Few events offer the possibility of genuine musical discovery that Chicago's annual World Music Festival boasts. Over the course of two weeks, the concert series hosts free shows at music venues all across the city, headlined by performers that hail from all corners of the globe. Whether you want to listen to a septuagenarian Brazilian singer or hear classical Indian music for 15 hours straight, you'll find what you're looking for (and more) during this annual celebration of musical diversity.
The best World Music Festival shows
The Chicago Cultural Center hosts its annual Ragamala, which showcases the entrancing melodies of Indian classical music. Kicking off Chicago's World Music Festival, the 15-hour concert hosts musicians playing sitars, tablas, flutes, dulcimers and more traditional instruments during an overnight series of performances. If you're willing to stay up all night, you'll be able to see some of the best contemporary Indian performers, all in one place.
Known as the "father of Ethio-jazz," Ethiopian musician, composer and arranger Mulatu Astatke combined Western structures with the instrumentation of his native country. Bristling with conga drum rhythms and vibraphone melodies, Astatke created a distinctive sound that inspired hordes of imitators. Puerto Rican producer ÌFÉ and Cuban DJ Afroqbano open the show.
Modeled after Fela Kuti's Africa 70 band, Brooklyn Afrobeat band Antibalas mashes up jazz, funk and dub influences with sinuous guitar lines, vigorous brass blasts and groovy organ riffs. Ghanaian reggae singer-songwriter Rocky Dawuni and German Afrobeat selectors Analog Africa Soundsystem open the free show.
Israeli sisters Tair, Liron and Tagel Haim channel Yemeni folk music and electronic beats as A-Wa, showcasing three-part vocal harmonies and lyrics written in Yemeni Arabic. The group's debut album, Habib Galbi, was produced by Balkan Beat Box frontman Tomer Yosef, who fuses the sisters' distinctive, traditional sound with modern embellishments. Singer-songwriter Maya Kamaty, who hails from an island off the coast of France, opens this free World Music Festival show.
The 606 hosts a World Music Festival celebration, with hands-on maker stations along the trail where families can make their own instruments, peace signs and T-shirts. The party moves to Humboldt Park Boathouse for the Global Peace Picnic at 2pm, featuring Ghanaian reggae artist Rocky Dawuni, 11-piece Columbian band Herencia de Timbiquí and the taarab music of Tanzanian act Rajab Suleiman & Kithara.
Brazilian singer Dona Onete released her debut album in 2014, at the age of 73, but she's not exactly making up for lost time. Discovered by a local band in her hometown, Onete has been singing and writing songs for as long as she can remember. Her experience shines through on Banzeiro, a collection of songs that combine traditional rhythms with buoyant Carribean-inspired melodies. Local Bossa Nova act Bossa Tres opens this free concert.
Senegalese musician Solo Cissokho and Lithuanian artist Indrė Jurgelevičiūtė join forces to showcase two unique instruments, the West African kora and the harp-like Lithuanian kanklės. Together, Solo and Indrė combine their respective folk music traditions, making music that represents a truly global collaboration. Ghana musician SK Kakraba—who plays a xylophone-like instrument called the gyil—opens this free World Music Festival concert.