Four years ago, Tom Welsh, the Cleveland Museum of Art's associate director of music, put together a lineup of exotic bands to play a summer solstice event designed to show off the museum's recent renovations. The turnout exceeded expectations and was such a success that celebrating the solstice with an open house and concert has become an annual event.
"Solstice is this ultra-cosmopolitan music festival, and it's what's really going in music today around the world," says Welsh. "I want Solstice to be that thing at the Museum that plugs Cleveland into the international urban dialogue of major metropolitan action."
This year's lineup features another eclectic billing of bands. Here's a rundown of what to expect on Saturday.
Debo Band (7:30 p.m.) – This Boston-based group stays true to the vibrant funk that was popular in Ethiopia in the '60s and '70s, bringing Afrobeat to a new generation of indie-rock fans. Their next record is due later this summer on Sub Pop. Some tracks are instrumental, but singer Bruck Tesfaye provides an engaging presence in songs like "Ney Ney Weleba" and "And Lay."
Tom's Take: "When James Brown and African-American soul collided with traditional African rhythms, out came this cool music from Africa in the '70s. Debo Band pays homage to that tradition of Ethiopian pop. I think Sub Pop is catching on to what everyone else is realizing: Indie rock is not the only thing in the world."
Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra (9 p.m.) – Led by Sex Mob trumpeter Steven Bernstein, this nine-piece ensemble plays big-band music with a twist, throwing Sly & the Family Stone and Stevie Wonder covers into their mix, making for more engaging sets than what you normally get from the group's New York City peers.
Tom's Take: "Bernstein is one of the stalwarts of the downtown New York scene, and he's one of these go-to guys for great jazz arrangements and a smart, hip attitude in music. They'll do half 1920s music and half Sly for this show. It's particularly exciting because we are opening our summer exhibition, Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties, and having a little of that sound and flavor is a tip of the cap to that."
Gang Gang Dance (10 p.m.) – Gang Gang Dance — part of N.Y.C.'s burgeoning underground scene — offer an intoxicating blend of swirling synths, spoken-word diatribes, and random bursts of noise. Their latest album, last year's Eye Contact, opens with a woozy 11-minute song that sounds like an acid-splashed Kraftwerk.
Tom's Take: "This should hit right about the time the night begins to change into a dance party. They veer into dance music, but it's not a DJ thing. It's more indescribable. They've been on my radar for a while, and they're a great example of what Solstice is: hard to describe but current and influenced by different strains of music."
Nortec Collective Presents Bostich & Fussible (11 p.m.) — DJs Bostich and Fussible began collaborating as Tijuana's Nortec Collective more than a decade ago. Their 2001 debut is a heady collection of tunes that features samples of norteño and banda cuts that the DJs then turn inside out with techno and electronic beats.
Tom's Take: "They came on my radar when I lived in California. Finally, I get a chance to work with these guys. It's such an interesting and cool hybrid, and they'll be DJing, but there's also a tuba, accordion, and traditional Mexican music guys onstage as well. It's very visual."
Novalima (12:30 a.m.) — This Afro-Peruvian group formed a decade ago with the intention of rescuing traditional rhythms on the verge of extinction. They first appeared on most people's radar with the title tune of the 2010 movie Machete. The band's new album, Karimba, is an exuberant collection of world-beat rhythms updated with electronic beats and synthesizer frills.
Tom's Take: "This is a large band with lots of percussion, but the backbone is a DJ and electronic beats. They've been playing urban dance festivals in New York, L.A., and elsewhere, but haven't come into the interior much. They'll provide a nice end to a long night of over-stimulation."