Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Global Sounds: From Desert Blues to Peruvian Psychedelia

Festivals, Live Reviews, World Music No Comments »
Tinariwen

Tinariwen

By Gail Dee

Tinariwen, an ensemble from the Sarahan desert of Mali (coming to Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 North Lincoln, August 26, 8pm, $38/$36 members), is the Tuareg band upon which we measure all the rest, because it’s desert blues at its finest. The group’s first performance in Chicago was in 2004 at the Chicago Cultural Center and they have been back several times. (One unforgettable night in 2011, after growling unhappily at Metro’s staff for putting me in second-floor handicapped seating far from the stage because I was on a crutch, I serendipitously ended up dancing with the Tuareg ladies who were part of the tour—the stage door opens upstairs to a reserved seating area!) Their style of music is considered to be the roots of the American blues; it’s trance-inducing, and as expansive as the desert, with band members trading electric-guitar riffs like heat shimmering on the horizon. The simple rhythms are reminiscent of camels walking in the sand for hundreds of miles. Lyrics speak of sadness and rebellion, as these nomadic people have endured civil unrest and war in their homeland for many years. However, the same night I was happily grooving on a crutch with the lovely ladies in long robes, my companion—a jazz drummer—was critical of what he called repetitive rhythm and thought the graceful, languorous movement of the dancers wasn’t much. I reminded him of the Saharan heat and said I didn’t think it would be the place for break-dancing. Personally I’ve never been disappointed by Tinariwen. Read the rest of this entry »

Global Sounds: Cuban Artists Take Chicago

Afro-Cuban, Festivals, Latin, World Music No Comments »
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Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club

By Gail Dee

Chicago’s music scene will make history as the stars align serendipitously to bring two of Cuba’s most famous musical acts in the same week: the legendary dance band Los Van Van and the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club for its Adios Tour—not to mention the almost immediately following Festival Cubano.

Given the recent thaw in Cuban American political relations, people might soon forget the anticipatory thrill of being able to see authentic Cuban music live in the United States. Not so long ago, it was forbidden fruit. Club owners like Marguerite Horberg of HotHouse and Ray Quinn of Martyrs’ took chances bringing the music to us. Shows were picketed and frequently shut down amidst threats, protests and boycotts against the Cuban government by Cuban Americans. I remember the joy of listening to the lovely, romantic, traditional Cuban music called son montuno in 1997, when the “Buena Vista Social Club” album was released, and the excitement of seeing them all live on stage for the first time at the Chicago Theater. Cuban son (a style of music that combines the singing and guitar stylings of Spain with the rhythms and drumming of Africa) and other music by the Buena Vistans wasn’t actually popular in Cuba at the time—the songs represented the golden age of Cuba in the forties and fifties; still, for millions of English-speaking people the Spanish lyrics of “Candela” and “Chan Chan” became almost as recognizable as “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” The remaining handful of original members coming to Ravinia are now touring together for the final time. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Kenji Bunch Makes Music From the Inside Out

Chicago Artists, Classical, Festivals, Interviews, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Pop, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »
Kenji Bunch / Photo: Erica Lyn

Kenji Bunch/Photo: Erica Lyn

By Dennis Polkow

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many composers have been attracted to the viola,” says violist and composer Kenji Bunch. Like Bach, who noted that he enjoyed playing viola because he was always “in the middle of the harmony,” Bunch observes that “it lets you experience music from the inside out and you really get a unique perspective on how things are put together.

“If you sing alto or tenor in a choir rather than soprano or bass, those are the hard parts to hear and be able to pick out the right notes for those funky inner lines rather than the more obvious top or bottom lines. I think the viola really finds you. It’s suited for a certain kind of personality that is interested in more offbeat things, literally offbeat things.”

Since the viola is a darker-colored instrument with less brilliance than its more popular cousin the violin, “we don’t have a lot of traditional repertoire written for our instrument, which means we violists usually gain exposure to twentieth century music a lot sooner than violinists or cellists do. Read the rest of this entry »

Global Sounds: Irrepressible Rhythms from the African Diaspora

Afrobeat, Jazz, Latin, World Music 2 Comments »
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Seun Kuti / Photo: Johann Sauty

By Gail Dee

What a conundrum that the vast majority of western music enjoyed today—rock ’n’ roll, blues, jazz and hip-hop—has roots in African music spread through suffering. Slavery’s tentacles stretched wide. This cultural diaspora isn’t limited to the U.S. and Caribbean, but extends to Mexico (with Son Jarocho), Colombia (with cumbia and champeta), Peru, Brazil and Uruguay. Even the Argentine tango has its origins in the African slave trade, though Argentina itself is often considered a European (i.e. culturally white) country. The story is told in the film “Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango” on June 18 at Facets Multimedia (1517 West Fullerton, 8pm, $9).

And the story doesn’t stop there. Like a snake consuming its own tail, the funky soul of James Brown, the acid rock of Jimi Hendrix, the cool jazz of Miles Davis and salsa from New York City then traveled back across the Atlantic and influenced popular music throughout Africa.

This summer, an abundance of exceptional African and Afro-Latin music comes to Chicago, bringing opportunities to check out the amazing diversity of the Afro-musical melting pot. And don’t assume the sound is all about drums; jazzy horns, electric guitars and electronica also prominently propel the dance rhythms. It’s going to be one heck of a hot, sexy summer. Read the rest of this entry »

Global Sounds: Making Music Out of War, Weddings and Pride

World Music 1 Comment »
Songhoy Blues

Songhoy Blues

This summer, music pours into Chicago from Mali, Nigeria, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Ireland and India—with more shows being announced daily, like beads on a cold drink on a hot day.

June 1 saw the beginning of the expanded Downtown Sound series at Pritzker Pavilion (201 East Randolph); the series now encompasses both Mondays and Thursdays, each night featuring two different (but not necessarily complementary) bands. And while it’s not the halcyon days of Music Without Borders, global music fans will be pleased to know six nights of the season showcase at least one international act. June 4 features The Very Best—a good choice to introduce a friend to different sounds of the world, as the act mixes electronic global beats by London producer Johan Hugo with the vocals of Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya. Read the rest of this entry »

Global Sounds: Big Weekend for World Music, from Sierra Leone to Chile to the Ukraine

Afrobeat, World Music No Comments »
RA-news-dakhabrakha-womad

DakhaBrakha

An enticing array of live shows spanning the globe is coming to Chicago in mid-April. If you’re an international music lover you’ll want to see as much as you can. After this bountiful world-music weekend, the touring-artist landscape is a bit lackluster until summer. Some highlights:

On April 17, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars come to Martyr’s (3855 North Lincoln; $17/$20 DOS). As its name suggests, the band was formed in a refugee camp where its members were displaced during the Sierra Leone Civil War. They’ve become increasingly popular in Chicago over the past decade—they visited us twice last year alone. Their most recent Mayne Stage show was one of the most joyful I’ve ever attended; the crowded dance floor grooved happily to the lilting guitar riffs of soukous, African highlife, and the reggae-like rhythms of baskeda. Last year the All Stars returned to their acoustic roots with the release of “Libation,” their fourth album in their ten-year history. Their success is a testimony to human resilience that continues to inspire us. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Booty Movement Coalition/Mission Theater

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Dance Pop, Funk, Hip-Hop, Indie Pop, Jazz, R&B, Soul, World Music No Comments »
Ty&JQ

Typhanie Monique, JQ

RECOMMENDED

It makes perfect sense to book a band into a theater—at least when the band is Booty Movement Coalition (affectionately known by aficionados as BMC) and the theater is the Mission at the new iO (formerly the ImprovOlympic). If you expand the concept of improv beyond stand-up and sketch comedy to encompass all the live arts, you end up with a much wider performance palette; and that appears to be the Mission’s mission, as they’ve committed to an ongoing series of music Mondays. BMC, for its part, has the distinction of being a ten-to-fourteen-member band which since its founding in 2009 has never given the same performance twice—because every single note is improvised, on the spot. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Eliane Elias/City Winery

Interviews, World Music No Comments »

N_-_Eliane_Elias_Photo_By_Philippe_Salomon

RECOMMENDED

In recent years, Brazilian-born Eliane Elias has been exploring the music of her native country (as opposed to the contemporary-oriented albums of her early career). For her latest album, she even got out of the comfort zone of recording Stateside in favor of a studio in São Paulo—something she had not done since she emigrated. “I had this desire to record in Brazil,” she says prior to an appearance at New York’s Birdland jazz club. “However, I was already used to working with my team here, and that included having Oscar Castro-Neves coming from Los Angeles. But since Oscar passed, I thought that it was time to do something in Brazil within our climate, our language.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Hugh Masekela and Vusi Mahlasela/Old Town School of Folk Music

Folk, Jazz, Reggae, World Music No Comments »
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Vusi Mahlasela, Hugh Masekela

 

RECOMMENDED

The long battle against the apartheid regime in South Africa, which culminated in Nelson Mandela’s election as president in 1994, was fought by the country’s musicians as well. Hugh Masekela and Vusi Mahlasela were two of the greatest; they helped give the movement its voice at a time when most of the world ignored the plight of the country’s blacks.

Masekela, whose career spans more than five decades, is known for his versatility as a flugelhornist and singer. Early in his career he worked primarily with jazz ensembles, but he also did a lot of session work with pop artists like The Byrds, and later toured with Paul Simon in support of his seminal album, “Graceland.” He is also the composer of “Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela),” which became the anthem for the movement calling for the release of the imprisoned activist. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Zap Mama Teams with Antibalas, Gunther Schuller Twines Jazz and Classical

Afrobeat, Big Band, Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Experimental, Interviews, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »
Marie Daulne of Zap Mama

Marie Daulne of Zap Mama

By Dennis Polkow

Marie Daulne, founder and lead singer of the Afropop female group Zap Mama, has always straddled two continents. She never knew her European father; he was killed at the hands of Simba rebels in the Congo, where Daulne was born and from where she, her mother and sisters escaped to live in her father’s native Belgium.

One of Daulne’s primary influences growing up was Afrobeat and Fela Kuti. “All Africans living in Europe listened to him,” she says. She even saw Kuti perform as a teenager and was delighted years later when she was living in New York and “Fela!” opened on Broadway. “Prior to that, the most African thing on Broadway was ‘The Lion King’! I returned to the show several times to see Antibalas perform.” Antibalas is the Brooklyn-based Afrobeat ensemble that arranged and performed all of the music for “Fela!,” modeled on Kuti’s own Africa 70 band. Read the rest of this entry »