Hanggai and Aurelio Martinez at Millennium Park

Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion has a pretty full schedule of concerts all summer, not just the Monday-night “Downtown Sounds” shows I’ve written about earlier, but also classical, jazz, world music and more. The Thursday evening “Music Without Borders” series got started June 9 with the Mongolian-Chinese band Hanggai and Honduran singer-guitarist Aurelio Martinez.

Chicago’s mercurial and downright peculiar weather of late didn’t cooperate for this occasion. The temperature dropped from the 90s the previous day to the 50s, making for a pretty chilly outdoor show. The crowd was a small fraction of the audience that turned out a few days earlier, packing the park for Iron & Wine. (I missed that concert, but believe me, it was crowded. Just check out these photos at Time Out Chicago.)

Despite the sparse attendance and cool temps, Thursday’s concert featured two lively performances. Aurelio Martinez’s spry guitar playing and exuberant personality got the crowd moving a little bit, especially a small group of folks waving the Honduran flag. Martinez is not only an accomplished musician — he’s also a politician, a member of the Garifuna community and the first black person to become a deputy in the National Congress of Honduras. His most recent record (released by Sub Pop in January) is Laru Beya, and a couple of free mp3s are available here. It’s interesting and unusual to see Sub Pop releasing a record that would normally be lumped in with that amorphous category, “world music.”

The main act was Hanggai, an array of Mongolian musicians dressed in traditional garb… Well, maybe that was traditional garb. I’m not so sure about that weird bare-chested vest-like get-up the one singer wore, which made him look a bit like a member of the Mongolian Hell’s Angels. The guys played a mix of Western instruments such as electric guitar and banjo with Asian instruments, and the music was also a blend of Asian melodies with American rock ‘n’ roll. It’s surprising to read that Ken Stringfellow of the Posies and latter-day Big Star produced Hanggai’s most recent record, He Who Travels Far. In concert, Hanggai’s music was accessible and fun. The crowd even applauded whenever the singers spoke between songs in their native language, even if few people in the pavilion understand what they were saying. The songs often had a galloping beat, and people got up to dance in front of their seats. (Millennium Park’s security staff strictly enforced a “no dancing in the aisles” rule Thursday night. It sure would be nice if the park set aside a little more space for dancing.)


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