I can’t claim to be an expert of world music, but if you’ve heard of Loreena McKennitt, Sigur Ros or Jonathan Overby, we are probably on similar terms. That being said, I have never been to the Madison World Music Festival before, and therefore, I attended each concert with no expectations.
The World Music Festival opened Friday with a sax bang and a beat with Movits!, a Swedish group whose style is an addictive fusion of swing, hip-hop and jazz. I don’t know if it was the Colbert Bump, but something about the energy in this group caused the typically-docile Terrace crowd to get up to dance in a way I had never seen a music group accomplish in the same location. Rather than being a detriment to the inspiration of the mostly English-speaking audience, their use of almost-exclusively Swedish lyrics expertly complemented the other elements of their sound.
The Movits! set seemed hard to top, but according to audience testimony, Delhi 2 Dublin was the Friday favorite. Formed out of Vancouver, the band performs using a hypnotic mix of the music cultures of Irish/Celtic and Bhangri, along with some eclectic pop influences. While the mesmerizing Bhangri influence is solidified by the use of sitar, bells and digital sounds, soulful Irish/Celtic influences fit surprisingly well, accomplished with the masterful use of a single fiddle.
The World Music festival continued Saturday at the Willy Street Fair, where the musical blends created a perfect complement to the Fair’s characteristic counterculture.
Among the most successful and popular performances of the Festival, the world-renowned Pakistani pop group Zeb and Haniya played to enthusiastic crowds both Friday and Saturday. Although I always knew Madison to be among the more multicultural places in Wisconsin, the musical elements of alternative, blues and folk drew a large crowd of all ages and cultural backgrounds. I feel the best critical testimony for this band would not be my own opinion, but the number of people up and down the street who were contently swaying to the beautiful melodies. During this festival, I lost track of how many times I heard variations of the phrase, “I’ve never listened to anything like this before, but I love it!” In fact, I found myself thinking the same.
The last performance of the World Music Festival was that of DJ Warp, whose music featured an intoxicating blend of electro beat and sounds accompanied by various African chants, later on giving way to a more upbeat tempo and surreal digital bells. Reminiscent of the late hip-hop artist Nujabes, the music of DJ Warp used the best of the pulsating rhythms of club music and the mind-opening soulfulness of tribal chant, and in no time, a small crowd had formed around the stage to sway and dance to the beat. From my point of view, it was a perfect end to an eye-opening musical experience.