Catalina Maria Johnson

International radio broadcaster, bilingual cultural journalist, music curator

As we’ve often said before, you really can’t go wrong with any of the World Music Festival Chicago concerts. The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, with leadership from Carlos Cuauhtemoc Tortolero and David Chavez, have programmed over forty world-class international bands that will share their talents and music with us for free, at dozens of venues throughout the city. It’s two weeks of nonstop international music, and as a city we are privileged to have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in some of the finest music from around the globe. Many of the bands play twice, so chess out your schedule carefully and you can catch quite a few of the shows. We did already have a chance to trance out at the fifth annual Ragamala, a night-long celebration of music from all over India which allows Chicago citizens to experience exquisite music and dance from dusk to dawn and under the largest Tiffany Dome in the world – a once-a-year chance to see said dome light up naturally with the sun’s first rays. But, don’t despair, there’s still 12 days of amazing music to come, – here’s a few picks of musical visitors from the Latinx world as well as music to which our lands have a familial relationship, thanks to the vicissitudes of cultural collision during colonial times. One other recommendation: Plan on not sleeping for the next two weeks and it’ll all be fine. Did we mention all concerts are free? Music Picks – World Music Festival 2017 Tcheka  is a masterful and expressive singer who pulls together the hybrid influences of the tiny island of Cape Verde,  once a colonial outpost through which centuries of sadness and tragedy played out as enslaved persons were brought through on their way to the Americas. Despite its undertones of melancholy, the music of the island is nevertheless glorious, and Cheka is a master exponent.
Vox Sambou, from Haiti and now based in Montreal, distills Caribbean musical elements in a heady raw and vital mixture with a large dose of hip-hop. If you love fierce, political hip-hop and rhymes riding on waves and waves of roots music, this one’s for you.
All the way from Venezuela, Betsayda Machado y La Parranda El Clavo a is coming our way for their Chicago debut. It is supremely joyous music that is sometimes created on the spur of the moment – just like when just days ago, the ensemble was forced away from Miami by the storms, and this happened. We will get just a taste of an ensemble that can grow to dozens of persons as musicians travel house to house in a small village that was created by enslaved persons who had fled their captivity to form secret communities in the jungle. It’s a powerful music that bears witness to resistance and persistence, absolutely not to be missed.
We will also get a chance to see for the first time ever, Los Hijos de la Montaña, a band formed by two luminaries of Latinx music – Luz Elena Mendoza from Portland, Oregon from Y La Bamba and her brother in the music, Sergio Mendoza, from Orkesta Mendoza and Calexico. Together they formed Los Hijos and if their live show bears any resemblance to the recorded project (which was produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos), we are in for a treat as these master musicians join forces to create quirky indie-folk-rock music that evokes both Luz Elena’s roots in Michoacán and Sergio’s roots in Sonora.
Celebrate Mexican Independence Day in style with Los Hijos de la Montaña, paired another evening with Flor de Toloache, New York’s all female mariachi. Boasting members from all over the world whose voices soar with exquisite harmonies, Flor de Toloache’s  latest albumcelebrated the beauty of dark-skinned faces with a mariachiesque take on a Puerto-Rican classic, Las Caras Lindas. This extremely talented ensemble of musicians has taken mariachi to a new level, imbuing it with fresh, revealing indie rock influences without losing the integrity of the original genre.
The Global Peace Picnic at Humboldt Park is a wonderful and family-friendly event with a Peace Procession, a beautiful reminder of what the World Music Festival is really all about –  not about just sharing international music (which in and of itself is a great accomplishment) but celebrating the artistic talents of the human family and finding the connections between all of us in what the music reveals about our common time, history and space. Puerto Rico’s La Tribu de Abrante will be a highlight at the Picnic, paired here with Betsayda Machado and La Parranda El Clavo. La Tribu de Abrante will also present an instrument workshop at the lovely Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center.
Trio da Kali is an ensemble that has been getting a lot of buzz, partly due to their fabulous collaborative work with Kronos Quartet.   Boasting striking vocals and crazy good balafon playing, the Senegalese trio’s melodies and rhythms soar with thrilling abandon. It’ll be especially wonderful to experience them at the Chicago Cultural Center (under that extraordinary Tiffany Dome).
Another musical guest from Cape Verde, Bitori is a veteran of funaná music. If you like our Latinx accordion-based music such as merengue or even the crazy faster cumbias of norteño or Tex-Mex, you will no doubt enjoy dancing to Bitori’s tunes. Funaná is also music that was once forbidden by colonial powers for being “subversive”, so dance to it even more happily now!
Beats y Bateria will also be performing with Bitori. We are very excited about this band’s recent emergence in the Chicago world music scene, joining the talents of Harold Gonzalez Medina, aka AfroQbano, drummer Daniel Crane, multinstrumentalist Patrick Donley as well as the ethereal yet potent voice of Moldovan Ana Munteanu. — Check out the World Music Fest 2017 preview on Beat Latino too, for more tunes!