Wednesday, July 15, 2009

World Music @ Your Fingertips

This summer marks the fifth anniversary of the opening of downtown Chicago's most awesome outdoor nature/culture/social playground: Millenium Park. Every day this summer the park (in the heart of the Chicago downtown) hosts thousands of people from all over the world, enjoying fantastic free music, dance bands, artist demonstrations and of course, that amazing sculpture, popularly known as "The Bean".

This summer they're hosting "Music Without Borders" - free concerts which feature some of the world's most innovative musicians. Maybe you can make it up to the park for the last couple concerts, but if you can't, rest assured that The Urbana Free Library International music selection includes their music and more.

Oumou Sangare, the Malian singer who has become an international superstar, kicked off the series. Raised in poverty by a single mother, Sangare has become an outspoken voice for African women - the liner notes in her CDs explain the inspirations for her songs and are incredibly moving, but wow, the music would rock you, even if you had no idea what the lyrics said! Bela Fleck credits her singularly powerful and beautiful voice as being a significant inspiration for his recent trip to Africa and the resulting CD collection "Throw Down Your Heart."

Another performer in the series - Lura - was born in Portugal to Cape Verdean parents. Her music is vibrantly eclectic - at times she draws on reggae and samba rhythms, while other music is distinctly Brazilian; she's also explored traditional African instruments and rhythms.

Tomorrow night (July 16) Justin Adams (former sidekick to Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant) takes the stage with Juldeh Camara - a Gambian singer and Riti Master (an ancient one-string fiddle). The duo are known for blending American blues and the guitar-based music of West Africa (made popular by Ali Farka Toure). The final program features Novalima (Afro-Peruvian music which blends traditional music with hip-hop and reggae) and Malian singer Issa Bagayogo - who has gained world-wide fame as "Techno Issa", a traditional singer who adds subtle electronic beats.

The line-up prompted me to check out the music of all these performers and spend a little more time in the International music section - I love the luxury of being able to be a little daring and grab some music by artists I've never heard of, to venture into unfamiliar territory (Hawaiian slide guitarists, South African vocalists, Korean folk sounds). So, by all means, get up to Millenium Park if you can, or just browse the International CDs here at the library and make your own World Music party...

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