World Music Festival Chicago 2011: A World of Music at your Ears

How often can you go to Nepal, Cuba and the Congo in the same week? Thanks to the excellent curators at the World Music Festival, the music can transport you to those distant lands and many more. Here’s our ten picks – Chicago debuts – of artists we’ll have a chance to see live here for the first time (in approximate chronological order, to help you plan).

Do check the complete schedule for details. Many artists perform more than once and also participate in live daytime interviews at the Chicago Cultural Center that are followed by short performances.

Joaquín Diaz

Diaz’s vertiginously fast accordion playing and smooth vocals, not to mention an expansive, warm presence on the stage, will take the Spirit of Music Garden and other spaces to the tropics with traditional Dominican rhythms, played straight up – no frills, just great music that’ll make you feel very, very happy.


Classically and operatically-trained Nuriya, whose family has been in Mexico for three generations after her Iraqi and Syrian Jewish grandparents fled their countries due to persecution, also spent time in Cuba, which takes her to create a mestizo sound that is all her own – a Gypsy, Latin, Arabic-flamenco tapestry upon which her beautiful vocals soar and flow.

Balloké Sissoko and Vincent Segal

Ballaké Sissoko from Mali and Vicent Segal from France, are true masters of their respective classical traditions – kora and cello respectively. Their creative collaboration expresses a rich, profound bond between two virtuoso musicians from different continents through a musical dialogue of exquisite texture and lyrical beauty.

Ernesto Anaya Ensemble

Anaya is a true maestro of the Mexican ‘huapango’, a fusion of indigenous traditions and European influences that goes back to the 17th century, who masterfully plays more than thirty string, wind and percussion instruments. His arrangements take classical and well-known Mexican tunes to new and unexpected heights.

Wust El Balad

Wüst El Balad, whose name in Arabic jeans “downtown”, is an Egyptian alt rock with a huge following in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. Their urban sound, rooted in Cairo, framed by the Egyptian desert and tinged just a bit with Latin rhythms and jazz, gives us a taste of the music of the youth that took the Egyptian revolution to the streets.

Staff Benda Bilili

Formed by musicians from Kinshasa, capital of the Congo to help them survive polio as well as being homeless, these artists are in a world-class of their own. I experienced their amazing music at a World Music Expo Showcase in 2009 in Copenhagen, and can attest to the fact that their vibrant rhythms and no holds-barred-performance will lift your spirits and move your body like no other.


In the Nepali language, the word ‘kutumba’ refers a unique bond amongst community members, and this instrumental ensemble from Kathmandu’s music share the musical expression of that bond in the sweet, joyful Nepali folk tunes they play on a series of exotic, beautiful instruments.

Te Vaka

The music of Te Vaka is sung in Tokelaua, the original language of the thousand plus islands of the South Seas.  The Pacific groove of these infectious tribal rhythms played on traditional log drums tells the stories of Polynesia, both past and present, from tales of the original pioneers who traveled across the planet’s largest ocean on a ‘vaka’ (canoes) to warnings of the destructive effects of global warming on many of the smaller Pacific Islands.

Creole Choir of Cuba

Also known as “Grupo Vocal Desandanns”,  from the Haitian creole word that means “descendants”, the choir is formed by five women and five men between 26 and 60 years of age, Cubans of Haitian origins. They sing in the creole language, which took African roots and mixed in English, French and Spanish, and like the language, their joyful, powerful dances and music distill hundreds of years of Haitian culture nuanced by Cuba.


A Muslim-born African woman from Comoros, a small island  off of East Africa (also known as “island of the moon”), descendant of a Sufi Master, and the first Comoran woman to give public performances, Nawal’s lovely voice and Indo-Arabian-Persian melodies and rhythms share a message of peace and bringing people together.

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