I had the good fortune of attending quite a few extraordinary concerts in 2011, some here in the Chi, and some elsewhere, so it was truly difficult to limit this list to only ten. No matter how what kind of gamut your musical tastes run, for 2012 please make sure to support your favorite artists and turn out for their performances. There is really nothing that lifts the spirit and shakes the body like a really amazing concert, and it is an art that you keep within you forever.
Here are some of my favorite concerts of the past year:
Manu Chao (Congress Theater, Chicago, IL)
We love Manu in the Chi! Greeted by a large sign that said “We are all Arizona”, the long-time pro-immigrant activist singer-songwriter railed against the system in tunes that perfectly distill the mixed feelings that pervade our city – both a sense of hopeful adventure as well as heart-breaking sadness of immigrant youth leaving home in hopes of a better future.
Susana Baca (Mayne Stage, Chicago, IL)
The beautiful Susana Baca, graceful and eloquent as usual and delighted in her new role as Minister of Culture of her land (which unfortunately is a term that has ended), enthralled us with delicate afroperuvian grooves via her unmistakable, velvet-filled voice.
Los Rakas (Clark Street Festival, Chicago, IL)
This ultra-dynamic duo from Panama, embody nothing but fun as they share their now Oakland-tinged Panamanian-Jamaican raka culture, and their high-energy, spirited hip hop was the perfect accompaniment for a sultry Chicago evening.
Yemen Blues (Old Town School of Music in February and Millenium Park in July, Chicago, IL)
A musical perfect storm! Led by the charismatic singer, composer and dancer Ravid Kahalani, the ensemble attacks tunes with masterful artistry, and takes rhythms from classical to funk to Yemen to Israel without missing a beat, ever.
Les Nubians (The Shrine, Chicago, IL)
Les Nubians brought the immigration theme home repeatedly at this song, as it affects both their home France and the USA. Veteran performers who enchanted us easily, the ‘Afropean’ hip hop/rhythm and blues sisters were received warmly by an audience that sang along to their classic hits.
Le Butcherettes (Lollapalooza, Chicago, IL)
Mexican-Spanish-American Teri Gender Bender’s sound is irresistibly fierce. I just couldn’t take my eyes off of her – it was exhilarating to feel her no-holds-barred attack on the music, and become totally captivated by a radical and bloodied-apron-feminist possessed-by-the-music performance.
Ana Tijoux (Lollapalooza, Chicago, IL)
No doubt that Chile’s long-standing poetic tradition (including, for example, Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda) is now being channelled in the incisive, political hip hop of the uber-talented Ana Tijoux, an excellent showwoman and as hip as poetry and Chile gets.
Diego el Cigala (Old Town School of Music program at Harris Theater, Chicago, IL)
Playing the last of nineteen gigs in a world-wide tour, flamenco great Diego el Cigala and his band were relaxed, reveling in the music and playing for well over two hours. Flamenco at its best, fused with tango at its best, El Cigala immersed us in a heady, sensual concoction.
Blitz the Ambassador (Womex 2011, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Ghanaian-born Blitz and his forceful, smart rap, framed in Afrobeat, Highlife and other contemporary African rhythms and backed by tightly choreographed horns was a wild, amazing musical ride at Copenhagen’s World Music Expo.
Herencia de Timbiquí (SXSW, Austin, TX)
With euphoric party-time marimba-centered afro sounds of the Colombian Pacific Coast amped up and rocked out and with socially-conscious lyrics added, Herencia took front and center stage at SXSW, which is now beginning to become THE place for discovering all kinds of music.