Around the World in 13 Days: Your Guide to the 19th Annual World Music Festival Chicago

By Becky Nystedt |

La Tribu de Abrante is one of dozens of musical acts to perform during the 19th World Music Festival Chicago

The World Music Festival Chicago is the biggest festival of its kind in the U.S. The 2017 edition presents dozens of artists in 31 events across the city over 13 days from September 8th-24th. Planned and sponsored by Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, all of the events are free.

“There’s really nothing like this in the United States,” said DCASE program manager Carlos Tortolero, “we can’t stress that enough. I think it speaks volumes about how Chicago is a testament to the arts and our commitment to highlighting the cultural diversity that’s in our city and it’s definitely very important right now.”

“It’s important to celebrate other cultures so that we have a better understanding of each other, and so we can better educate one another about who we are and what we represent. Music is just one conduit, one medium, for furthering that conversation and understanding of other people,” Tortolero added.

In this year’s 19th festival, Tortolero said that the DCASE hopes to “highlight traditional and contemporary music from around the world. It’s very much an American-centric, Eurocentric, way of looking at global music, but it’s essentially traditional and contemporary music that’s featured here in the city and representing as many countries as possible.” As part of the city of Chicago’s One Chicago campaign, DCASE is committed to recognizing diverse cultural traditions that thrive in the Windy City.”

If you are overwhelmed by the sheer number of events that the World Music Festival presents, we’ve selected a few performances we are excited about. Find more information about these events below. Find a full schedule of festival events on the City of Chicago website, and be sure to visit WFMT.com for coverage of festival highlights.

Stay up all night immersing yourself in Indian classical music

Sitarist Roopa Panesar, featured during Ragamala: A Celebration of Indian Classical Music + Dance

World Music Festival kicks off with a 14-hour marathon of Indian classical music. Each hour, a different group of performers take the stage, offering an almost encyclopedic array of various classical traditions from the Indian subcontinent. Indian classical traditions reserve certain ragas, or musical compositions, for certain times of the day or the year. Ragamala, which lasts from sundown to sunup, allows audiences to immerse themselves in music meant for the evening, nighttime, and early-morning hours.

“What’s special in this 5th edition of Ragamala is that we’re highlighting Bharatanatyam, a South Indian classical dance tradition. Two productions have been co-curated and co-programmed with the Kalapriya Center for Indian Performing Arts,” said Tortolero. “They’re addressing two themes that we feel are critical to Chicago, as well as the nation and globally.” The first is Ahimsa, or non-violence, and the second is “to highlight Chicago’s role as a sanctuary city,” Tortolero added.

Where: Chicago Cultural Center, Preston Bradley Hall (78 E. Washington St., 3rd Floor)
When: Friday, September 8, 6:30 pm until Saturday, September 9, 10:00 am

Celebrate 70 years of Indian independence with a world premiere

Composer and violinist L. Subramaniam unveils his “Bharath Symphony” in Millennium Park

Hear the world premiere of the Bharath Symphony by legendary Indian composer and violinist L. Subramaniam. The work was commissioned for the World Music Festival 2017 to celebrate and commemorate the 70th anniversary of India’s independence. You can get a first listen to the symphony performed in Millennium Park with the Elmhurst College and Community Philharmonic Orchestra before it is heard later this year at the Barbican Centre with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Each movement of the symphony highlights different periods of India’s history, as well as its diverse musical traditions. Two of L. Subramaniam’s family members will join him on stage to sing, including his daughter, Bindui Subramaniam, and his wife, acclaimed Bollywood playback singer Kavita Krishnamurti Subramaniam. His son Ambi Subramaniam  will play violin. Also joining him are trail-blazing slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya and percussionists Tanmoy Bose on tabla and Mahesh Krishnamurthy on mridangam.

Where: Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park (201 E. Randolph St.)
When: Saturday, September 9, 3:00 pm

Kick up your heels with Irish ensemble Lúnasa

Lúnasa in the National Concert Hall (Photo: Jason Clarke Photography)

Time to stretch your legs and prepare to jig with Lúnasa, “the hottest Irish acoustic group on the planet” according to The New York Times. The quintet performs music from their homeland, as well as Brittany, Scotland, Galicia, and Asturias, plus original compositions. The city of Chicago says, “The arrangements employ a rich contrapuntal snap, with dazzling harmonies zipping by in every bar, but nothing trumps the sheer joyfulness of Lúnasa’s infectious, spirited live performances.”

Where:  Irish American Heritage Center (4626 N Knox Ave.)
When: Thursday, September 14, 7:00 pm

Hear Chinese chamber ensemble Yao Ye in Ping Tom Park

Li-Jiazheng of Yao Ye

If you need to find a little serenity in the big city, you might enjoy the sounds of Yao Ye. The quartet hails from China and is composed Zhu Fangqiong, Jiyun Wang, Jiazheng Li, and Xiaogang Zeng.

They draw upon diverse musical styles from Chinese and European classical traditions to contemporary jazz, using instruments such as the zither-like guzheng and the shakuhachi – a Japanese bamboo flute. What better place to experience their unique sounds than Ping Tom Memorial Park on the Chicago River?

Where: Ping Tom Memorial Park (300 W. 19th St.)
When: Friday, September 15, 6:00 pm

Encore performance on Sunday, September 17th, beginning at 2pm at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater (78 E Washington Street, 2nd Floor.)

Drum up some fun making instruments with La Tribu de Abrante

The cover to “Pegaíto al Piso,” by La Tribu de Abrante featuring Orishas

The Puerto Rican group La Tribu de Abrante will teach you how to create homemade instruments in a tutorial suitable for children and adults alike.  You’ll jam with the band. If you can’t make it to the workshop on Saturday you can see La Tribu de Abrante on Sunday, September 17 during The 606 Walk + Global Peace Picnic in Humboldt Park. More details below.

Where: Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center (4046 W. Armitage Ave.)
When: Saturday, September 16, 11:00 am

Hear the first-ever and only all-female mariachi ensemble

Members of Mariachi Flor de Toloache

The Fesitval’s celebration of Mexican Independence Day includes the first and only existing all-female mariachi band, Mariachi Flor de Toloache (toh-loh-AH-che). The band is named after the toloache flower, used in some parts of Mexico to concoct love potions. The group honors traditional mariachi music while incorporating elements of pop, hip-hop, cumbia, and more into its sound. “We’re playing Nirvana and then we’re playing Led Zeppelin and then we’re going into ‘Bésame mucho.’ Sometimes people have never heard mariachi, or never heard all-women’s mariachi, or never heard it going all these different places. It’s exciting,” says one of the lead singers, Mireya I. Ramos.

Where: Thalia Hall  (1807 S. Allport.)
When: Saturday, Saturday, September 16th at 8pm doors; 9pm show. 21+ event

Jam out at the Chicago Gypsy Jazz Festival & Caravan Art Festival

Alfonso Ponticelli and Swing Gita

World Music Festival Chicago 2017 concludes by teaming up with the Chicago Gypsy Jazz Festival & Caravan Art Festival. Main stage highlights at the festival include the Sara Labriola Trio, The Harmonious Wail, and Alfonso Ponticelli & Swing Gitan. The festival also offers carnival games, magic shows, food, drink, and much more.

Where: Band of Bohemia restaurant (4710 N. Ravenswood Ave.)
When: Sunday, September 24th, from 1pm until 6pm