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11 AM Claudia Cassidy Theater
Ensemble Al-Kindi Born in France in 1953, Bernard Weiss started out studying Western music, but after learning to play a traditional Middle Eastern zither called the kanun he developed an obsession with Arabic classical music so intense that in his early 20s he moved to Damascus, where he formed Ensemble Al-Kindi in 1983 and converted to Islam in ’86, changing his name to Julien Jalal Eddine Weiss. For several years now this highly regarded group has been focusing on a particular Arabic tradition with each of its CDs; on the most recent, the 2006 release Parfums Ottomans (Le Chant du Monde), Ensemble Al-Kindi strayed a bit from that territory, enlisting the help of several Turkish masters to render the music of the Ottomans. At the festival the ensemble will stay close to home, performing the Sufi liturgy of the Great Ummayyad Mosque in Damascus with the choirmaster and Koran reader from that mosque, Sheikh Hamza Shakkur, one of the greatest living vocalists in Arabic music. For this concert the group will be seven strong, including a two-man chorus and musicians on oud, ney (reed flute), and riqq (tambourine). Tonight at the Pritzker Pavilion, four whirling dervishes—though usually associated with Turkey’s Sufi brotherhoods, they exist in Syria too—will perform with the ensemble. —PM
Seckou Keita On his new album, The Silimbo Passage (World ArtVentures), Seckou Keita builds on Casamance traditions with subtlety and care. Born in Senegal but based in the UK, he’s a kora phenom who, like Chicago’s own Foday Musa Susa, uses traditional tunings from various West African nations, and he’s developed a double-necked version of the harplike instrument so he can switch easily between them—an innovation that allows him to make the exciting modal jump in the middle of “Chelima” seamlessly. (Retuning a kora is so labor intensive that players who want to play in different systems usually just carry two instruments.) His band includes Egyptian violinist Samy Bishai, who gracefully colors the music with Arabic shadings, and Italian bassist Davide Mantovani, who’s equally tasteful with his jazz-inflected lines. Keita and his sister Binta Suso both sing, unfurling gorgeous melodies that seem to hang in the air long after the music stops. —PM
12:30 PM Claudia Cassidy Theater
Baye Kouyate et les Tougarakes On the self-released Danama, talking-drum virtuoso Baye Kouyate, a Malian now based in Florida, dominates his band’s layered arrangements—a lattice of spindly, hypnotic patterns on kora and balafon, steady grooves on djembe and trap kit, his own occasional vocals—by punctuating the music with crosscutting polyrhythms. He’s a terrific percussionist, but the group seems to have drum-circle directionlessness built into its lineup. The touring version includes jazz guitarist Leni Stern and balafon player Abou Sylla. —PM
Richard Hagopian See below.
6 PM Pritzker Pavilion
Ensemble Al-Kindi & the Whirling Dervishes of Damascus See above.
Richard Hagopian’s Kef Time Ensemble This veteran Armenian-American group formed in 1963 to play as part of a belly-dancing show at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, but despite that less-than-auspicious beginning, Kef Time soon became one of the country’s best and most popular Turkish-Armenian dance bands. Though their purpose has always been to entertain—the band has deliberately chosen a repertoire that ignores the bitter ethnic divisions deepened by the Turkish genocide of Armenians during World War I—they’ve never diluted the potency of the music to court a more mainstream audience. Singer and oud player Richard Hagopian, a devotee and student of Turkish master Udi Hrant, has led Kef Time from the beginning, and on the band’s vintage albums (many reissued on the Traditional Crossroads label, run by Hagopian’s son Harold) his crisp, thrilling lines form a constantly shifting lattice with the rest of the front line—mercurial clarinet, spiky kanun, the occasional acoustic guitar. He also leads this smaller version of the band, which includes Harold on clarinet, Mal Barsamian on guitar, and Jason Naroian on dumbek. —PM
8 PM Old Town School of Folk Music $15, $13 for members
Chiwoniso Chiwoniso Maraire was born and raised in Olympia, Washington, but her Zimbabwean parents instilled in her the culture of their homeland; when the family moved back in 1990, she was already a savvy traveler in two musical worlds at age 14. By the end of the 90s she’d become a minor star, singing American R & B flavored with African elements, but the recent Rebel Woman (Cumbancha), her first album since then to be distributed in the States, inverts those proportions: though Maraire clearly still loves R & B, the music is driven by the hypnotic swirl of mbira patterns and Shona melodies, drawing obvious inspiration from the likes of Oliver Mtukudzi (whose longtime drummer Sam Mataure anchors its grooves) and Thomas Mapfumo. The record is solid, despite occasional lapses into a bland pan-African aesthetic, and the unfortunately slick production is no match for Maraire’s soulful bilingual vocals, which are strong and limber enough to grab you no matter what the setting. —PM
Baye Kouyate et les Tougarakes See above.
8 PM International House $10
Rupa & the April Fishes Rupa Mayra was born to Indian parents and spent her childhood in the United States, India, and France—a recipe for multicultural consciousness if there ever were one. With this elegant San Francisco ensemble she crafts a mixture of French chanson, tango, andRomani swing, flavored with other styles from South America and Europe and steeped in a romantic ambience that reminds me of the American-Canadian singer Lhasa de Sela. The April Fishes’ lineup includes cello, trumpet, accordion, and a rhythm section, but Mayra’s dreamy, atmospheric singing is what gives the music its heart. U. of C. students get in free. —PM
9 PM Sonotheque $12, 21+
DJ Bobby Friction Since 2002 this London connoisseur of Desi beats and his DJ partner, Nihal, have hosted a popular weekly BBC radio program that’s exerted unmatched influence on Britain’s sprawling Asian Underground scene. The broad aesthetic of Bobby Friction and Nihal Present lays bare the common threads joining bhangra, Bollywood music, and traditional Indian song, and the two of them have encouraged all kinds of stylistic mashups with their dynamic mixing. In 2004 V2 Records issued a killer two-CD collection of tracks Bobby and Nihal had compiled from the UK, U.S., and India—ample proof, in case anyone needed it, that hip-hop’s connection to Asian beats doesn’t begin and end with Timbaland dropping tabla patterns behind Missy Elliott on “Get Yr Freak On” and Jay-Z rhyming over Panjabi MC’s “Mundian to Bach Ke.” This thriving musical culture draws much of its vitality from the unimpeded flow of ideas between previously distinct genres, and Bobby Friction both exemplifies and facilitates that openness. If you really want to know what’s going on, there’s no better primer than one of his DJ sets. —PM
Radiohiro A member of the local Bombay Beatbox crew, Radiohiro has a weakness for spacey, half-baked remixes of traditional south Asian music—it’s like he’s trying to split the difference between disco and the soundtrack to a yoga-instruction video. —PM
DJ Dakfu I’ve only heard one set by this local DJ, but it didn’t impress. It was like a watery soup, with meager bits of melody from India and the Middle East barely flavoring the run-of-the-mill hip-hop and techno beats. Too bad he can’t just make it better with more salt. —PM
9 PM Martyrs’ $12, 21+
Little Cow On I’m in Love With Every Lady (Yonas Media) this band from Budapest, Hungary, scampers through styles like a kid in a costume shop, injecting ska rhythms into Balkan tunes, funking up Romani ditties, and turning waltzes into rock numbers. Little Cow’s songs, sung in English and Hungarian, are admittedly catchy, and the players are sharp and talented, but despite all the exotic finery its music rests solidly on a rock-pop foundation—the band never gets very deep into any one genre and ends up sounding pretty ordinary. —PM
Chicha Libre While in Lima, Peru, a few years ago, Olivier Conan discovered chicha music—a strange hybrid genre that flourished briefly in the late 60s and early 70s, it layers surf guitar and garage-rock organ atop Colombian cumbia rhythms and pentatonic Andean melodies. Back home in New York, he shared his finds on the excellent 2007 compilation The Roots of Chicha and formed the band Chicha Libre to play his own version of the style. The title track on its recent debut, ¡Sonido Amazonico! (Barbes), is a faithful cover of a song originally recorded by Peru’s Los Mirlos, but most of the tunes are originals or chicha-style remakes—and the band tackles everything from Satie’s “Gnosienne No. 1” to Gershon Kingsley’s kitschy electronic classic “Popcorn.” The band’s pomo aesthetic reminds me of Manu Chao’s, albeit without the reggae influence. —PM
10 PM Uncommon Ground on Devon
Desafinado This Champaign-Urbana sextet plays mostly original bossa nova, samba, and MPB, but even with two percussionists, the music on Desafinado’s self-released Conhecimento never gets off the ground. Granted, lifeless rhythms might not cripple a band with strong singers and soloists; unfortunately, guitarist Tim Johnson has a thin voice with uncertain pitch, and flutist Tom Paynter never seems to do much besides noodle. —PM
10 PM Chicago Latvian Cultural Center $15 requested donation
Richard Hagopian’s Kef Time Ensemble See above.
Kabile When I think of traditional folk music, I know I always picture goatskin bagpipes—and the Bulgarian version of that instrument, called the gaida, gets a solo number on Kabile’s recent self-released reunion CD, Traditional Music From Thrace. This southeast Bulgarian ensemble was a popular wedding band for two decades, and ironically what did the group in was the fall of the Iron Curtain—two key members emigrated to the United States in 1995. They returned to Bulgaria late last year to make a new album, and the result is a dense, lively, graceful career retrospective that doubles nicely as a portrait of a tradition. —MK
10 PM House of Blues Back Porch Stage $10
Seckou Keita See above.
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