The Great Recession can't stop the sixth annual Madison World Music Festival. It's the city's splashiest single-payer party, provided free for all by the Wisconsin Union Theater with a little help from friends and funders. The fest is on the UW Memorial Union Terrace Wednesday-Friday, Sept. 16-18, and moves to the Willy Street Fair on Saturday, Sept. 19.
Marching band mania is this year's motif. The UW World Percussion Ensemble kicks off Wednesday's Locally Global Student and Community Showcase (5:30 p.m.). Leading the global jubilee that starts on Thursday is Red Baraat Festival!, a high-energy Punjabi marriage procession ensemble from Manhattan led by rising world drum star Sunny Jain. This international Indian dohl 'n' brass big band, which regularly gigs at New York hotspots like Joe's Pub and the Kitchen, marches from Library Mall to take the Terrace stage at 6 p.m.
Mucca Pazza (Italian for crazy cow), an utterly zany circus-punk marching band from the Windy City (check out their loopy YouTube videos), has two slots on Friday, 3 and 6:15 p.m. Mucca Pazza makes the fest intergalactic as well as international - festival chair Esty Dinur calls it an otherworldly act. It's one of two, since Dragon Knights returns for the third year in a row. I'm shamelessly in love with this troupe's spectacular puppets, which roam the Terrace on Friday and Willy Street on Saturday.
My personal top pick this year is Kepa Junkera (Thursday, 8:15 p.m.; Saturday, 2:30 and 6:15 p.m.), master of the trikitixa (Basque accordion). Junkera, the sleeper hit of the '05 fest, is the only return on the bill besides Dragon Knights. On his latest double disc, Extea, he plays traditional Basque songs accompanied by Latin vocalists from around the world. It's super.
I'm also psyched about the Kusun Ensemble from Ghana, a song and dance troupe of topnotch performers who mix a jazzy approach to highlife, the country's signature dance beat, with tribal rhythms (Thursday, 10:15 p.m.).
Parno Graszt (Friday, 10 p.m.) plays Romany soul from Paszab, a tiny village on Hungary's northeast plains. This is Parno Graszt's first U.S. tour, though the band's been a European world circuit phenom for 20 years. One online critic I found complained that too much globetrotting's watered down its sound - a common world music predicament. So I checked out some recent clips; Parno Graszt looks plenty good to me.
Rising Ethiopian dancer/chanteuse Minyeshu's multinational band (Friday, 8 p.m.) brews a fresh blend of traditional African and Arabic rhythms plus Euro/U.S. pop. From the other side of the continent's coin comes Morocco's Orchestre de Teotouan (Friday, 4:15 p.m.) - men in white robes and fezzes playing classical suites from the Golden Age of Moorish Spain.
Another surprise in this fest's big cultural tent is Hanggai (Sat., 4 p.m.), Mongolian throat singers playing horsehair fiddles and two-stringed lutes, led by an ex-punk electric guitar player from Beijing.
From our NAFTA sista south of the border come Los de Abajo (Saturday, 7:45 p.m.), Mexico City tropipunk rockers who named their band for a famous novel about the 1910 Revolution. Their mix of mariachi, banda, ska and hip-hop isn't my brand of música mexicana, but I'm smitten with their motto - "dance with passion and stand up against the government."
If Los de Abajo's not your bag, catch the season's first World Stage performance at Wisconsin Union Theater (Saturday, 8 p.m.), which doubles as the festival's ticketed headliner: Mystical Arts of Tibet, a spectacular stage show of sacred music and dance for world healing endorsed by the Dalai Lama and produced by Richard Gere. Among 11 works on the Tibetan monks' mesmerizing program are a fabulous-looking "Dance of the Skeleton Lords" plus "A Melody to Sever the Ego Syndrome" and "Incense Offering and Auspicious Song for World Peace."
Stick around for Saturday's festival finale. Renowned Algeria-born, San Francisco-based Jewish DJ Cheb i Sabbah hosts a global dance party on the Union Terrace at 10 p.m.