Millennium Park Music Series with Genre Defying Global, Jazz, Soul and More

Updated July 21, 2016

by Gail Dee/We Want Music Without Border

The lineup for the  2016 free Millennium Park Music Series at the Pritzker Pavilion includes fabulous shows for “world” music lovers this year as well as jazz, gospel and soul. The 18 free summer shows consolidate two successful series from previous summers — Downtown Sound and Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz.   The superb lineup includes Juju world music legend King Sunny Ade; Salsa & latin jazz maestro Eddie Palmieri; Afrobeat’s Femi Kuti as well as outstanding newcomers like Kinshasa’s Mbongwana Star.  Their first release 2015 album last year was chosen by many as one of the year’s best -including me. Local bands of which we are big fans will also be appearing such as Dos Santos Anti Beat Orquesta; Makayka McCraven; Kelan Phil Cohran and Ecos del Pacifico.

This news especially warms my heart because today (March 31) marks the We Want Music Without Borders 4 year anniversary!  The Facebook group began as a  protest to the cancellation of the concert series “Music Without Borders” in 2012 . WWMWB has since morphed into a community entertainment portal with over 2700+ members focusing on live music from around the world. During 2015 I branched out as a music journalist and contributed the “Global Sounds” column for Newcity Music for several issues.  Are you signed up for our upcoming newsletter?  .

Below the complete lineup with emphasis on the artists of special interest to “music without borders” lovers. DCASE programmer David Chavez has reimagined the summer series to “feature a wider variety of genre-defying music from top local, national and international artists – both established and emerging.”  Many of the international acts are booked  on Monday as well as on Thursday nights from June thru July.  In August the series takes place only on Thursday nights. The concerts will begin at 6:30 p.m.  UPDATE: Headliner usually appears listed first BUT performs last.  ALSO new this year: Some shows are being livestreamed if artists approve.   Check links to livestream at ChicagoCultureEvents

I’m especially excited to see Mbongwana Star for the first time!  Aug 11

June 6: Blonde Redhead and Ryley Walker.

June 9: Lee Fields & The Expressions and Makaya McCraven.

“With a catalogue that ranges from James Brown-style funk to lo-fi blues and contemporary Southern soul, Lee Fields has had a successful career spanning more than 43 years. Since the late sixties, the North Carolina native has amassed a prolific catalog of albums and has toured and played with such legends as Kool and the Gang, Sammy Gordon and the Hip-Huggers, and many others. Paris born Makaya McCraven pushes the boundaries of sound and rhythm to create categories of his own. He layers his extensive experience with hip-hop bands, African dance bands, Hungarian folk music, and indie rock on top of a deep history of “straight-ahead” jazz, improvisation and Avant-garde beats.”

June 13:  Rodrigo Amarante and Leyla MaCalla.

“One of the masterminds behind the Brazilian band Los Hermanos and founding member of the samba super group Orquestra Imperial, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rodrigo Amarante is an inescapable musical figure in his native South American home. In 2015 he wrote the popular song “Tuyo”(Yours), which serves as the opening theme for the Netflix series “Narcos.” Leyla McCalla is a New York-born Haitian-American living in New Orleans, who sings in four languages and plays cello, tenor banjo and guitar. Deeply influenced by traditional Creole, Cajun and Haitian music, as well as by American jazz and folk, her music is at once earthy, elegant, soulful and witty.”


UPDATE:  June 16: PHOX   (from Baraboo, Wis) and Gina Chavez.

Gina Chavez is “a bilingual Latin-folk singer-songwriter from Austin, Texas who expertly blends the sounds of the Americas with tension and grace. Her most recent album Up.Rooted has won critical acclaim from NPR, USA Today and more.  Her latest independent release, Up.Rooted, is a passionate collection of bilingual songs traversing cumbia, bossa nova, vintage pop, reggaeton, and folk combined with dynamic vocals and sharp social commentary.”

(Nneka cancelled–replaced by PHOX an alternate folk/indie pop band from Wisconsin area)

Award-winning, Nigerian singer-songwriter Nneka is known for her captivating blend of reggae, hip-hop and soul sounds. She was quickly established as one of Africa’s most powerful voices as her politically charged lyrics examine a myriad of social issues, including maternal love, heartbreak and the quest for justice. Gina Chavez is a bilingual Latin-folk singer-songwriter from Austin, Texas who expertly blends the sounds of the Americas with tension and grace. Her most recent album Up.Rooted has won critical acclaim from NPR, USA Today and more.

June 20: DJ Spooky and Kelan Phil Cohran’s Summer Solstice Ensemble.

Washington, D.C.-born Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky is a composer, multimedia artist and writer whose work immerses audiences in a blend of genres, global culture, and environmental and social issues. Rebirth of a Nation was his first large-scale multimedia performance piece, which has been performed more than 50 times in venues around the world, from the Sydney Festival to the Herod Atticus Amphitheater in Athens, Greece. Kelan Phil Cohran is a Chicago improvised jazz legend known for his contributions in the Sun Ra Arkestra in Chicago and for his involvement in the foundation of the AACM.

June 23: Maceo Parker and Marrow.

June 27: Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra and Ecos del Pacifico.

Eddie Palmieri is one of the foremost Latin jazz pianists in the world and has had a musical career that spans over 50 years. Born in the Spanish Harlem of New York City, Palmieiri has won nine Grammy awards throughout his career as a bandleader of several critically acclaimed Salsa and Latin jazz orchestras. Ecos del Pacifico is a Chicago-based group formed in 2006 by Julio Cesar Montaño Montenegro and is steeped in the Afro-Colombian music and dance traditions of the pacific coast of Colombia.

UPDATE June 30: Givers and Lower Dens. Givers indie pop group from Lafayette, Louisiana whose diverse sound stems from the improvisational and dance-fueled atmosphere of their hometown’s zydeco, cajun and jazz cultures mixed with an affection for new wave, funk and world music

July 11: Femi Kuti and the Positive Force and ProbCause.  UPDATE: Show will be livestreamed. Here is the link

Femi Kuti is a Grammy-nominated, high energy Afrobeat artist born in London and raised in Nigeria. Kuti is the eldest son of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti and grandchild of Nigerian aristocrat, political and women’s rights activist Funmilayo Ransome Kuti

July 14: Azymuth and Sidewalk Chalk.  Update: Azymuth due to visa issues has been cancelled. In their  place “iLe” will be performing.”Since the age of 16, iLe has toured with her brothers Residente and Visitante of Calle 13 and played on five albums with them in her native Puerto Rico. Her first solo album iLevitable was released in June.



Sidewalk Chalk.

 Sidewalk Chalk is an eight-member Chicago-based band that is leading the contemporary evolution of hip-hop, soul, and jazz. The group’s unique arrangement allows them to incorporate numerous styles seamlessly: an MC and female vocalist; a trio of keys, bass, and drums; a horn section with trombone and trumpet; and a tap-dancer.

July 18: King Sunny Ade and Ugochi and A.S.E.

King Sunny Ade is the undisputed king of juju music, the dance-inspiring hybrid of western pop and traditional African music with roots in the guitar tradition of Nigeria. Ade launched his own record label in 1974 and has released more than 100 of his own recordings in Nigeria. Born in Chicago to Nigerian parents, Ugochi is an Afro-soul singer, songwriter and poet who is known for her extremely versatile and creative music and performances. She will appear with The Afro Soul Ensemble (A.S.E.).

July 21: Heritage Blues Orchestra and Toshi Reagon.

Known for their traditional blues material bolstered by a New Orleans-like horn section and a good dose of both jazz and gospel sensibilities, New York City-based Heritage Blues Orchestra has found a way to make traditional material sound fresh and new.


Toshi Reagon is a versatile singer-songwriter-guitarist from Atlanta with a unique hold-nothing-back approach to rock, blues, R&B, country, folk, spirituals and funk. Pete Seeger’s goddaughter named after his wife, Toshi and daughter of Bernice Reagon Johnson founder of Sweet Honey in The Rock and co founder of Freedom Singers –Toshi grew up surrounded by folk and blues and civil rights activism which continues to inform her music.


July 25: Jones Family Singers and Apostolic Church of God Sanctuary Choir.

The Jones Family Singers are a Texas-based gospel powerhouse consisting of five sisters, two brothers and their father who infuse joyful and reverent songs with vintage soul, funk and R&B.

Under the direction of Brother Ray Nuckolls and Dr. Willetta Greene-Johnson, Chicago’s Apostolic Church of God Sanctuary Choir includes more than 300 voices.

Aug. 1: Jose Gonzalez and Tall Heights.

Aug. 4: Sinkane and Mark de Clive-Lowe

Sinkane is solo recording artist who sings and plays numerous instruments blending krautrock, free jazz and funk rock with Sudanense pop. Although born in London, Sinkane spent his early childhood in Sudan followed by Ohio after his family fled to the United States.



Mark de Clive-Lowe is a musician, composer and producer originally from New Zealand, and now based in Los Angeles, after living for ten years in London. He is a veteran of the UK’s broken beat movement, blending jazz, electronic dance music, funk and percussion heavy world music into a unique sound.


Aug. 11: Mbongwana Star + Dos Santos Antibeat Orchestra

Mbongwana Star is a psychedelic African dance band from Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Chicago-based Dos Santos: Anti-Beat Orchestra rocks the sounds of popular pan-Latin American dance genres—from cumbia to salsa.

Aug. 18: Elephant Revival and Mandolin Orange.

Aug. 25: Tortoise and Homme.

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