is with enormous emotion and respect
that I have chosen to dedicate this 28th annual festival
to the late Nelson Mandela.
Lamine Touré, President & Founder
in its 28th year, Montreal’s Festival
International Nuits d’Afrique is uniquely
(epicentrically) positioned to showcase some of the latest developments
in music, which is why it is arguably the most distinguished
happenings of its kind.
more than any other place or continent, Africa’s music
is about its relationship with the rest of the world and vice
versa. So in a world that is becoming increasingly inter-connected,
borders are dissolving and unlike cultures are mixing it up,
we can expect African music to both reflect and be at the forefront
of these developments.
concert by Banda Kakana was a highlight case in point. During
the set break, there were whispers that her sound wasn’t
African enough, especially for an opening concert. Which begs
the question: Is not her first obligation to be herself in her
music? To her major credit, she felt no qualms in acknowledging
that her influences have taken her a long way from Mozambique;
she refused to conform to the straight-laced stereotype
of what African music should sound like, and instead offered
up a heartfelt evening of mostly original music influenced by
soul and R & B.
July 14th, while France was celebrating the 1789 storming of
the Bastille, Montreal, by special invitation, was stormed by
Cote d’Ivoire slammer Fabrice Koffy. Accompanied by a
first-rate, jazz-influenced guitarist (Guillaume Soucy), together
they broke all sorts of rules in a very agreeable, ear-opening
concert. Koffy sang/spoke in a quiet mellifluous voice such
that I was able to understand 80% of the lyrics -- in my second
language (French) no less. This opening act was followed by
Fefe, a hyper, energetic hip-hopper from France whose large,
bellowing voice had the venue hopping and the floor buckling.
As if in answer to a basic requirement of melody, most of his
rap and hip-hop were inflected with soul and reggae.
didn’t require more than 16 bars for Casuarina, an award
winning samba group from Rio, to win over a jam-packed Club
Mile End venue. The group’s cohesion and invention (sorely
missing on pitch just days earlier), was tweaked by complex
vocal harmonies and the tickly, prickly use of the cavaquinho
(think mandolin) and the bandolim (a bit like a banjo).
of the large questions this unique music festival asks is what
are the differences, if any, between American and African rap
and hip-hop? In America and in France, the rap is predominantly
mean and angry, it carries a gun and wants a revolution. But
anger alone cannot sustain the human spirit. African rap, which
is also angry, recognizes that there is a primordial desideratum
for melody that cannot be indefinitely postponed or denied.
Everyday, people are fleeing
the continent, taking to the seas and risking their lives because
they are destitute and suffering. African rap, which is more
complex than its American counterpart, offers not only an outlet
for the anger but a respite from the suffering. There isn’t
one of us who doesn’t long for the solace that only melody
can provide, the roots of which go back to those unremembered
lullabies sung to us out of the womb and into the hard-scrabble,
indifferent world. It could very well be that the African take
on rap and hip-hop not only fulfills the promise of the genres
but brings each to its apogee. From slam to rap to hip-hop,
there is an unbroken evolution towards melody and Africa is
spearheading this on-going development.
its outdoor program, which begins at noon and runs non-stop
until late in the evening, the festival mostly serves as a staging
ground for up-and-coming, under-appreciated musicians and groups.
The voluptuous, deftly controlled voice of Cameroon’s
Veeby was an A-major discovery. Black Bazar and Zekuhl were
among the highlights, as were Guinea/Mali’s Doussou Koulibaly,
who plays the kamalé n’goni, and the urbane Senegalese
group Gokh Bi System, both of whom relied heavily on their rock
her harp sounding n’goni like a rhythm instrument, Koulibaly’s
distinctly mellow African vibe was accompanied by a hard driving
rhythm section and the versatile guitar work of Aboulaye Koné,
who drew upon hard rock for most of his filling in and solos.
This deliberate mixing of unlike musical genres is a natural
consequence of diasporic communities looking to find their vital
the spirit of homage, let us recall that the fusion of lead
rock guitar with elemental African music can be traced back
to the ground breaking solo in Peter Tosh’s “Johnny
of the essential general differences between the African and
western guitar solo is in the duration of the notes. The African
notes are very distinct and separate from each other, are of
shorter duration and disappear quickly, mirroring the evanescence
and impermanence that characterizes so much of Africa in terms
of its weather and politics. All
this in sharp contrast to the western solo, whose notes are
electrically extended and often, for effect, bleed into each
other. The typical (can you feel my pain) western solo is self-referential
while the plucky African one evokes acceptance and resignation.
an absence of two years, Madagascar Wake Up (Razia Said) was
back with a madly inspired evening of music. The multi-talented
group makes no bones about its political views as it concerns
runaway deforestation at the hands of big industry. The music
is a call to action, which began with the group’s gifted
guitarist Charles Kely, whose dazzling finger work and invention
is nothing less than mind boggling. That he is still not on
anybody’s radar screen is a mystery and music industry
shame. In a world where it’s not unusual to find iPods
in Berber tents, it is high time Kely become a household name.
distinguishes Nuits from the competition is its programming.
Never in the history of music has programming been such a challenge.
Nowadays, thanks to availability of state-of-the-art, basement-friendly
recording equipment, almost everyone who aspires to music has
a CD (my 27th is in the works), which makes the programmers’
work more difficult than ever. Their near impossible challenge
is to comprehensively listen to not hundreds but thousands of
CDs from around the world and weed out the pretenders. And no
one does it better than Frédéric Kervadec and
his team. They do our homework and make it easy for us to discover
the latest and best in music, and enjoy a festival that is in
equal parts a listening pleasure and education.
* * * * * * * * *
an ideal world and the reality falls the music that wants to
bridge the gap.
the music we know and music that wants to make us better than
what we are is Nuits d’Afrique.
until 2015, “This music always rescues me, there's a melody
for every malady.” (Passing
Doussou Koulibaly, Lorraine Klassen © Robert J. Lewis
2010 Nuit d'Afrique
2009 Nuit d'Afrique
2008 Nuit d'Afrique