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5 Must-See Acts at World Music Festival Chicago — Part I

FatoumatDiawar| PAUL BERGEN ~ GETTY IMAGES

Fatoumata Diawara | PAUL BERGEN ~ GETTY IMAGES

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Updated: September 20, 2012 11:09AM



Fatoumata Diawara, 7 p.m. Sept. 23 at Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse and 6:30 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington: Mali has long been a hotbed of world class singers and musicians who create a wide array of melodies and rhythms which have traditional roots as well as influences drawn from American blues and pop. Now joining these ranks on the international stage is Fatoumata Diawara, who was raised in Mali and now lives in Paris. Her recently released debut album, “Fatou,” is receiving rave reviews. It’s a joyous mix of vibrant songs about love, politics and empowerment.

Diawara’s parents were not on board with her desire for a career in the arts but she persisted while also fighting her culture’s attitudes towards women. Already an established actress and dancer, she ran away to Paris when her parents insisted she abandon her career and agree to an arranged marriage. She continued performing on stage and screen, and toyed with singing in Paris clubs and cafes where she was heard by the celebrated Malian musician and producer, Cheikh Tidiane Seck, who invited her to sing backup on two projects — “Seya,” the Grammy–nominated album by Malian singer Oumou Sangare, and “Red Earth,” the Grammy–winning Malian project by American jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Diawara also has collaborated with artists such as Damon Albarn, Toumani Diabate and Herbie Hancock. But “Fatou” is entirely her own project: she composed and arranged all the songs. Elements of jazz, pop and funk, along with her ancestral Wassoulou traditions, fit nicely with her warm, affecting vocals and her own guitar playing and percussion. The lyrics touch on serious subjects in Malian society — female circumcision, a woman’s right to choose her spouse and her own experience with the African practice of being raised away from her parents. Yet the songs are filled with warmth, confidence and a spontaneous charm.

Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang , 7 p.m. Sept. 26 at Little Black Pearl, 1060 E. 47th and 9:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington: Janka Nabay, who hails from Sierra Leone, performs with his Brooklyn band, the Bubu Gang, which includes members of Gang Gang Dance, Zs and Skeletons. The group’s American debut, “En Yay Sah,” was recently released on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label. Nabay first gained notice in a Sierra Leone talent contest when he wowed judges with his updated version of bubu music, a traditional sound cloaked in mythology that was for centuries part of the processionals during Ramadan. It is the music of his childhood that he never left behind. On his first African recordings, he drew inspiration from Michael Jackson and Bob Marley. He modernized bubu into hypnotic dance music by adding new instruments and timbres while remaining faithful to the transfixing rhythms that defined the original.

After moving to New York to escape civil war in Sierra Leone and supporting himself with work in fast-food joints, Nabay founded the Bubu Gang, a move to bring traditional African music to a new audience via a spiced-up sound. It didn’t take long for the eclectic group of young New York musicians to fall in love with Nabay’s frenetic style of bubu music. His atonal vocals are accompanied by driving drumbeats, deep bass and lyrical electronic melodies to create a new hybrid of Afrobeat.

Transatlantic Sessions,at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Michigan and Randolph:

This is a very special showcase for a collective of Celtic artists from across the pond who perform with their counterparts from the American music scene. A centerpiece of Scotland’s Celtic Connections Festival, the collaboration features traditional songs and tunes which crossed the Atlantic with Scottish and Irish immigrants over the past 300 years to form the bedrock of American roots music. These Celtic connections have continued to thrive with Nashville bluegrass musicians: On hand for this event will be vocalists Tim O’Brien, Dan Tyminski (Alison Krauss’ Union Station), Dirk Powell and Bruce Molsky. They are joined by the Gaelic voices of Kathleen MacInnes and Karen Matheson (Capercaillie). The backup band is just as awesome: Shetland fiddle great Aly Bain, dobro legend Jerry Douglas, accordion master Phil Cunningham, pianist Donald Shaw, bassist Danny Thompson, Irish piper Jarlath Henderson, guitarists Russ Barenberg and John Doyle, and drummer James Mackintosh.

Slavic Soul Party!, 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand and 8:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at Martyrs’, 3855 N. Lincoln:

For a good time, put on your dancin’ shoes and call Slavic Soul Party! The 9-piece brass band may be based in New York City but its music has a distinctive world beat flavor. A mash-up of Balkan and Gypsy sounds mixed with funk and jazz, the band features some fine musicians all with backgrounds in jazz and other musical genres.Percussionist and bandleader Matt Moran calls their sound “neighborhood music.” The musicians don’t deny their backgrounds but they also draw from the music they hear in the neighborhoods of New York City to create rousing party music. On the recent release, “New York Underground Tapes,” the dance beats are a tantalizing mix of Balkan beats, Brazilian samba, reggae, Bulgarian wedding music and astonishing accordion rhythms.

Melody of China, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4545 N. Lincoln and 3 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington:

A primer in Chinese instruments and music is offered by this San Francisco-based ensemble. The organization was formed in 1993 by a group of professional musicians from some of the most prestigious music conservatories in China. The ensemble performs traditional and contemporary music on traditional Chinese instruments, including yangqin (hammered dulcimer), guzheng (table harp), erhu (two-string bowed fiddle, sheng (mouth organ), dizi (bamboo flutes), pipa (lute), ruan (moon guitar) and paigu (drums). Multi-instrumentalist Hong Wang and yangqin virtuoso Yangqin Zhao co-lead the ensemble. The collective’s goal is to promote Chinese classical, folk and contemporary music and to provide a synergy between an ancient cultural tradition and the modern world.

Mary Houlihan is a local free-lance writer.



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