In the shadow of construction cranes, muffled by the sound of drills, stilt-walking women with eyelashes as long as fingers ushered excited patrons into Memorial Union for the 12th annual Madison World Music Festival Friday, Sept. 18.
Since its establishment in 2004, the festival has sought to foster a unique and educational cultural experience through world music, dance and cultural workshops.
“We want to bring great world music to Madison,” Artistic Selection Committee spokesperson, Esty Dinur, said. “A large part of our mission is to bring in stuff that is unfamiliar, that will hopefully expand the horizons of attendees in the most enjoyable way possible.”
To carry out that mission, this year’s lineup included top-notch acts hailing from across the globe — Niger, Georgia, South Korea, Algeria, Ethiopia, Israel and Cuba. The event not only included cultural balance and diversity, but balance and diversity in all aspects to ensure there was something for everyone in attendance.
Dinur particularly noted the Korean group 숨[suːm], which roughly translates to “a pause for breath.” They received an enthusiastic standing ovation after their performance Friday.
“We want our acts to have gender balance and regional balance,” Dinur said. “We want a mix of genres — we don’t want it all to sound the same.”
In order to make this precise musical equilibrium a possibility, the festival’s planning and booking process is long and intensive, taking about a year.
The Artistic Selection Committee tries to make sure several points of view and cultures are represented, from Eastern European brass bands to African dance music, Wisconsin Union Theater world stage coordinator, Ellen Hebden, said.
On top of the Madison-specific Artistic Selection Committee, the Madison World Music Festival planning involves a consortium of 11 other regional world music festivals, all of whom have teamed up to bring these top-notch international acts to the US.
When Madison began development, only Chicago and Bloomington, Indiana had world music festivals, Dinur said. Now, over a decade later, they can draw inspiration from a wide body of fellow creators.
“None of us have a big budget, so standing alone, none of us could really bring artists to the country or pay them what they deserve,” Dinur said. “However when all 12 of us work together, artists can play groups of six shows, and we can make it happen.”
Despite some cancellations, and Memorial Union’s construction, the two-day event was a success, Dinur said.
And with the Willy Street block party adding a second day of festivities — with Wild Rumpus Circus stilt-walkers and bustling vendors — the event not only brought the world’s music to Madison, but brought all of Madison together.
“It’s the concept of ‘bringing the gown to the town,’” Dinur said of the Madison Music Festival-Willy Street Fair partnership. “It’s taking this great stuff that the university has been doing and sharing it with the community, making it possible for the community to enjoy.”
Updated September 21, 2015 at 8:41 p.m.