaq, accompanied by violinist Jesse Zubot and drummer Jean Martin, will create a soundscape which at once enriches as well as reclaims for her people the imagery and creative space of 1922’s controversial silent film Nanook of the North.

Paolo Angeli: Slightly lunatic, magical and marvelous post-folk experimental music from Italy

Paolo Angeli wowed us at Womex 2014 in Spain last October, and it will be a thrill to experience his Chicago debut for our World Music Fest. Angeli uses his whole body to extract rich textures from an enormous guitar-violoncello-orchestra instrument that he himself modified, adding strings, pedals, percussive pieces and a number of electronic looping devices.  He plays the instrument with a bow and even his bare feet, evoking Sardinia, jazz, experimental classical music with a touch of experimental baroque to create cutting edge, post-folk trancey music. As you can tell from the number of adjectives we just used, words nearly fail us as we try to describe it all, so just trust me, and witness this amazing music for yourself.

Ester Rada: Israeli neo-soul with a touch of jazz

The enchanting Ester Rada takes the lilting grooves of the dance music from Ethiopia, her parents homeland, the religious music of her Israeli background, adds light jazzy flairs and propels it all into a powerful, heady mix thanks to a soaring, immensely velvety voice. Rada’s soulful compositions, which also speak to influences she names in interviews such as Nina Simone, Erykah Badu and Billie Holiday, are enhanced by her charismatic stage presence. Her performance and that of several other notable Ethiopian musicians including beloved keyboardist Hailu Mergia will additionally celebrate Meskerem 1, or the Ethiopian New Year which takes place September 11.

Lula Pena: Delicate odes to Lisbon’s dusk and sea

Another sure-to-be-highlight is the Chicago debut of extraordinary singer-songwriter Lula Pena (who has only taped two albums since 1998) in her first USA tour. Pena is a magnificently elegant troubadour blessed with a uniquely textured contralto voice. At Womex 2014, she filled an auditorium and captivated us just with her voice and the strumming of her guitar. Her songs are poems to the sea and lost loves that mix the eternal elements of her hometown Lisboa’s nostalgic fado, and lightly evoke Brazil’s  bossa nova from Brazil and even elements that remind us of French chanson and the Argentinean tango. She crystallizes in her work the mythical elements of all of those lands and their ports, with melodies that seem like they could have been used by sailors to fend of their loneliness.

Ragamala: All night classical India under the Tiffany Dome

Now in its third year, this all-night celebration of classical Indian music is one of my favorite World Music Festival experiences. It is quite a treat to be able to stretch out under the largest Tiffany dome in the world (some members of the audience even bring their own pillows and blankets) and become immersed in a superbly curated evening, night and morning of classical Indian dance and music from North as well as South Indian traditions. Of the artists performing, local favorites Saraswathi (Sara Ranganathan), a Carnatic Classical Veena artist and the extraordinary dancers of Kalapriya are sure to be standouts. All  this, and you will also have an amazing view from the hall of the sun rise over Millennium Park and the immense silver sculpture tourists call “Cloud Gate” and we Chicagoans call “the Bean” or “el Frijol”.

See you ’round the music!

Feature photo: Kalapriya dancer, Courtesy of the Artist

Check Catalina’s show Beat Latino! Also airs Fridays at 1pm and Sundays at 11am on Vocalo.