World Music Fest: Preview

From September 11 to 21, the city’s World Music Festival presents an incredible series of concerts from all over the world. Carlos Cuauhtemoc Tortolero, Jr. and his team at the Department of Cultural Affairs have done an outstanding job programming over sixty concerts (all free!) in dozens of venues, so any of them is a guaranteed wonderful experience.

Here’s ten performances on our short list:

Orkesta Mendoza

Bandleader and uber-talented multi instrumentalist Sergio Mendoza from Sonora, Mexico leads a mambo orchestra which specializes in psyched-up, rocked-out takes of classic mambo and cumbia sounds driven by Mariachi guitar and trumpet, lap steel, and a huge percussion section. The band is also influenced by Mendoza’s experience playing in Calexico, Devotchka, and Mexican Institute of Sound as well as the vital creativity of veteran musician Salvador Duran, who is just as likely to tap out feverish Mexican zapateado as to quote poetry from the Mexican revolution as to flail his arms in ruffled sleeves as he shakes the maracas with wild abandon.

Sean Kuti and Egypt 80

Sean Kuti, Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s youngest child has created his own unique brand of Afrobeat, building upon his father’s trailblazing fusions of jazz, funk and soul with highlife and other African rhythms. And in similarity to his Fela’s legacy, his lyrics deal with cultural struggle. The magnificent orchestra of Egypt 80,  still boasting a large number of the original members provides the perfect context for Sean’s charismatic vocals and presence.

Las Cafeteras

Angelino band Las Cafeteras are sons and daughters of immigrants who build upon Afro Mexican root music in the son jarocho tradition, U.S.A.-style. Playing son jarocho’s classic instruments such jaranas, requinto, quijada (a donkey jawbone), marimbol (a West African bass instrument), the cajón, and the tarima (a wooden platform used to dance percussive zapateado), they tell stories of immigrant dreams and the struggle for social justice.


Born on Honduras’ Caribbean coast, Aurelio Martinez grew up steeped in the Garifuna tradition which emerged in the mixture of the African culture of descendants of slaves who shipwrecked along the Central American coast and the indigenous Caribbean culture. Aurelio’s music can veer from sweet, lush bachata-ish ballads to captivating percussive tunes that speak of West Africa, but dancing is always a part of every one of his infectious compositions.


Born and raised in Niger, in the northern city of Agadez, Tuareg guitarist and singer Omara ‘Bombino’ Moctar is a member of a nomadic people descended from the Berbers of North Africa. A guitar virtuoso, Bombino totally delivers the goods when it comes to spellbinding live performances of richly-textured desert blues.

Banda Magda

Led by Greek-born singer, accordionist and composer Magda Giannikou, this band swings in every way possible, in French (with touches of six other languages), moving from samba to jazz manouche to Greek dance rhythms. The band members, including two Japanese musicians, an Argentinean jazz guitarist, and a Greek multiínstrumentalist share an explosive, multi-flavored energy in spirited live performances.

La Yegros

As the first and only lady of electro-cumbia pioneers ZZK Records, La Yegros has been a powerful presence on Buenos Aires’ underground scene for many years. Although she is from Buenos Aires, La Yegros’ 21st Century takes on the cumbia include influences from her classical conservatory training in music, a quirky assortment of world beats, and also folk influences from her family’s native rainforests of northern Argentina which border Brazil.


This beautiful Malaysian singer-songwriter, guitarist business-woman and lawyer creates high-quality pop tunes influenced by Coldplay, Bob Dylan and Feist. Her video “Live your Life,” produced by Pharrell Williams, catapulted her to world-wide attention, and her music reflects her IAMJETFUEL clothing shop’s values of chic, colourful Bohemian sensibility and cool sophistication.


Now in its second year, this all-night celebration of classical Indian music allows the unique experience of being able to show up to the Chicago Cultural Center in comfy near-pajamas, blankets and pillows, stretch out under the largest Tiffany dome in the world, and immerse oneself in an exquisitely curated series of concerts by local and visiting artists from Indian traditions North and South. One of the artists that will be performing (of several dozen) is award-winning fusion and classical violinist Ambi Subramaniam, hailed as the “the new king of Indian classical violin.”

Emel Mathlouthi

Tunisian singer Emel Mathlouthi, now based in France, delivers fierce rock beats, throbbing trip-hop, and oriental influences in a beautiful and potent voice. Evoking Joan Baez and Lebanese diva Fairouz, Emel’s song “Kelmti Horra” (My word is free) was taken up by the Arab Spring revolutionaries and sung on the streets of Tunis.

Chicago’s World Music Fest will take place from September 11-21.


Featured photo: Orkesta Mendoza, Courtesy of the Artist

Check Catalina’s  show Beat Latino (on Facebook,  Itunes and online, airs Friday and Sunday on Vocalo) which recently included previews of the Latinos playing the World Music Fest music.