Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

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

Folk, Jazz, Reggae, World Music No Comments »

Vusi Mahlasela, Hugh Masekela



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: An Eclectic “Messiah” for a Diverse Holiday, Muti on Scriabin as the Next Mahler

Big Band, Blues, Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Holiday Music, Interviews, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, R&B, Reggae, Rock, Soul, Vocal Music No Comments »
Alfreda Burke and Rodrick Dixon

Alfreda Burke and Rodrick Dixon

By Dennis Polkow

“We’re both preachers’ kids,” says soprano Alfreda Burke of herself and husband, tenor Rodrick Dixon. “And as classical singers, we had both done our share of traditional Handel ‘Messiah’ performances.”

For the past ten years, however, the couple has been headlining the “Too Hot to Handel: A Jazz-Gospel Messiah,” each Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend at the Auditorium Theatre. With the Auditorium celebrating its 125th anniversary this season and these being the tenth anniversary Chicago performances of “Too Hot to Handel,” Burke says “this is going to be a very festive celebration this time around.”

“It really started with [conductor] Marin Alsop in New York City with the Concordia Orchestra,” explains Dixon, who became familiar with the piece by being asked to substitute for Thomas Young, the work’s original tenor. “Marin had commissioned it from Bob Christianson and Gary Anderson, to do a whole rearrangement of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ with a modern twist that kept the famous melodies that people have come to love all over the world, except modernizing them in the sense of jazz, gospel, blues and some cinematic orchestration ideas that Bob and Gary were very well known for in New York.” Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Amor Planeta” by Pacifika

Alt-Rock, Bossa Nova, Dance Pop, Indie Pop, Latin, Pop, Psychedelic, Record Reviews, Reggae, Rock, World Music No Comments »


On their third release, the Vancouver-based trio formed by vocalist Silvana Kane, guitarist/producer Adam Popowitz and bassist Toby Peter seem to be taking the music into a deeper, more psychedelic direction without completely losing touch with their Latin, Middle Eastern and electronic roots. The songs are still framed by near-whispered vocals and nylon-guitar-framed textures alongside multi-tracked instruments and vocals sung mostly in Spanish, but the trio seems to have found a more organic approach to their sound. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Green/Bottom Lounge

Reggae, World Music No Comments »


Save for balladeer Jack Johnson or the late Iz, few Hawaii-based artists seem to get much attention in the mainland no matter how big they might be on the island. Luckily for Oahu-born The Green, that trend does not hold true. Their mellow, optimistic take on reggae seems to have struck a chord with mainstream fans, and from their self-titled 2010 debut onward they have been able to get the attention of reggae radio stations with reach far beyond Hawaiian locals. Their third release, “Hawai’i ’13,” (out on Easy Star) is proof of that. Read the rest of this entry »

Guttural Rhythms: The Science of Ted Sirota’s Heavyweight Dub

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Reggae 1 Comment »

By Dave Cantor

09.20 Ted Sirota @ wrld music fest

Photo: Michael Jackson

Honing in on sounds drawn from Jamaica invariably abut America’s jazz tradition. Drummer Ted Sirota’s more than vaguely familiar with both. But his estrangement from reggae and dub didn’t occur because of lacking fealty. The drummer just found himself more easily insinuated into jazz ensembles.

“I’m rediscovering the whole thing,” Sirota says of Chicago’s Jamaican music scene, after spending the better part of the last two decades working in jazz mode across the city, including a regular date at the Green Mill as Sabertooth’s backbone.

Earlier in his career, the percussionist did time in David Byrd’s ensemble, which at one point included a former Black Uhuru guitarist. Other well-known guests weren’t too uncommon, either.

“Sometimes we’d play gigs where Hamid Drake would do percussion,” Sirota says. “He’d bring a djembe, and I’d play drums—we’d switch off a little.” Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Legend Remixed” by Bob Marley & The Wailers

Record Reviews, Reggae, World Music No Comments »


When music magazines make “best albums of all time” lists, Bob Marley & The Wailers’ “Legend” often makes the top fifty or 100. Given that Bob Marley’s music seems to win over fans who were not even around when cancer took him away from us in 1981, it feels right for the music to receive a face-lift through a dedicated remix of the entire disc in the hands of his sons Ziggy and Stephen plus a roster of MCs that include Thievery Corporation and Jason Bentley. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Nhojj/Center on Halsted

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Indie Pop, New Music, Pop, R&B, Reggae, Soul, World Music No Comments »

Photo: Rod Patrick Risbrook


This Guyana born, Chicago-based singer-songwriter is an artist of many facets. Though his music is heavily inspired by neo-soul, he also draws inspiration from the sounds from his native country and the Caribbean. For instance, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” and the activist “The Gay Warrior” song have a reggae-like flavor, while “I Like That” could be described as an American soul tune with a Latin vibe.

His approach toward music focuses on the music first: “Usually I start with a track, and then I develop the melody and the words that belong to the song,” he explained in a telephone interview. “If it feels sad, happy, encouraging or like a love song, I feel like songs are alive. I think I’m more in tune with this stage of music—I’m listening more to what the music tells me instead of trying to force things.”

Nhojj is also very vocal in his activism on gay rights and bullying. He believes that acceptance toward alternative lifestyles (he is openly gay) is a slow process, but that is how things are sometimes. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Easy Star’s Thrillah” by Easy Star All-Stars

Record Reviews, Reggae, World Music No Comments »

Since their first Pink Floyd tribute “The Dub Side of the Moon” was launched in 2003, The Easy Star All-Stars have regularly put out other albums honoring Radiohead ( 2006’s “Radiodread”) and The Beatles (2009’s “Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band”) in addition to discs with their own original material.

This time around, they have come together to take on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” one of the biggest-selling pop albums of all time in the United States. It is not an easy task, considering how ingrained many of the songs are in fans’ memories—it is little wonder that so few artists have recorded covers of tunes like “Billie Jean” and “Thriller” over the years. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Barrington Levy/Shrine

Dancehall, Reggae No Comments »


Beginning his singing career before most guys start shaving on a daily basis isn’t the most notable aspect of Barrington Levy’s time in music. By the time he was sixteen, the singer had released at least five albums—and that’s not including singles and one-off dub plates. Part of Levy’s early success was the result of working with producer Junjo Lawes, engineer Scientist and the backing group Roots Radics Band. But all these remarkable musicians in one room wouldn’t have mattered much if Levy’s voice weren’t one of the most unique in Jamaican music. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Lee Perry/Lincoln Hall

Reggae, Ska No Comments »


It seems that every year a new compilation gets sewn together displaying a unique slice of Lee Perry’s career—and somehow, each is entertaining. There are apparently so many different mixes and unreleased tracks in Perry’s history—even though his Kingston studio burned down and took tapes with it—that the deluge of albums isn’t set to slow. Read the rest of this entry »