Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 8, No. 4, 2009
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
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Bernard Dubé
Robert Rotondo
Dan Stefik
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
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Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
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Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward



© Marcel Dubois

report filed by Robert J. Lewis

Now in its 23rd year, Montreal’s Festival International Nuits d’Afrique continues, like no other festival of its kind, to gather together into one event the best of what Africa has to offer in respect to its music and influence on world culture.

© Marcel DuboisIf in the early years of the festival, it was implicitly expected of the programmers that they showcase music directly related to Africa, that Afro-centric position has been somewhat relaxed in favour of a more comprehensive view that recognizes how quickly -- that is fiber-optically -- music can travel, picking up all sorts of influences and inflections during its itinerations. To the huge credit of this years outstanding (visionary) festival programmers, Frédéric Kerdavec (International) and Hélène Dimanche (National), Africa’s exceptional influence on the world’s music was accorded just as much importance as its music proper, resulting in what many have described as the most compelling Nuits d’Afrique Festival ever.

If the test of any cultural product is its ability to influence, mix with and find a home in a foreign land, Turkish music, for example, or pentatonic music (black keys only on the pia© Marcel Duboisno) indigenous to China have had almost zero impact outside their borders. African music, on the other hand, has incontestably changed the face of music around the world; and this year’s Nuits d’Afrique Festival paid long overdue homage to that remarkable accomplishment.

Think of African music making an enforced voyage to America, then, with a change of thinking initiated by Abraham Lincoln, the music returns to Africa, then leaves again and makes a pit stop in Jamaica, another stop in Cuba, ending up in Peru. The result, which calls itself Novalima -- a hybrid (high breed) group -- was easily one of the most enthusiastically (hyper-energetically) received shows in the entire festival. And it didn’t matter that not one member was born in Africa, since they were all beholding to the African influence.

© Marcel DuboisNo less so for Rap music and its striking accents and arresting rhyming schemes. Take away the musical accompaniment and listen to the sounds of Rap, its gutturals, the trance inducing cadence, and it all derives from the primordial pulsations (wordless speaking) generated by the conga or djemba et al. And when the words are allowed to speak, they constitute a single protest against the world’s original sins not only against Africa but injustice wherever it manifests, which is why Rap’s unrelenting rhythms will repeat for as long as necessary: ‘don’t give up the fight.’ Variations on that theme and music (urban groove) were delivered by the madly inspired Sargent Garcia, whose fearless festival opener turned out to be a tough act to follow.

Since turning to music for its healing (pharmaceutical) properties is a widely accepted – if not acknowledged – practice, more and more of us are embracing the generic sound of the Kora to supply the calm and serenity today’s hectic pace of life doesn’t allow. One couldn’t have asked for a more sublime supply© Marcel Dubois than from the truly gifted Balla Kounkara (from Mali) who expertly revealed the full potential of his instrument. With a technique that is over the tops, he is surely an ambassador for an instrument that asks the left thumb to lay down a complex bass line while the right fingers weave counter melodies. Kounkara’s ability to get his hands to work independently in the service of a lyricism that arrives like long awaited rain in a dry place was a festival highlight. A few days later, another Malian, Mansa Sissoko, joined forces with banjo strummer Jayme Stone, and together they made everyone aware of the Kora’s influence on the banjo as well as the natural complicity between the two instruments.

I© Marcel Duboisf there was one group that epitomized the ability of African music to combine with all other musics, it found its perfect expression in Capetown’s Freshly Ground, led by awesome voiced, battery energized and crowd engaging Zolani Mahola in what was perhaps, along with Novalima, the festival surprise concert. Like a sauce that refuses to betray its myriad ingredients, Freshly Ground playlist transcended its many influences while exemplifying the cause and concept of World Music.

When the term was first coined in the 1960s, African Genesis referred to the place (th© Marcel Duboise continent) where it all began for homo sapiens, when man was first recognized as qua man. At the conclusion of this year’s Nuits d’Afrique Festival, it occurred to me that African Genesis could now just as easily refer to the epicenter of another birthing -- of world music -- whose ripples have traversed the globe. For 12 glorious days in Montreal, Africa’s influence on world music was on display, which is why Festival International Nuits d’Afrique is regarded by many as the best of its kind on the planet, and why 2010’s 24th edition promises to be even better.


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