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A World of Music

Global Union festival returns to Humboldt Park

Sep. 22, 2010
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One image among many stands out from year one of Global Union, Milwaukee’s annual world music festival at Humboldt Park. “The last act was Kultur Shock, a Serbian thrash-punk-metal band,” recalls the festival’s creator, Alverno Presents’ artistic director, David Ravel. “And I saw a dozen African-American women thoroughly rocking out. I said, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I want this event to be’—and it largely has been just that.”

Now in its fifth year, Global Union is not just another music festival in the City of Festivals. It is an opportunity to see bands from around the world that would never otherwise travel to faraway Milwaukee, along with world music acts that have based themselves in the United States. Unlike the city’s many ethnic festivals, Global Union is meant to show how the swirling crosscurrents of a globalized culture are changing the face of America’s heartland.

“It’s meant to demonstrate to Milwaukee just how diverse we are,” Ravel says.

An outgrowth of Alverno Presents, the long-running performing arts series at Alverno College, Global Union was an ambitious endeavor from the get-go—two days of music by bands unfamiliar to most Milwaukeeans.

“The vast majority of people aren’t coming to hear a particular artist, but for a certain kind of experience,” Ravel continues. “Global Union’s greatest service goes beyond presenting two great days of music—it’s the picture of who we are that the festival gives back to the community.”

Intended as a family event, Global Union keeps to daylight hours in one of the city’s most beautiful green spaces, Humboldt Park. It can be a picnic in the open air or a chance to dance on the grass and an education about the rapidly morphing state of world music. It’s neither a one-way street of Anglo-American rock and rap exported to other countries, nor folk music isolated from outside influences.

“Hybridity is a primary value in Global Union,” Ravel explains. “World music is no longer a matter of ethnomusicology and field recordings. There is no untouched part of the planet anymore. Everyone can be aware of what everyone else is doing.”

Witness one of Global Union’s stars, Ethiopian-born, Brooklyn-raised, California-based singer-songwriter Meklit Hadero, described by her record label as an East African Joni Mitchell who “met Nina Simone for tea in San Francisco’s Mission District.”

Booking Global Union is a challenging effort involving visa problems and trans-global logistics. “It could not happen in isolation,” Ravel says. “We could not afford to bring most of these artists here as a one-off.”

Ravel works with similar festivals in Chicago, Bloomington, Ind., Minneapolis and elsewhere in the Midwest to establish a viable touring route for musical acts that would otherwise be unable to afford to travel to the United States. For two afternoons each September, Milwaukee becomes the center of the world.

Saturday, Sept. 25

  • Mahala Rai Banda, 1 p.m.

The Romanian Gypsy brass band’s wild Eastern tones are propelled by fierce rock and ska tempos.

  •  Joan Soriano, 2:30 p.m.

           He is a soulful balladeer of the playful yet bittersweet folk music of the Dominican Republic.

  • Debo Band with Fendika, 4 p.m.

Echoes of Ethiopia’s ancient links to the Near East are heard in the deep grooves of this big dance band.

Sunday, Sept. 26

  • Delhi 2 Dublin, 1 p.m.

Celtic fiddles, tabla drums and squealing turntables collide in a global mix of musicians from India, Ireland and Korea.

  • Meklit Hadero, 2:30 p.m.

Her acoustic ballads and commanding, unmistakable voice are accompanied by contemporary beats and a hint of jazz.

  • La Excelencia, 4 p.m.

Salsa embodies the sound of New York—bold and proud and strutting down the hot, crowded streets.


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