Basic elements

The international and roots-music scene heats up
By TED DROZDOWSKI  |  September 8, 2008

SAHARAN SONGS: Vieux Farka Touré follows in his father’s footsteps at the Somerville Theatre September 27.

Boston was a world-music stronghold even before the “world music” genre existed. So there’s a rich offering of sounds from Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, India, and other locales coming this fall.

The most eagerly awaited return may be that of VIEUX FARKA TOURÉ. He’s continuing the legacy of his father, Malian music idol Ali Farka Touré, whose solo recordings and breakthrough work with American guitarist Ry Cooder put the art of his impoverished, landlocked African nation’s griots on the charts. Ali died in March 2006; Vieux made his recording debut in 2007 with an album bearing his name on the World Village USA label and a sequel, the remix disc UFOs over Bamako, that introduced him to the international dance circuit.

Like his father, Touré also has roots in blues and R&B, as we saw when he came to the Museum of Fine Arts August 20 as part of the “Still Black, Still Proud: An African Tribute to James Brown” project, whose members included Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis from Brown’s JB’s band, and Senegal’s Cheikh Lô. But the guitarist, singer, and percussionist will deliver a more traditional performance at the Somerville Theatre September 27 at 8 pm: a set of Malian and Saharan tunes, backed by his quintet.

Many of this season’s world-music highlights will be on concert stages rather than in clubs. The Somerville, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Berklee Performance Center, and Harvard’s Sanders Theatre will all host outstanding artists. At the Somerville, the fall offerings begin on September 19 with KAL, a seven-piece group from Belgrade who modernize the romance of Gypsy music from Bosnia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Serbia. Then on October 3, it’s LO COR DE LA PLANA, an a cappella six-piece from Marseilles who sing in the Occitan language of Southern France, combining Mediterranean roots with African influences and plainchant.

The theater resonates with African music again on November 1, when the popular TOUMANI DIABATÉ returns. This time it’s a rare solo performance for the world’s leading kora player. And if you can’t get enough Tuvan throat music, HUUN-HUUR-TU on November 22 are your ticket. Sure, Siberia has the gulag, but it also has one of the most resonant and hypnotic vocal styles in the world.

Wondering where the term “whirling dervish” comes from? The appearance of AL-KINDÎ & THE WHIRLING DERVISHES OF DAMASCUS at Sanders Theatre on September 20 will provide the answer. A mix of transcendental music and ritual, the Dervishes featuring vocalist Sheikh Hamza Shakkûr will demonstrate the Sufi repertoire from the Great Mosque of Omeyyad. LURA and her sextet bring their distinctive mix of Cape Verdean folk laced with a taste of international pop to the Berklee Performance Center on October 12. And James Devine, at an astonishing 38 taps per second the planet’s fastest tapper, is featured in “CELTIC TAP,” which will run October 17-19 at the Institute of Contemporary Art’s Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater. (Tickets for all these World Music events at 617.876.4275 or

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