11TH INTERNATIONAL MERENGUE FESTIVAL
Robert J. Lewis
you’ve ever thought of visiting a Latin American country,
but, because of either time or financial restrictions have had
to put that plan on hold, the next best thing is Montreal’s
Merengue Festival that takes place every
July on Ile Nôtre-Dame (Metro stop Jean Drapeau).
the sun-blessed weekend of the 21st and 22nd,
Latin nations from Central
and South America gathered to honour the theme of one nation,
one people -- borders be damned. Food, folklore and memorable
dance from countries as diverse as Guatemala and the Dominican
Republic reminded one and all that the culture of the past is
best preserved in the present. With Spanish and its many accents
wafting in the breeze, you might have thought you were walking
along the banks of the Panama Canal or the Orinoco.
back from the principal stage was a motley string of mini-boutiques
and food stands that transformed the area into a makeshift mercado
featuring a broad range of artifacts, traditional clothing and
specialty dishes whose tantalizing aromas the nose couldn’t
always, there was non-stop musicand
dancing that took place in front of the stage. If Latin America
is one nation, it manifests in those totally unselfconscious,
swinging, lithe hips that out of inner necessity invented the
complex rhythms of Merengue, Samba and the Cha-cha. Dancers
from all ages came forward dressed in their summer lights and
put on an informal show worthy of highlight reel.
the 2-day event eight major concerts fired up the stage, including
the hot Salsa of Johnny Ray, Carlos and Alexandra, Tito El Bambino
from Puerto Rico, and Monchy & Alexandra from the Dominican
between the music, the much in demand, gorgeous
Carnaval de Rio girls mounted the stage in
the slimmest of attire that threw into double jeopardy even
the tightest marriage and relationship. Paying homage to the
meticulously choreographed troupe of long legged dancers was
the incessant blitz and flash of cameras.
on age and taste, the musical highlight of the event belonged
to Monchy & Alexandra, whose adoring fans couldn’t
get enough of their sweet harmonies that filled the half-mooned
Montreal night. The
music itself was noteworthy for its subtle fusion of traditional
and contemporary. The duo would typically begin with a musical
idea/cliché that threatened to wear thin, but then, on
a dime, the singers would suddenly introduce unexpected changes
in melody and cadence that took the song to a new place where
it could stand tall and on its own: the audience lapped it up.
the end of the all too short day’s journey into night,
with the cerveza swilled and midnight air redolent
of sativa, there were reasons galore to conclude that a good
time was had by all.
of more, more, more, meant there would be just that, next year,
at Montreal’s 12th International Merengue Festival.