Celtic reggae, gypsy polka and more

Global Union 2010

By - Sep 22nd, 2010 04:00 am
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This weekend, Alverno Presents serves up Global Union: a free outdoor smorgasbord of music and performers from all over the globe.

Milwaukeeans know that come summertime, this city is swathed in a marathon of outdoor musical events showcasing that diverse musical stylings of national and local bands, held up by networked support from local organizations.

The difference between Global Union and everything else you’ve done all summer (other than the new crisp breezes that will ripple your picnic blanket), is that you’ve probably never heard of the headliners at this music festival.

Delhi 2 Dublin. Photo courtesy delhi2dublin.com

It’s an exotic take on your favorite dish. The diverse rhythms, instruments and performance styles showcased at Global Union are set to make you feel transported. (Just how far south is Humboldt Park, anyway?) And that’s the point of the event: to treat you to wild music that you’ve never heard before and a line-up you will be regaled by.

Indian/Celtic music with a dash of dub reggae and electro beats? Check. Alverno Presents has beguiled audiences for its 51 seasons of wildly discursive music, reaching across genres and continents. The organization has built a strong and deep fan base by orchestrating “experiential” concerts that some say you just have to be there in order to understand and fully appreciate.

Mahala Rai Banda. Photo by Joan Thomas

Global Union is by far the organization’s largest event, taking place outside of the walls of its normal proscenium theater venues and Alverno College and Marquette University, condensing Alverno Presents’ mode of eclecticism into one staggering festival.

Their positive and inclusive energy may be idealistic, but the financial challenges faced by the organization in recent months provided a harsh reality check:  namely, the threat of this year’s festival being the last. Due to the grim realities of the current economic climate, several long-term major donor organizations have had to withdraw their commitments to funding of future Alverno Presents events.

The Debo Band, photo courtesy of deboband.com

However, the spirit of community that Global Union has embodied and enlivened in Milwaukee since its inception five years ago attracted a necessary jolt of substantive funds in late summer.

Earlier this month, using the fundraising platform Kickstarter.com (“A new way to Fund & Follow Creativity”) to campaign for $15,000, Alverno Presents was able meet its goal towards securing the future of the annual two-day festival, thanks to donations from individuals fans and several home-grown businesses.

With previous crowds reaching up to 10,000 over two days, the event has a reputation as much more than simply a concert series; it is a diverse Milwaukee gathering, a chance for locals and businesses, in the words of Director David Ravel, “ to get a fresh perspective on who our neighbors are.” The organizers hope that attendees will walk away from the event with “a new vision” of Milwaukee — that, through their experiences at Global Union, Milwaukeeans might come to realize the city’s true identity as an international, musical city.

Alverno Presents also hopes to embrace the diversity of the city. Part of the challenge is making sure that divergent ethnic communities are made aware of the festival. As a result, their marketing strategy has adapted to respond to the fact that not all of the specific ethnicities represented in the bands are centralized in the city in the form of public long-established community organizations, like the Irish Cultural Heritage Center.

La Excelencia. Photo by Paul Nart.

Alverno Presents has attempted to circumvent this challenge by seeking specific sponsors through personal connections and word of mouth — sponsors who will take personal interest in supporting particular performers based on the culture and ethnicity of the music they perform.

In other words, the goal is not to garner major funds from all sponsorships, but rather to promote a connection to the community base associated with the sponsor. For example, this year, the Dominican musician Joan Soriano is being sponsored by La Causa, the Hispanic Milwaukee non-profit organization that supports low-income children and parents, most of whom are Hispanic or Latino.

By the sheer scope of the contrasting international bands, this year’s event beckons a wide call to lovers of music of all kinds. The line-up includes everything from the salsa music of New York’s La Excelencia, to the vamped-up Romanian polka from Mahala Rai Banda, to the cerebral Afro-American folk music from Meklit Hadero, and yes, Indian/ Celtic electronica dub reggae from the band Delhi 2 Dublin. This feast of a program will be offered up for all to partake in, rain or shine —  and free of charge.

The 2010 Global Union festival takes place this Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 25 & 26, from noon until 5 p.m. in Humboldt Park! For a full line-up of artists, check out the event website.

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