Chicago Immigrant Orchestra moves audience at Krannert


Humza Qazi

Vocalist Sam Taheri thanks the audience at the end of the Chicago Immigrant Orchestra’s performance at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday.

By Humza Qazi, Contributing Writer

Vocalist Ugochi Nwaogwugwu swayed gently side-to-side, her dance illuminated by the red and pink lights above. Dressed in a blue and orange shawl fitting for her audience, she had yet to sing a single verse.

The other members of the Chicago Immigrant Orchestra quieted their instruments as Nwaogwugwu’s song began. Co-director Fareed Haque set down his guitar to begin clapping along mid-performance, with the audience happily joining in.

When Nwaogwugwu’s song came to an end, Haque couldn’t help but playfully comment on the audience’s reception. 

“It’s a hit,” Haque said.

Hosted by the International and Area Studies Library, the Chicago Immigrant Orchestra performed at the Krannert Center on the night of Sept. 27. 

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    Under the direction of Haque and Wanees Zarour, his fellow co-director, the 12-piece ensemble represented musical traditions from around the world.

    Emily Tung, junior in LAS, was in attendance at the Chicago Immigrant Orchestra’s performance. A pianist and clarinet player, Tung said she appreciated the casual nature of the performance in comparison to the formal band concerts she is used to.

    “They were physically cueing to each other by nodding and encouraging the audience to clap,” Tung said. “There were even some unexpected things in there, like some impromptu solos.” 

    Tung said her favorite performance was that of Tamir Hargana, a world-class performer of Mongolian and Tuvan music. The distinction of Hargana’s throat singing in comparison to the other vocalists was impressive, Tung said.

    “He had that moment where he was able to split his tone into two,” Tung said. “I’m not sure if the audience caught that, but that’s actually really impressive.”

    For Rachel Selvaraj, freshman in LAS, the Chicago Immigrant Orchestra was a welcome departure from the orchestras she is accustomed to as a violinist and orchestra musician herself.

    “The amount of people and the instrumentation made it so much more exciting, and it just stood out more compared to a normal orchestra,” Selvaraj said. “It’s by being able to show these types of events that your whole outlook is just completely changed and diversified.”

    Selvaraj said she appreciated the diversity of instruments that the Chicago Immigrant Orchestra hosted, initially expecting only the standard violins, violas, cellos and others. The rapid strumming of the string instruments brought to mind a desert chase scene, she said.

    Selvaraj was intrigued by the Chicago Immigrant Orchestra’s interactivity with the audience, due in large part to Haque leading everybody in clapping to the beat throughout the night.

    “The first time he kind of did it and everyone else joined in,” Selvaraj said. “When the second song began, I was immediately doing that and it just felt really immersive.”

    Jazmin Garcia, sophomore in Division of General Studies, was particularly moved by percussionist Juan Pastor, who has played jazz festivals all over the world. 

    “Juan Pastor, one of the percussionists, was always smiling,” Garcia said. “He was smacking his guitar and his knees and was getting people to clap, you know?”

    As a second-generation American whose parents immigrated from Mexico, Garcia said she found the Chicago Immigrant Orchestra to be an experience she could relate to. The combination of traditional and contemporary music embodied her own interwoven American and Mexican identities, she said.

    “I felt like I could relate to (Pastor) because, you know, he’s from Peru and I’m Mexican,” Garcia said. “It is so good to see this happy, smiling person really vibing in the moment, making this beautiful musical scene up on stage.”


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