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The World In Chicago

Chicago Folklore Ensemble’s debut project, featuring string quartet and storyteller

Music and stories collected from Chicago immigrant musicians

The World in Chicago (released 2016) is an album of music and a book of oral histories celebrating five musicians who immigrated to Chicago from Argentina, Thailand, Jordan, Ghana, and Serbia. The album presents a selection of songs members of the ensemble learned directly from the five master musicians, arranged for string quartet by members of the ensemble, with ten out of nineteen tracks featuring the master musicians as soloists on oud, keyboard, khaen, violin, and vocals. The book includes moving oral histories shared by the master musicians, along with beautiful illustrations, giving context to the music and taking readers on a journey through the neighborhoods of Chicago and around the world.

The World in Chicago celebrates five musicians who are cultural treasures of Chicago:

  • Jovan Mihailović, violinist from Serbia
  • Alba Guerra, singer from Argentina
  • Baha’a Abu-Taha, singer and oud player from Jordan
  • Abee Mensah, keyboard player from Ghana
  • Phiwan Phonwiang, khaen player from Thailand

The string quartet on the recording includes Lucia Thomas (violin), Sam Hyson (violin), Robert Fisher (viola), and Ellen Frolichstein (cello). Storyteller Sojourner Zenobia is featured on the final track.

Live Performances of String Quartet and Storyteller

The album and book grew out of Chicago Folklore Ensemble’s debut performance series, which premiered in 2015. The World in Chicago was originally a two-hour live show combining string quartet and storytelling by Sojourner Zenobia, interweaving songs and stories gathered directly from interviews with immigrant musicians. Performance venues included International House at the University of Chicago, The Musical Offering in Evanston, City Winery, Alhambra Palace, and Old Town School of Folk Music. The ensemble performed excerpts from the show at TEDxChicago and live on the air on WBEZ’s Worldview.

From the Serbian mountains of blood and honey to the passionate coasts of Argentina, rattling buses tearing through Thai countryside and back to sweet home Chicago, we’ll take you on a journey around the world atop a carpet of music and story. String quartet and storyteller come together to narrate the sights, sounds, and emotions stored in the memories of Chicago immigrant musicians.

In memoriam

Four participants in this project have since passed away: singer Alba Guerra, violist Robert Fisher, violinist Jovan Mihailović, and singer and oud player Baha’a Abu-Taha. We miss them and we’re deeply grateful for the experiences we enjoyed together and for the knowledge and artistry they shared with us and with the Chicago community.

Alba Guerra (1945-2019)
Robert Fisher (1965-2021)
Jovan Mihailović (1934-2022)
Baha’a Abu-Taha (1947-2023)
Chicago Folklore Ensemble at The Musical Offering in Evanston, 2015