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World Music Festival extends footprint, goes totally free

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World Music Festival:

◆ Sept. 21-27

◆ 18 venues, including the Cultural Center and the Old Town School of Folk Music

◆ Free admission


Updated: September 20, 2012 7:58PM

World Music Festival: Chicago has redrawn its boundaries for its 14th annual edition, which begins Sept. 21 and runs through Sept. 27 across the city.

There are new venues, a strengthened partnership with the Chicago Park District and a greater focus on local artists. Plus, for the first time, admission will be free for every festival event.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, given the city’s bureaucratic reshuffling that led to the departure of crucial programmers ­— including longtime World Music Festival visionary Mike Orlove — is that the festival exists at all. Presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the festival escaped the fate of the city’s Music Without Borders series in Millennium Park, and the Viva Chicago Latin Music and Chicago Country Music festivals.

But the World Music Festival “was never in jeopardy,” said Angel Ysaguirre, deputy commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Added Shoshana Currier, the DCASE director of performing arts: “This festival has always been a priority, and there was never a discussion of not doing it.”

The personnel changes in the city’s cultural departments, however, did delay planning for this year’s fest. As a result, programmers drew more heavily on the city’s large community of immigrant musicians and world-music specialists. Of the nearly 50 acts in this year’s lineup, 27 are Chicago-based, including stalwarts Carpacho y Su Super Combo (salsa/tropical Latin), the Paulinho Garcia Septet (Brazilian jazz, choro and bossa nova) and Luciano Antonio (Brazilian jazz/folk).

“We were a little late in getting the game started,” Ysaguirre said. “We usually like to plan at least eight to six months in advance, so to firm up this year’s lineup, we had to work more closely with other regional [world music] festivals,” such as the Lotus Festival in Bloomington, Ind., and the Globalquerque World Music Festival in Albuquerque, N.M.

The move to new venues, including Gage Park near Midway and Ping Tom Park in Chinatown, arose from the findings of the city’s Cultural Plan, released earlier this summer. “We love that there’s a vibrant community downtown, and we wanted to do the same in our neighborhoods,” Ysaguirre said. “So that’s why we deepened our relationship with the Park District.”

Other new venues are Austin Town Hall on the Far West Side, Little Black Pearl in the Kenwood area and the new Logan Center for the Arts in Hyde Park. The additional locales also came about because of the programmers’ decision to make the festival entirely free. “We got new venues with bigger capacity, to accommodate [an anticipated greater] demand,” Currier said.

Despite the budget-cutting elsewhere in city government, fiscal pressures did not impact this year’s lineup. “The budget was not a part of the decision to use more local acts,” Currier said. “It was more of an issue of time.”

In past years, the festival offered ticketed as well as free events. “The World Music Festival was free in many places and not others,” Ysaguirre said. “In clubs like the Park West [a former WMF locale], there would be a split at the door. But the split at the door wasn’t enough to make a difference for us in terms of budgeting.” Hence the move to make all events free.

This year’s lineup brings back artists such as Maria de Barros (Cape Verde), Balkan flamenco group Fishtank Ensemble (from Oakland, Calif.) and Rahim AlHaj & Ancient Sounds (Iraq). Among the newcomers, WMF program coordinator Carlos Tortolero singled out Fatoumata Diwara from Mali. “She’s an activist and has spoken out against female circumcision. It’s great to have her here,” he said. “Also, Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto from Colombia, this is the first time here for them. They’re a special interest of Mateo’s” — referring to Old School of Folk Music events director Mateo Mulcahy, one of several outside programmers who assist in booking acts. It’s reminder that proves once again it takes a village to raise a world-music festival.

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