Founded in 1985, WMI grew out of a concert series at the Alternative Museum in NYC in the mid 1980s by founders Robert and Helene Browning that provided a showcase for a richly diverse mix of world music styles in an intimate, accessible setting, which also provided a platform for many young American experimental artists to share their music with the world.
WMI went on to introduce an American audience to a vast array of music that at the time was difficult to access, including artists from Cuba, 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 were privileged to feature the “Adios” Tour of the beloved 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 was a pioneer in promoting music from the world of Islam at a time when Americans had little exposure to 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.
Artists from Africa and the African diaspora have included Mbongwana Star (DRC), Mulatu Astatke (Ethiopia), Salif Keita (Mali), Tony Allen (Nigeria), and Mokoomba (Zimbabwe). In addition, for the past six years, WMI has partnered with the Apollo Theater in presenting Africa Now!, a festival spotlighting emerging and established artists of today's African music scene.
In 2011, we introduced our annual Dancing the Gods Indian dance festival, co-curated by Rajika Puri, which over the years has presented a number of award-winning dancers and choreographers across various disciplines of Indian dance including bharatanatyam, kathak, kuchipudi, and odissi.
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. Aside from expanding the artistic repertoire to include contemporary as well as traditional world music performers, WMI PLUS Experiences, and ancillary events such as artist Q&As, pre-show expert talks and demonstrations, as well as after-show meet and greets have been added and aim to provide additional opportunities for learning about and engaging with each presented culture.
Since its inception, WMI has presented the best in music and dance from more than 100 countries at venues throughout NYC and beyond.