2011 NUITS D'AFRIQUE MUSIC FESTIVAL
photography: CHANTAL LEVESQUE
International Nuits d’Afrique (FINA) celebrated
its 25th anniversary from July 12 – 24th. Its longevity
speaks to a remarkable success story that begins with the vision
of its founder, Lamine Touré, and the many staffers,
sponsors and volunteers who have kept the faith.
were concerns that the move from the earthy Place Emilie Gamelin
to the more centrally located Quartier des spectacles might
have an adverse effect on attendance and especially sales in
the now legendary Timbuktu market place, but nothing was lost
in translation: there was still grass under the feet (and in
the air), the grid was more or less the same as in previous
years, and the near-surroundings are significantly more people
friendly than the old site’s run down side streets.
of the yardsticks we use to identify significant music is its
ability to infiltrate or find acceptance in another culture.
Diatonic western music (based on piano's white and black keys)
is accorded higher critical ranking than pentatonic (black keys
only) because the former has found a home in the East (Japan,
China) while the latter has thus far failed to engage the West.
music enjoys universal respect because it has decisively influenced
almost all of the world’s music. Without Africa's huge
input, the genre of World Music wouldn’t exist.
FINA not only pays tribute to Africa’s indigenous music
but the considerable hybrid, fusion music it has engendered.
said, at the end of the day, when the music is over and it comes
time to turn out the lights, we all know and glow in the fact
that the festival is much greater than the sum of the many concerts
that take place over the 12 days. People from all backgrounds
and walks of life come together and participate in a happening
where cultural and racial difference carry no more weight than
the incidental colour of someone’s hair. It is surely
one of the unintended consequences of Les Nuit d’Afrique
that it offers in miniature a living example of a more humane
world that doesn’t quite measure up before and after.
terms of the music, I’m always happy to attend a music
festival that forces me to confront my prejudices (I tend to
be rudely dismissive of music based on an unvarying single note
harmonic). I would like to believe that at the end of the day
I'm a more generous listener since I never fail to discover
music that I might not have given the time of day if it weren’t
Among this year’s ‘top rankin’ was the music
of Madjo, a Lebanese born French singer. She offered a playlist
of startling originality, and vocal harmonies and effects that
reminded us that it is indeed possible to compose music that
doesn’t sound like anything we’ve heard before without
from Guadeloupe stood out in large part because of the exquisitely
subtle and highly refined jazz inflected guitar work of Jean
Tamal. His sure accompaniment and improvisation added a key
dimension to music that, at times, threatened to wear thin.
my take-home highlights were provided by the amazing, electrifying
Les Espoirs de Coronthie (from Conakry). It’s one thing
to enjoy music we understand; it’s altogether something
else to take up the challenge of wrapping our ears around music
that falls outside our comfort zone.
remember several years ago, while in Montreal for the annual
jazz festival, Branford Marsalis confessed that it took him
eight years to understand the music of John Coltrane, and only
after he realized that he wouldn’t be able to get there
via the notes, meaning he had to understand what caused the
notes to come into being, which in Coltrane’s case was
directly related to his Baptist upbringing and the frenzied,
trance-inducing music he was exposed to during his formative
the opening bars, I was completely overwhelmed by Les Espoirs
de Coronthie’s multilayered, harried, even maddening rhythms,
the sudden and seemingly aleatoric outbursts of voice and chant,
on top of which at any point during a song one or several members
of the group would suddenly begin gesticulating (half dance,
half whataever), spontaneously redefining what constitutes ‘proper’
stage comportment. I was both confused and fascinated until
it finally dawned on me that the necessity underlying the music
could only be explained by either the long-term effects of slavery,
captivity or abject poverty. How does a human being deal with
a life that promises no relief from despair? The answer is to
find a way, however briefly, to exist wholly in the present
since only the present can set you free. What the music of Les
Espoirs de Coronthie was asking of the listener is: Do you have
what it takes to catch the note, the pulse, the incantation,
and leave this pathetic world behind you for as
long as the music lasts? Being able to rise to the occasion
of spontaneously existing for the moment through music is the
genius of Africa, and it is this self-same impulse that continues
to inform the music of black churches in America where not so
long ago blacks were regarded as 3/5 human.
Les Espoirs de Coronthie and African music in general, we discover
that music can heal and provide a lifeline when the livin' feels
like dying and the cotton is dry. With the divide between the
world’s haves and have-nots growing exponentially, festivals
such as Nuit d'Afrique are as much about music as entering into
the public domain visions of a new (and more humane) world order.
The festival emphatically makes the case that "yes we can"
is not just an empty slogan, but the beginning of a new day
for which we are all responsible.
siku njema! Baadaya.
Report filed by Robert J. Lewis