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Behind The Mic: Denis McGilvray

A Sunday evening listening to The Rhythm Atlas could look many ways: head-nodding to Afrobeat, dancing to cumbia from Colombia, swinging along to the Irish fiddle. As host Denis McGilvray describes, “it’s a global gumbo, a funky fusion of international styles.”

Denis started this funky fusion show in 2017. He is a lifelong global music lover and had been a librarian, radio show host, record buyer and producer of a local Americana/Folk concert series.

Denis with Dominican bachata singer and guitarist Joan Soriano

A Southern California native, Denis was always surrounded by music, especially global music.

Denis says he distinctly remembers hearing a Peruvian folk song on a Simon & Garfunkel album when he was younger. “It’s got those Andean pan pipes and it’s very distinctive. I loved that song as a kid, and it just stuck with me.”

And coming from a family with strong Scottish and Irish heritage, Denis attended Scottish Society events where he was exposed to Celtic music.

In later years, Denis worked at a record store as the global music and jazz buyer in Monterey Bay.

These eclectic music experiences inspired The Rhythm Atlas, a show that exposes Tulsa to global sounds.

“I’ve just always been very interested in other cultures and the music just grabbed me, even though I don’t always know what they’re saying,” Denis says. “There’s something beautiful about different traditional folk music styles and the way they blend their own traditions with modern music.

“The more I’ve done it, [I’ve found that] there are these common threads that you can find around the world that link these different traditions together.”

Those common threads may be a shared instrument, theme or lyrical content — and those threads are what weave each Rhythm Atlas show together.

Denis with Afro-Pop superstar Angélique Kidjo in 2017

“Sometimes I’ll try to find something that comes from the same region as another song. Or it’s an instrument that they share that builds the bridge from song to song,” Denis says. “It can be tricky with [songs from] different cultures.”

And yet, each Sunday evening, Denis finds a way to create a show that spins these varying songs and styles of music together.

When he’s not listening to pan pipes, gaita flutes and sakara drums, you’ll find Denis home-brewing his own beer, watching movies, swimming and cooking for his family. Or, organizing his extensive collection of records and CDs from all around the world.

Tune in to The Rhythm Atlas on Sunday evenings at 6 p.m. on KWGS 89.5 FM.

Julianne joined Public Radio Tulsa in June 2022 as Development Associate. She wear many hats at the station — connecting with listeners, writing PRT's newsletters, planning events and doing digital behind-the-scenes.