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Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011

The World Comes to Humboldt Park

Milwaukee's Global Union music festival

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"This is the first time we've ever brought anyone back," says David Ravel. The artistic director of Global Union, Milwaukee's annual world music festival, is speaking of Kultur Shock, the Serbian thrash metal band from Seattle. "They were the last band on the last day of our first festival and were halfway through their set when thunder broke out." That show was cut short, but—weather willing—Milwaukee will be treated to a full set by the band this weekend.

Kultur Shock is on the hard-rock edge of the musical spectrum at Global Union 2011. On the more traditional side is Saturday's opener, Diblo Dibala, a Congolese guitarist playing in the gravity-free rhythmic style called soukous. The "electro tropical" sound of Colombia's Bomba Estéreo blends old and new. A Frenchman of Spanish heritage, Sergent Garcia calls his music "salsamuffin," for mingling Latin and reggae. Marco Calliari, an Italian based in Quebec, weaves his ancestral folklore with contemporary sounds. Ravel describes the Ghanaian-American Blitz the Ambassador as "Fela Kuti meets Public Enemy." He will be Global Union's closest encounter with rap to date.

When Global Union debuted in the mid-2000s, the lineup was, if anything, even more eclectic. "We understand what we are now—a global dance party," Ravel explains. "We're focusing on music that will fill the Humboldt Park Bandshell—getting a multi-generational, diverse audience off its feet and dancing and having a good time."

Global Union is part of a network of music festivals in the United States, a consortium creating an economically rational fall touring schedule for bands from other continents that couldn't afford to play North America if widely scattered dates were their only option. Ravel drew from the pool of world music on tour this season for a cultural cross-section of artists fitting his specs for a high-energy weekend in the park.

"We work very hard to connect the artists with their respective communities in Milwaukee," says Ravel, who has collaborated in past years with groups like La Causa and the Persian Cultural Society. "Some of the African communities don't have formal organizations, but these communities exist and we work hard to find them."

Over the past quarter-century Milwaukee's ethnic tapestry has grown more colorful, with an incredible diversity of threads. Global Union has become a showcase for what our city looks like in the 21st century.

Saturday, Sept. 17

1 p.m.: Diblo Dibala

2:30 p.m.: Bomba Estéreo

4 p.m.: Kultur Shock

Sunday, Sept. 18

1 p.m.: Sergent Garcia

2:30 p.m.: Marco Calliari

4 p.m.: Blitz the Ambassador

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