The World Music Institute was founded in 1985 and grew out of the concert series developed at New York’s Alternative Museum by its founders Robert and Helene Browning between 1976 and 1985. The Alternative Museum provided a showcase for people to experience many styles of world music in an intimate setting. Its concerts of classical Indian music, Irish folk music, and Americana such as blues, gospel and Cajun music are legendary. In addition, it provided a platform for many young American experimental artists and an opportunity for audiences to hear classical music of Persia, Turkey and the Arab lands, music of West African griots, and rarely heard music of Southeast Asia.
WMI expanded upon this early world music program to build the most comprehensive concert series of traditional music and dance in the United States. Since its inception, WMI has presented music and dance from more than 100 countries and ethnic minorities in Africa, Asia, Oceania, Europe, the Americas and the Middle East, as well as regional music from North America. In addition, WMI has presented innovative programs of contemporary music by American composers and interpreters.
WMI was a pioneer in promoting music from the world of Islam at a time that Americans had little or no understanding of Islamic culture. In 1993-94 and 1995-96, we presented The Musical World of Islam which featured artists from the Middle East and Central Asia.
In the late 1990s when, for a short while, Cuban musicians were able to visit the United States, WMI was able to provide a platform for some of the island’s foremost traditional musicians including Orchestra Aragon, Muñequitos de Matanzas, AfroCuba de Matanzas and Pancho Quinto. In our 30th Anniversary season, we presented a Masters of Cuban Music Series that featured the “Adios” Tour of the famed Cuban ensemble Buena Vista Social Club - their final ever performance in the continental United States, Chucho Valdés, performing the music of his ground-breaking group Irakere in honor of their 40th anniversary, and Arturo Sandoval, the Cuban Jazz giant who also was originally a member of Irakere prior to his leaving Cuba to live in the United States.
WMI has also spearheaded the presentation of Iranian musicians in the US. In addition to Shahram Nazeri, WMI has presented Iran’s most famous classical singer, Mohammad Reza Shajarian, on numerous occasions and launched the career of Kayhan Kalhor.
Classical Indian music, both Hindustani (North India) and Carnatic (South India), has always been a major part of WMI’s programming. Since 1985 we have presented most of India’s greatest musicians and dancers, most recently L. Subramaniam and Amjad Ali Khan & Sons.
Artists from Africa and the African diaspora have played an important role in WMI’s programming and have included most recently Kasse Mady Diabaté (Mali), Orlando Julius (Nigeria), Ladysmith Black Mambazo (South Africa) and King Sunny Adé (Nigeria). For the past five years, WMI has partnered with Apollo Theater in presenting Africa Now! spotlighting emerging and established artists of today’s African music scene.
After the retirement of the Founding Director of 26 years in 2011, WMI entered an era of transition with some management and personnel changes until 2015, when under new leadership a small, committed team continued and expanded on the original vision of WMI’s founders. The 30th Anniversary Season featured 23 memorable shows by 28 performers from 17 countries at 11 venues. Ancillary events such as artist Q&A's, pre-show expert talks and demonstrations, as well as after-show meet & greets have been added and aim to provide additional opportunities for learning about and engagement with each presented culture.
To date, WMI has presented more than 1,500 artists from 100 countries and ethnic regions of the world at venues throughout NYC and beyond.