The programmers at Sydney Festival spend all year trawling musical eras of years gone by, exploring cultures, mapping record labels and seeking out legends to curate an eclectic program of idiosyncratic global music. From the unknown to the established; the underrated to the revered, there’s a lot of good stuff this year and while we’d love to see it all, these are the 10 acts that we feel are really unmissable. Book it in.

Chaka Khan (Soul), USA
There ain’t nobody that ain’t ready to line the streets with gold leaf and garlands to welcome Queen Chaka Khan to the Sydney shores. The 10-time Grammy award-winning '80s disco goddess steps into 2014 with just as much funk as she ever had. Her voice is big enough to fill the Domain stretch – as is her hair. Just get ready to camp out for a spot.
January 11, Domain


Tom Thum (Beatbox), Brisbane
With an orchestra stuck in his throat, Brisbane’s beat-smith is able to produce the most unlikely of sounds using his born instrument - his mouth. With an installed knowledge of global multi-instrumentalism and world sounds; Tom Thum trumpets, sings and loops his way through life. You have a week to catch him at Sydney Festival and boy, does he put on a good show.
January 21-26 at 8pm, January 25 at 2pm & 8pm, Circus Ronaldo Tent, Festival Village


Hurricane Transcriptions/Laborintus II (experimental/jazz), USA
A most unlikely pair share the City Recital Hall stage this year: Sonic Youth’s mainstay guitarist, Lee Ranaldo and Faith No More’s Mike Patton. Ranaldo storms the stage with howling winds and torrential rain to memorialise Hurricane Sandy, the tempest that shook New York in 2012. Patton brings his latest avant-garde jazz offering Laborintus II, in replacement of the 40-deep orchestra he brought to Sydney Festival last year for Mondo Cane. The singer reworks Luciano Berio’s original 1965 poetics with spoken work, instrumentals and electronics for something a little more chaotic.
January 16, City Recital Hall


Bombino (Blues), Niger
From the faraway deserts of Niger lands Bombino, a Tuareg guitarist with a pension for jamming and getting down with E-minor. With his band, the Nonesuch Records-signed artist collaborated with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys to create the ‘bluesy desert jams’ on his latest album, Nomad.
January 9-10, Spiegeltent, $38
January 11, Riverside Theatres


Samaris (Pop), Iceland
It’s inconceivable that this trio of Icelandic teenagers is still under wraps, but Sydney Festival is one tapped-in affair. Fittingly signed to Iceland’s prime export, Bjork's label One Little Indian Records - Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir, Þórður Kári Steinþórsson and Jófríður Ákadóttir create a sound dripping in dreamy electronics. But it’s the high-octave vocals steeped in 19th century Icelandic poetry that is most enchanting. January 16-17, Spiegeltent


Eclipse (Soul), Mali
Enter a pitch black Town Hall and wait for Amadou and his wife, Mariam, to take the mics. These Malian superstars are both completely blind and by belting their soulful vocals and African Rhythms in total darkness, they are sharing their personal sonic-experience with their audiences. You won't be able to see a thing in the hall but sound and vibration will take you on a joy ride. Give your eyes a rest and enjoy the feeling.
January 9-11, Sydney Town Hall


Jacques Renault (Electronic), USA
Future Classic have been waiting to fly this Brooklyn producer back to Sydney since he headlined their takeover at Vivid Festival in 2012. Renault blends house and disco, and tears down the best warehouse parties in New York. This time, Future Classic are sending him to Paradiso - the Amsterdam after-hours, rock-club pop-up at Town Hall – alongside Medlar (UK), Touch Sensitive, Wave Racer and Future Classic DJs.
January 24, Sydney Town Hall


Matmos (Electronic), USA
Baltimore’s Drew Daniel and MC Schmidt bring musical experiments from their nine albums to Sydney for the first time. The duo invents genre-bending tracks out of ambiguous noises, delectable beats and peculiar commentary. Spanning the ’90s till now; find out how “time jumps like some magic rebound”, according to the first track off their 2013 release, The Marriage of Two Minds.
January 15, City Recital Hall


Dido & Aeneas (Opera), Germany
Lovers of classical baroque music will get a kick out of this contemporary take on a visit to the opera. Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin bring life to the choreography of Sasha Waltz in a combined re-imagining of Dido & Aeneas, Henry Purcell’s 17th century tragic romance. Expect a loud, crashing score and some tender movement straight out of Germany.
January 16-21, Sydney Lyric at The Star


Sinkane (Global), USA
This four-piece from Brooklyn managed to squeeze ’70s funk, Afrobeat, Sudanese pop, jazz and New York indie music into one album. Mainman, Ahmed Gallab, was born in Sudan and is heavily influenced by his roots. He played drums for Caribou and was a multi-instrumentalist for Yeasayer before steering Sinkane. Now signed to DFA, the group’s global sound is steeped in wild musical taste and hints of Gallab’s motherland.
January 24, 26, Spiegeltent


For the full program see sydneyfestival.org.au/2014