Erin Wolf

Global Union 2009 goes punk, brass and electric mariachi

By - Sep 10th, 2009 01:09 pm
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Mucca Pazza, from a photo by Eric Harvey Brown (courtesy Alverno)

Mucca Pazza. Photo by Eric Harvey Brown. Courtesy, Alverno College.

Rain or shine, Global Union always draws a big crowd of those looking for a little culture not far from home. This Saturday, September 19 and Sunday, September 20, the Alverno Presents music festival enters a strong fifth year of whirlwind performances unmatched anywhere in Milwaukee. Recently, festival director David Ravel, gave his take on the success of Global Union and why the theory “less is more” is a positive for this year’s event.

“[Five years ago] my colleague Michael Harryman and I were at a booking conference in New York, watching Luciana Souza at Joe’s Pub,” Ravel says. “She was going to be performing with us [at Alverno Presents] later in the season, so we went backstage to say ‘hi.’ Her agent was standing off to the side with this wiry guy, moving in anxious ways, waiting for us to finish this conversation.

“So, we finished our conversation and Miles, Luciana’s agent, said, ‘I want to introduce you to Mike Orloff,’ (ed. note: Orloff does the world music festival programming for the department of cultural affairs in Chicago at Millenium and Grant parks and lots of indoor venues, too), and he came up to us and said, ‘I do Chicago World Music Festival. I want there to be a world music festival in Milwaukee so I can route artists up there, and I want you guys to do it’. That’s pretty much how it happened. We were told by Mike Orloff that we had to have a festival. It was really flattering to be asked, and we get to work with some really cool people.”

GlobalUnionSmWorking with cool people is an art, Ravel says. “These are really amazing artists. If they were just coming to Milwaukee, we couldn’t afford them, and they couldn’t afford to do the trip. So, we work with festivals in Madison, Chicago and Bloomington that are happening at about the same time as ours to round-up as many musicians as we can. It’s the fifth year for the Madison festival. Chicago’s has been running seven-to-nine years, and Bloomington is arguably the oldest world music festival in the country — it’s like 15 years old. Since we’ve been working together, we now get hit up by lots of artists, managers and agents from all over who want to make their U.S. debut. And, they know that there are enough dates here to anchor it,” Ravel says.

Although stronger than ever, Global Union is streamlining the lineup this year. Instead of eight acts, the concert will include six. “Obviously, there are economy reasons behind that, but I think it’s going to make for a nicer experience.  And, it’s going to be possible for people to come and actually sit through all three bands each night. I think four might have been a little bit overwhelming.”

The beating heart of the festival is indeed the music, and the more raucous, the better, Ravel says. So, why not start out with a bang? “[Mucca Pazza] is from Chicago. You should see them. How many times do you get to see a 34-piece circus punk, gypsy marching band?” he asks, obviously excited. “The reason we started the festival is because they’re big, flashy and splashy and just something you don’t see every day,” he points out.

Los de

Los de Abajos

Los de Abajo, he says, will be a big draw. “If you can imagine mariachi and very, very loud electric guitars — that’s sort of what Los de Abajo is about. And, they throw in some ska just to make things a little different. And, I think (I’m not positive), that this is only their second tour of the United States. Certainly, this is their first time in the Midwest.”



The Watcha Clan and other performing groups, he says, epitomize what the festival is all about.

“I’d say the aesthetic premise behind the festival is that we live in a time when we have access to all different kinds of sounds, cultures and regional offerings.”

Such a melting pot, he says, enriches the quality and performances of everyone. “What’s been happening for a number of years now in the world music is that artists are borrowing. It’s not just an ethnographic field recording from one little corner of the world — it’s people having access to work via the Internet and shortwave radio that they wouldn’t have had before. So, for example, Hanggai is Mongolian throat-singing with a very loud rock/punk electric guitar background. Whatcha Clan, a family, is the big-mix of the festival. Their mother was Israeli. They’re father was Algerian. They’re based in Marseilles, a port city. So, there’s lots of influence coming from all around.”

The Watcha Clan sound, he says, is primarily electronica but “they’re singing in Hebrew, Arabic, French and English.” The Watcha Clan’s latest CD is Diaspora Hi-fi, which Ravel says is “a nice description of what it means to live in that kind of mix.”

Adding to the mix will be Red Baraat, an Indian brass band. Saturday and Sunday shows will open to their brassy beats. Expect a Punjabi-funk sort of sound from this group. “There are tubas, trumpets, trombones and a dhol, which is a two-sided drum.”



Hanggai, of Mongolia, re-crafts traditional sounds to create contemporary beats of its own. “The best way to describe Hanggai is to imagine if some indie rockers living in Brooklyn discovered Bill Monroe,” says Ravel. “Suddenly, they have to be making bluegrass music with their indie rock/Brooklyn sensibilities.”

The leader of the band is Ilchi, a Beijing punk rocker who discovered Mongolian folk music as part of a quest to dig deeper into his familial past. Ravel says that eventually he met up with other Mongolian musicians who were doing contemporary, urban re-imagining of the music. The resulting music that he crafted is authentic with a twist … and so is the group’s look. “They go all the way with the costuming, so it’s like Mongolian cowboys,” Ravel says.

Minyeshu, who will give the final performance, brings along a spirt of light and creativity to the stage. “Minyeshu is a powerhouse,” Ravel says of the Ethiopian performer. She and her back-up band add touches of jazz and classic yodeled vocals “in the traditional way of ‘ululation,’ sung in Ethiopian and English,” Ravel adds. “Electric guitars and native African instruments come together to form a unique electricity.”

Recalling performers of Global Unions past, Ravel says that “people who saw Dobet at the festival two years ago, and were blown away by her, will have a second chance to have that kind of experience.”

While music is the most important part of this outdoor event, you still have to eat, right? Vendors from the Milwaukee County Parks, Babe’s Ice Cream and Desserts, Center of Light, The Gumbo Man, JT Bones, Rainbow Boba Tea Cafe, Rishi Tea, Satellite Crepes, Snack-a-licious, West Bank Cafe, Four Corners of the World Fair Trade Store, T Doggs and Immy’s Appetizers will be selling food and merchandise. And, don’t forget to stop by the TCD table and say hello.

For more information, visit the Alverno Presents web site  for musician bios, videos and songs. Global Union runs 9/19 – 9/20, Noon – 5 p.m., Humboldt Park Bandshell in Bay View.

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