The good news: All events at the 14th annual World Music Festival will be free.
The bad: The event is smaller than last year's, with 49 shows, compared to last year's 63.
"Obviously, in a transition year, you're not working under ideal circumstances," says Carlos Tortolero, who programmed the event with his colleague at the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Shoshona Currier, plus Chicago impresario David Chavez.
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The transition Tortolero refers to was the tumultuous reorganization of personnel and resources as the Department of Cultural Affairs merged with the Department of Special Events and as mayoral administrations changed. Along the way, many staffers were shuffled from one cultural office to another, some were brought in from the outside (such as Currier), some moved on to bigger things (the much-missed Michael Orlove, who was snapped up by no less than the National Endowment for the Arts).
"We were getting the team together, so we had a later start (in planning the festival) than we wanted," says Currier. "Booking really happened from May to July."
As for the reduced size of the event, "We had to focus our energies where we could," adds Currier, who sees this year's event as a potential turning point.
"We're regrouping, and we hope to build the festival back up each year."
What a pity, though, that the event even has to be rebuilt, considering what a magnificent structure Orlove and his team had created in the first place.
Even so, Currier takes pride in this year's unprecedented move to make all performances free – not just those at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.
"I think that removes any notion of exclusivity and makes the festival as accessible as possible to everybody," says Currier. "A ticketed event shapes and divides audiences. With no-charge admission, we eradicate that idea about the arts being exclusive."
Then again, the free admission events by definition put this city-sponsored festival in direct competition with all the other clubs that must sell tickets to survive.
Several new venues have been added to the mix this year: Gage Park, on West 55th Street; Austin Town Hall, on West Lake Street; and Little Black Pearl, on East 47th Street.
In addition, the festival will offer marathon sessions featuring multiple bands at Austin Town Hall on Saturday afternoon; Navy Pier on Saturday and Sunday afternoons; and, as always, a "One World Under One Roof" session to close the fest at the Chicago Cultural Center on Thursday.
Following are highlights for this year's event. For further information, phone 312-744-3316 or visit worldmusicfestivalchicago.org.
Matuto with Swing Brasileiro: The joyous, ebullient music of Matuto merges the forro folkloric music of Brazil with the sounds of all-American bluegrass. Violin, accordion and a range of Brazilian percussion give this band, founded by South Carolina native Clay Ross, a seductively cross-cultural appeal. Chicago samba band Swing Brasileiro shares the bill. 7 p.m. Friday at Reggie's Rock Club, 2109 S. State St. Matuto also appears 5 p.m. Saturday at Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St.
De Temps Antan: Even if you don't understand French, the music of this folk trio from Quebec conveys its message boldly. The combination of fiddle, accordion and guitar – plus vocals and foot stomping – certainly suggests the work of a larger ensemble. 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Old Town School of Folk Music's Szold Music & Dance Hall, 4545 N. Lincoln Ave. Also 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St.
Balkano: reedist Bryan Pardo leads this Chicago band in its investigation of klezmer music, as it intersects with Bulgarian and Turkish repertory. The mix is delivered in a lean, contemporary fashion, minus the schmaltz. 2 p.m. Saturday at Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St.
Slavic Soul Party: They may be based in Brooklyn, but the musicians of Slavic Soul Party dig deeply into the Balkan brass tradition, albeit retooled with jazz riffs, gypsy melody, New Orleans parade beats and what-not. Very difficult not to dance to. 7 p.m. Saturday at Navy Pier Beer Garden, 600 E. Grand Ave. Also 8:30 p.m. Sunday on a bill with Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird at Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln Ave.
Maria de Barros with AfriCaribe: In one of the most prominent bookings of the festival, singer De Barros returns to the World Music Festival, offering her explorations into the Cape Verdean cultural roots of her family. Hers is a warm, plush instrument backed by a pop-tinged band. Chicago-based AfriCaribe, which opens the show, performs traditional Puerto Rican bomba and plena music. 6 p.m. Saturday at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, near Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue. Also 8 p.m. Friday on a bill with Jazz con Amala (broadcast live on WBEZ 91.5 FM) at the Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse Ave.
Melody of China: For nearly 20 years, Melody of China has given audiences in its home base of San Francisco – and beyond – a window into traditional Chinese instrumentation and repertoire. The ensemble plays ancient instruments such as the pipa, erhu and ruan at the virtuoso level, which is why Melody of China has collaborated with some of the world's greatest orchestras. 3 p.m. Sunday at the Chicago Cultural Center's Preston Bradley Hall, 78 E. Washington St. Also 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Old Town School of Folk Music's Szold Music & Dance Hall, 4545 N. Lincoln Ave.
Fatoumata Diawara: A major attraction at this year's festival, the Malian singer-guitarist has become something of a crossover phenomenon, though that hasn't diluted the incantatory lure or melismatic complexity of her vocals. Having fled her homeland for Paris to escape a marriage that had been planned for her, she also has become an activist-symbol for human rights. 7 p.m. Sunday at the Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse Ave. Also 6:30 p.m. Monday on a bill with Magic Carpet at the Chicago Cultural Center's Preston Bradley Hall, 78 E. Washington St.
Rana Santacruz with Son Del Viento Chicago: The Mexican troubadour Santacruz left his country a decade ago for New York, yet his openly lyrical music still carries echoes of his homeland. You can hear it in the imploring quality of his vocals, as well as the mariachi-tinged horns and strings that accompany him – plus the traditional accordion he plays. Chicago's Son Del Viento shares the bill. 7 p.m. Sunday at the National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St. Also 8 p.m. Monday on a bill with Fishtank Ensemble at Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse Ave.
Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird: Originally from Detroit but based in Berlin for the past several years, Kahn and The Painted Bird address Jewish culture past, present and future. The songs – delivered in Yiddish, German and English – show fervent social conscience. 12:15 p.m. Monday at the Chicago Cultural Center's Randolph Cafe, 78 E. Washington St. Also at 8:30 p.m. Sunday on a bill with Slavic Soul Party at Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln Ave.
JPP with Eastern Blok: Finnish folk fiddling has a great champion in JPP, the ensemble presenting quasi-orchestral versions of age-old Nordic music. JPP will share the bill with Eastern Blok, a long-running Chicago band with a distinctive and contemporary view of Eastern European music, performed by guitarist Goran Ivanovic, reedist Doug Rosenberg, bassist Matt Ulery and percussionist Michael Caskey. 6:30 p.m. Monday at Navy Pier's Crystal Gardens, 600 E. Grand Ave.
Canteca de Macao: Musical idioms from across Latin American converge in Spain's Canteda de Macao, which shows the influence of flamenco and jazz but also exudes a youthful, pop-savvy sensibility. Reggae, rumba and other influences course through this accessible music. 9 p.m. Monday at Instituto Cervantes of Chicago, 31 W. Ohio St. Also 7 p.m. Sunday on a bill with Fishtank Ensemble at the Old Town School of Folk Music's Gary and Laura Maurer Hall, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave.
Renato Anesi Trio: The brilliant Brazilian composer-guitarist- bandleader combines nonchalant virtuosity with profound musicality in far-flung repertoire. 12:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Chicago Cultural Center's Randolph Cafe.
Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto with Tarima Son: Founded in 1940, Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto offers a glimpse into the distant past of Colombian folkloric music. The musicians play traditional flutes and hand-held percussion poetically, the vocal chant at once ancient and timeless. 7 p.m. Tuesday at the National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St. Also 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Old Town School of Folk Music's Gary and Laura Maurer Hall, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave.
Hanggai with Las Guitarras de Espana: The Mongolian folk band Hanggai last year played the Music Without Borders series, which has been eliminated by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Now Hanggai returns on a double-bill with Chicago's much-loved flamenco-plus band Las Guitarras de Espana. 7 p.m. Tuesday at Reggie's Rock Club, 2109 S. State St. Also 6:30 p.m. Monday at Ping Tom Park, 300 W. 19th St.
Paulinho Garcia Septet with Luciano Antonio & Silvia Manriques: Increasingly active on the world scene, Chicago singer-guitarist Garcia rarely gets to lead a septet here at home – or anywhere. That makes this engagement noteworthy, enabling the Brazilian-born-and-raised musician to explore a broader color palette than usual. 8 p.m. Tuesday at the University of Chicago's Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St. Also 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Instituto Cervantes of Chicago, 31 W. Ohio St.
Celtic Connections Presents "Transatlantic Sessions in Chicago": The second big event at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park will feature artists from the Celtic Connections folk festival in Scotland, a lineup that includes fiddler Aly Bain, Dobro player Jerry Douglas, accordionist Phil Cunningham, singer Julie Fowlis and bassist Danny Thompson. 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, near Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue.
Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang: The World Music Festival ventures into a new setting – Little Black Pearl, on the South Side – for this performance, which offers an updated, exuberant perspective on ancient bubu music of Sierra Leone. 7 p.m. Wednesday at Little Black Pearl, 1060 E. 47th St. Also 9:30 p.m. Thursday at the Chicago Cultural Center's Preston Bradley Hall, 78 E. Washington St.
Rahim AlHaj and Ancient Sounds featuring Amaan & Ayann Ali Khan: Cultures intertwine when Iraqi oud player AlHaj meets up with the Indian sarod players Khan. 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse Ave. Also 7 p.m. Thursday at the Chicago Cultural Center's Claudia Cassidy Theater, 78 E. Washington St.
"One World Under One Roof": As always, the grand finale of the World Music Festival will spotlight several ensembles at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.
Following is the complete lineup:
12:15 p.m.: Paulinho Garcia, solo
5 p.m.: Black Bear Combo
Claudia Cassidy Theater
5:30 p.m.: Copacabana Trio
7 p.m.: Rahim AlHaj and Ancient Sounds featuring Amaan & Ayann Ali Khan
8:30 p.m.: T-Rroma.
Preston Bradley Hall
6:30 p.m.: Picante
8 p.m.: Lamajamal
9:30 p.m.: Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang