Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 11, No. 4, 2012
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
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David Solway
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Farzana Hassan
Louis René Beres
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Andrée Lafontaine
Sylvain Richard
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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Serge Gamache
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Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
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Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Ernesto Zedillo
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Edward Said
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Charles Lewis
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Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward





© Chantal Levesque

It was only fitting that for the 26th edition of the 2012 Festival International Nuits d’Afrique a significant number of the 90-plus concerts (spread over seven venues) were provided by composers, singers and musicians from the Maghreb (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco), countries whose southern borders are buried and blistered in sand.

If the Arab Spring has thus far not lived up to the hopes and expectations of its many revolutions that were inspired by western concepts of government by consent and equal participation for women, one only has to tune into its new music for examples of how © Chantal Levesquetradition can be made to successfully accommodate modernity. Embracing rock, Latino, reggae and hip-hop, Arabic fusion represents a synthesis of near East and West that the political can only hope to emulate.

In Africa, there are two distinct musical responses to poverty and despair. The North African goes directly into the heart of it and emerges with a sad and heart wrenching music that is predominantly minor key, while in the rest of Africa, the music is transcendental, in the major keys, offering happy, alternative worlds to the harsh realities on the ground. So when we talk about Arabic fusion we are talking about minor key music that is opening up its borders to major key influences – which is revolutionary.

An endearing illustration of this was delivered by Tunisia’s impassioned, politically engaged, Emel Mathlouthi, whose plaintive voice and lyrics echoed the influence of Om Kalsoum as well as the contrapuntal rhythms and inflections from elsewhere in Africa and the West. If there is one constant that runs through the music of Mathlouthi to Syncop to Hamid Bouchnak, it’s the energy and hopefulness that lie at the heart of the modern idiom.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Nuit d’Afrique’s unique place among world music festivals is due to its dynamic programming duo of Frédéric Kervadec et Hélène Dimanche: the latter looks after the national, the former the international, and they refuse to play it safe. They will not program music that is RC (Reggae Correct), or in thrall to the tyranny of roots: music that dares not offend the reigning reggae gods for whom a first- world chord change or straight rock beat is anathema.

© Chantal Levesque - Bélo

Among the many discoveries at this year’s festival was Bélo, from Port-au-Prince (Haiti). He refused to be confined by the hard and fast rules of reggae, which resulted in a highly personalized, vital music that offered an evening’s worth of original twists and turns that kept the capacity crowd at Le Cabaret du Mile End in a state of eager anticipation.

The following night at Club Balattou we were treated to the very special playlist of Ghana-born, Toronto baked Kae Sun. Before the set began, he spoke nostalgically about his homeland, but his music did not appeal to “the village” or ethnicity. Instead, his used the situations of his everyday life as material for songwriting that easily won over the capacity crowd. What stood out in both sets was the absence of overlap and redundancy in the instrumentation: the music lines (guitar, bass) were exquisitely clean, which translated into a limpidity that was a festival highlight. Even though it cannot stand alone, silence is the most important note in the scale and not enough musicians give it its due. Kae Sun is a national secret about to get some big time exposure, and it will likely come from song, not yet released, entitled Ship and the Globe.” Stay tuned.

© Chantal Levesque - Charles Kely

“Brilliant’ is the only word that can describe the guitar work of the amazing Charles Kely from Madagascar. His finger work rivaled that of the great flamenco players while his melody lines and feeling revealed what is enduring in African music. Nuit d’Afrique has launched many a career and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of a boost than Kely, the perfect synthesis of Africa and jazz.© Chantal Levesque© Chantal Levesque

Despite the massive indoor programming, the spirit of the festival comes into its own when the scene shifts downtown to the Quartier des Spectacles for four days of free outdoor concerts that begin early in the afternoon finishing round the midnight hour. Among this year’s notables were: Les Frères Guisse from Senegal whose mellow acoustic guitars and soothing harmonies offered peace to the restive mind; and from RD Congo, the inimitable Diblo Dibala, one of Africa’s premier guitarists. Without ever betraying the feel of Africa, he torques his guitar and amp in such a way that despite the almost Hendrix-like distortion, the notes flow deliciously into each other like liquid gel: his is a unique, ingratiating sound you won’t hear anywhere else.

Since music is always evolving and borders are always moving and morphing, Nuit d’Afrique dedicates itself to being there for creative artists who, without distinction, are willing to follow the dictates of the heart and the culture and politics on the ground that move the heart, guaranteeing a music that speaks in an authentic voice and whose vibe invariably sheds light on the world as it turns -- for better or worse. “Dem belly full.”

© Chantal Levesque - Tiranke Sidimé

In case you missed it, Nuit d’Afrique’s programming is now a going concern (in Montreal) the entire year. Every Thursday it hosts Rythmes au Féminin, featuring women in music. In early 2013, festival Syli d'Or de la musique du monde will celebrate world music, and later on in the year, there will be a special Nuit event emphasizing the evolution and development of the wide array of string instruments, many of which are indigenous to Africa: the bandjo, the guembri, the kora and the oud.

So until then, catch a falling star and put it in your iPod and remember that the music you love will never let you down.

© Chantal Levesque


Photos © Chantal Levesque
Report filed by Robert J. Lewis

2011 Nuit d'Afrique
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