Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sound Culture Celebrates its 5th Anniversary

This article was originally published at Agúzate, the website of an organization in Chicago that is dedicated to Afro-Latin music and culture. But, because it fits so well with the overall purpose of this blog, I'm reproducing it in full here. At one point in this interview, we talk about the Celebrate Clark Street Festival and my neighborhood, which I've written about before. Click here and here if you want to check that out.

On to the article... 

This Saturday, May 3, Sound Culture Center for Global Arts will mark 5 years of presenting global music in Chicago with a party at Subterranean in Wicker Park. We at Agúzate know Sound Culture well, having partnered with them to bring Novalima, Orquesta Macabeo, Henry Cole & the Afrobeat Collective and several others to Chicago. I sat down with Sound Culture founder and Artistic Director David Chavez to talk about Sound Culture and the Chicago world music scene.

“I had done programming for different institutions, HotHouse, Uncommon Ground, and Morse Theater” says Chavez, a Chicago native of Salvadoran immigrants who makes his home in Albany Park. “I felt like I was always starting over at each of them…  I saw a chance to build my own community and institution around what I am most passionate about, multiculturalism and music.​  Sound Culture was a vehicle to realize my own vision and mission to expand the audience for international music.”

Sound Culture Director David Chavez

The organization began when Chavez and Amor Montes de Oca (of Arte y Vida Chicago) started programming global music by local and international artists for HotHouse after they vacated their South Loop venue, producing shows at various donated spaces throughout the city. They celebrated their first anniversary with the Nomadic World Music Festival, presenting 10 shows at 5 venues in April of 2010.

When Mayne Stage in Rogers Park opened in 2011, it became Sound Culture’s primary (though not only) venue. “Mayne Stage provides the perfect setting for the majority of my shows” Chavez states. “It's classic but not pretentious, it's open to all ages and accessible, the sound and AV are the best in the city, it's suitable for either a dancing show like Sierra Leone's Refugee All S​tars, or sit down show like the Eddie Palmieri Quartet.” He continues, “They've also been genuinely interested in Sound Culture's programming and as a brand, not just the  ​dollars and cents.”

Chavez had been involved in the Rogers Park community prior to starting Sound Culture. “I'd been programming Celebrate Clark Street (an annual summer festival in Rogers Park) for many years before Morse Theater turned into Mayne Stage. That festival is very special because it has defied the cookie cutter festival landscape that currently exists in Chicago.  It's not about selling beer and listening to cover bands.  It's about celebrating the cultural diversity of the neighborhood both on and off stage.”

As a Rogers Park resident, I can attest to Chavez’ assessment of the festival’s vibe as well as his description of the neighborhood’s diversity. In recent years the modest street party has evolved into a de facto second Chicago World Music Festival.  It’s one of the things I love about living here.

When I ask Chavez about some of his most memorable shows, it’s a pretty long list. “I really try to produce shows that are culturally significant.  And so when you start with that, you set the bar high for yourself from the get go.  Susana Baca, Eddie Palmieri, Gregory Porter, Sargent Garcia, Idan Raichel, Orquesta Aragón, Brownout, Wake Up Madagascar with Jaojoby, Bomba Estereo, O​rchestre P​oly Rythmo de C​otonou, Novalima, Juana Molina, DakhaBrakha… ​I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot.”

Chavez has also been a DJ since he was 18, and he changed his nom de disc to DJ Sound Culture after starting the organization. “The musical aesthetic and message in the artists that I presented on stage was the same as what I was spinning anyway.  So to me, they go hand in hand and provide two different vehicles to carry the same sound culture message, albeit to two different audiences in most cases.“ 

About those different audiences: “I feel like the world music scene is in transition, a good portion is graying but there's also an emerging generation coming into the fold.” Chavez continues, “Apart from wanting to expand the audience for world music across the city I also wanted to expand it to a new generation of globally minded music audience. I've been a key player in helping to develop a global bass scene in Chicago, a predominantly dance music oriented audience that tends ​to erase national borders and cross cultural lines both musically and on the dance floor.”

And that brings us to this Saturday’s anniversary party. The lineup is a slice of everything that makes Sound Culture unique and important.  For one thing, the event is timed to coincide with International Workers Day. For another, it features music from out of town as well as local artists. Finally, DJs will keep the groove going when the bands aren’t playing.  All of the artists fit it well with Chavez’ mission. I can hear the passion as he describes the lineup.


“Boogat, from Montreal, is one of those artists that straddle the live and the electronic; his message is often one from an immigrant experience or one of self identity as a minority in an Anglo Francophone culture. Very in tune with the International Workers Day theme. Los Vicios de Papa is a hometown hero also championing human, worker and immigrant rights. They were probably the first real Latin band in Chicago that wasn't conforming to traditional salsa or Mexican regional music and resonating with young 1st and 2nd generation urban Latinos. DJ's Chief Boima and Geko Jones, from New York City, have a new Africa Latina project that celebrates the African diaspora in Latin America.”

Add in other local favorites like SOULPHONETICS, Esso! Afrojam Funkbeat, Las Selectas, the FEx DJ collective (collaborators for this event) and a set from DJ Sound Culture himself, and it’ll be quite a night.

I’ll see you on the dance floor!

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