New Life for Viva! Chicago | Bleader

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New Life for Viva! Chicago

Posted By on 08.27.09 at 01:08 PM

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Aterciopelados
  • Aterciopelados
The annual ¡Viva! Chicago Latin Music Festival has long been the weakest of the city’s big summer music festivals in Grant Park, with bookings that looked especially narrow and provincial compared to the sprawling, sophisticated lineups assembled for the blues, gospel, jazz, and Celtic music fests. From 1989 until last year Viva! was programmed by Enrique Munoz, a former sales rep and liaison to the Latino community for 7UP, who told me in 1999 that his programming was geared to “best represent the diversity of Chicago" and is "based on Billboard Magazine, CD sales, radio-play (or air-time), name recognition, and cost-effectiveness.” Unfortunately, artistic merit rarely seemed to be among the metrics he considered. The event was theoretically geared to the whole city and intended to reflect its diverse Latino makeup, most of the music was either Mexican or Puerto Rican.

I was more than pleasantly surprised when I saw this year’s lineup. Surprisingly, it was put together by a non-Latino—Barry Dolins, a fixture at the Mayor’s Office of Special Events who’s best known for booking the Blues Festival—and despite the tough economic climate, he's assembled a wonderfully rich and varied program. In this week’s paper I write about the Dominican Republic's queen of merengue típico, La India Canela, but she’s not the only highlight.

Performing on Saturday night is Colombia’s Aterciopelados (pictured), one of the most consistently original and accomplished Latino rock bands over the past decade and a half. Popular Mexican-American folk-pop-jazz singer Lila Downs was tapped to headline on Sunday night, though she canceled this week due to a ruptured appendix; she's been replaced by sophisticated rocker Javier Garcia).

Chicago’s own Banda Manzanera, a joyous, subtly innovative banda ensemble, also plays the main stage on Sunday. On Saturday the fest hosts a promising tribute to Manny Oquendo’s Conjunto Libre by a cast of all-star New York salseros including trombonist Jimmy Bosch, bassist Andy Gonzalez, singer and percussionist Frankie Vazquez, and singer Herman Olivera. Other performers represent styles from Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Here’s hoping Dolins, or someone with a similar vision, stays in charge.

Today’s playlist:

Ikue Mori, Labyrinth (Tzadik)
Marta Gomez, Entre Cada Palabra (Chesky)
Humvee, Humvee (Jazzland)
Black Dice, Repo (Paw Tracks)
Sophia Domancich, William Parker, and Hamid Drake, Washed Away (Marge)

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