Musicians from all corners of the globe converge here this week for the annual World Music Festival. Running Tuesday through Saturday at Tel Aviv's Performing Arts Center and the AmphiPark in Ra'anana, it features performances ranging from a Brazilian Carnival to a French Yiddish-Gypsy septet to Chinese folklore. "The allure of world music lies in its assorted variety of sounds," enthuses the festival's artistic director Dubi Lech, author of the Israel chapter of Penguin's definitive Rough Guide to World Music and longtime presenter of a weekly world music show on Army Radio. "The range of melodies from different regions and continents is captivating, particularly when it comes to the collaboration of these different musical traditions. Ever since hearing famous early collaborations such as that of Ravi Shankar and The Beatles in the 1960s, I've been fascinated by the experimental and often unnatural sounds created by the fusion of different world beats." Lech, who has visited musical festivals throughout the world as advisor for the European Forum of World Music, also cites the cooperation between cultures as part of the unique appeal of world music. "When you put a group of musicians from different parts of the world in a room, you come out with a collaboration - a novel and unique creation resulting from the communication between the various parties.... [It's] an outcome that is unlikely to be achieved from a meeting of international politicians. For this reason I see world music as an important means of promoting understanding," he says. Lech has fond memories of the finale collaboration between the musicians at the 1999 festival. "I ensured that all the artists stayed until the last day, when I led an experimental jam session," he recalls. "The synthesis of assorted sounds was extraordinary, and both the artists and the audience really responded to it. "I haven't been able to organize a similar session at any of the subsequent festivals," admits Lech. "These days, everyone is so busy that none of the artists are willing to stay until the end of the festival." Still, the influence of past festivals remains strong. Following an acclaimed opening performance at the 1999 festival, Belgian-based Zap Mamaz is returning this year. The all-woman group led by Congolese-born Marie Daulne, daughter of a Belgian father and African mother, combines native African sounds with hip-hop, gospel and R&B. "Marie's music is much influenced by her experiences in the Congo," explains her manager Ludwig Soentjens. "She uses intimate harmonies to imitate the delicate hum of the Pygmy people, with whom she spent much of her early life. At the same time, she infuses these ancient sounds with rhythms inspired by contemporary legends such as Aretha Franklin and James Brown." Brazilian Carnival queen Daniela Mercury, a bestselling artist in her own country, also draws inspiration from African culture. The singer/dancer's material is influenced by her native Bhaia region, one of the first parts of Brazil to import African slaves and today considered a black cultural stronghold. Mercury's vibrant, colorful performance aboard a signature Carnival-style trio-electrico truck (the kind that features a musical group and a sound system) will kick off this year's event at Ra'anana AmphiPark. Her appearance will be preceded by a Carnival-inspired celebration. Brazil is also represented in the form of music ensemble Madradis, which, together with Portuguese soloist Teresa Salgueiro, will present AntÃ´nio Carlos Jobim's sensual bossa nova greats and other Brazilian standards. Les Yeux Noir (Black Eyes), a French-based septet headed by brothers Olivier and Eric Slaviack, will be at the festival to perform their innovative blend of Yiddish and Gypsy music. This combination, according to Lech, is becoming increasingly common. "The two types of music have various similarities," he explains. "Both [cultures] originate in Eastern Europe, and [they] share many instruments in common. Both groups were always wary of persecution, and so [they] rely heavily on instruments such as the clarinet and violin that were easy to pack away if need be." The festival will also feature the Hebrew translation of Leonard Cohen songs recently performed by Ivri Lider and Eran Zur at the Israel Festival, Middle Eastern-influenced French singer Sapho, and The Beijing National Choir. Tickets cost from NIS 149 to NIS 289. For more information see www.worldmusic.co.il or call (03) 521-5200.