The A.V. Club’s $15,000 Global Union preview
It’s a testament to the tight economic times we live in that even innocent music festivals have to look under their proverbial couch cushions for loose change. Earlier this summer, organizers for Milwaukee’s annual Global Union, a two-day celebration of world music that takes place in Humboldt Park, asked the public for help in raising $15,000 to keep their event alive, kicking, and free of charge. Luckily for fans, the goal was not only met, but was subsequently matched by local businesses and philanthropists. Before the 2010 Global Union gets underway this Saturday and Sunday, The A.V. Club takes a look at the six groups scheduled to perform, and determines whether they’re worth your hard-earned 15 grand—assuming you donated, of course.
1 p.m.: Mahala Rai Banda
A traditional Romanian Gypsy band with modern sensibilities, Mahala Rai Banda represents world music at its most wild and unpredictable. Known for its frantic accordion and violin-driven numbers, the group has built a sizable fan base over the past few years, and even found one of its songs featured on the 2006 Borat soundtrack album.
Worth $15,000? Yes. Mahala Rai Banda’s brand of up-tempo and unhinged party music will undoubtedly start things off nicely, and should shatter the groan-inducing Natural Wonders mall-vibe stereotype that so often dogs world music.
2:30 p.m.: Joan Soriano
Hailing from the countryside outside Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, Joan Soriano specializes in a regional style of music known as “bachata.” Distinguished by a lyrical obsession with sadness, loss, and heartbreak (three topics always guaranteed to get the party started), bachata still somehow manages to make for pleasant, outdoor-music-fest fare. (The language barrier probably doesn’t hurt.)
Worth $15,000? Maybe. Soriano’s distinctive guitar work and strong, easygoing vocals are certainly big draws, though fans looking for more feel-good dance music following Mahala Rai Banda’s set may be let down.
4 p.m.: Debo Band with Fendika
A multicultural, 14-piece group influenced by Ethiopian pop music, Debo Band takes all the usual world music staples—accordions, violins, bongos—and combines them with a harder, funkier sound. Expect ’70s funk and plenty of ill-advised dancing from the crowd.
Worth $15,000? Absolutely. Saturday’s performance will find Debo Band’s Ethiopian-based collaborators, Fendika, joining the group on stage, a rare occurrence that more than justifies Global Union’s fundraising efforts.
1 p.m.: Delhi 2 Dublin
Young and energetic, Delhi 2 Dublin mixes traditional Celtic music with Indian Bhangra, then spikes the whole thing with a healthy dose of jam-band—friendly reggae. The Vancouver-based group takes its cues from both world and dub music, resulting in a sound tailor-made for outdoor music bonanzas.
Worth $15,000? Yes. A trippy video for the group’s “Apples” demonstrates how well its unexpected influences pay off, and gives a good idea of the blissed-out vibe the band cultivates.
2:30 p.m. - Meklit Hadero
Meklit Hadero’s press materials paint the Ethiopian-born, San Francisco-based singer as an amalgam of an East African Joni Mitchell and Nina Simone. The description isn’t far off: A gorgeous voice and an art-scene style make Hadero a unique, diva-worthy presence at this year’s Global Union.
Worth $15,000? You bet. In addition to her music career, Hadero holds a BA in Political Science from Yale University, has been the recipient of countless awards and grants, and is a current TED fellow. If that rèsumè isn’t worth 15 grand, we don’t know what is.
4 p.m. - La Excelencia
A streetwise group from New York City, La Excelencia takes traditional salsa music and roughs it up a few notches. Blaring trombones and trumpets figure heavily into the group’s sound, as do overblown vocals and percussion. Call it “hardcore salsa” for the angry young barrio teen in all of us.
Worth $15,000? Uh huh. La Excelencia’s gritty, urban-flavored music is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, and should be an excellent way to bring the 2010 Global Union to a gloriously rowdy close.