Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 17, No. 4, 2018
  Current Issue  
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Lynda Renée
Gary Olson
Howard Richler
Oslavi Linares
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
  Music Editors
Nancy Snipper
Serge Gamache
Diane Gordon
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward







Music was my refuge
I could crawl into the spaces between the notes
and curl my back to loneliness.
Maya Angelou

Music is what tells us that the human race
is greater than we realize.


There isn't a culture in the world that doesn't accord the highest esteem to its original music. Music speaks in a universal key that resists translation, but communicates like no other language. At its extremes, it provides alternative worlds, escapes from the dead-ends of life over which we have very little control (inclement weather, climate, politics) while on the other hand, in combination with the spoken word, it directly offers a challenge to iniquity and injustice, and arouses listeners to unite and change the world.

Unsurprisingly, Montreal’s now world famous Nuits d’Afrique music festival embodies these extremes unlike any festival of its kind. This year in particular brought into focus a world that so many musicians are trying to change, while at the same time creating music that heals the mind, and helps us to forget about the hurt and pain that won’t go away, and the light that won’t show itself in the many dark places avarice and corruption leave in their wake.

When it comes to facilitating these marvelous and necessary diversions, the festival programmers know that there is no instrument that can compete with the balming effects of the 21-string kora, the sound of which is synonymous with Africa but has found a home everywhere there’s “so much trouble in the world.” In the hands of two of its masters, (student & teacher) Prince Diabate (Guinee) and Djely Mori Tounkara (Mali), its soothing sounds were never more in evidence in what was easily the most sublime evening of the 12-day festival -- with an honourable mention to the duo K-Iri and their heavenly harmonies.

When the body is sufficiently engaged by music, the mind deliciously shuts down. Throughout the festival there was ample opportunity to observe that phenomenon. Columbia’s Zalama Crew, in one of the free outdoor shows, put on a get-up-and-get-down-to-it show that was Richter scale worthy, expertly combining, dance, rap, hip-hop, and jazz. Nobody could stay still for their very particular take on African-Latino fusion which sent the hyper-excited crowd into the sativa-scented stratosphere.

Femi Kuti & The Positive Force opened the festival. Backed up by a rhythm section that was counter-beat perfect, the tightly knit group’s boundless energy and enthusiasm rocked the MTELUS. Futi’s music is equally physical and metaphysical, and covers all of music’s critical bases. It’s about feeling good while articulating the message of “one love, one people, one world colour,” from his most recent CD, One People, One World. Most of his playlist combines deceptively engaging melodies and uplifting counter rhythms. The group’s totally tuned-in bass player's organic and deliriously extended bass lines wrapped themselves around the brain like waves rolling in from some unidentified better place. He both buoys and counters the high intensity generated by Kuti, who jumps around the stage like someone trying to occupy two different places at the same time. Mesmerized by the rolling hips, the darting shoulders, the thrust of arms, everyone was keeping perfect time in the key of Kuti.

In the spirit of protest that is one of the cornerstones of Les Nuits, a packed house at the Fairmount Theatre was treated to the very special music of Tunisia’s Sabry Mosbah, whose songs and lyrics have become synonymous with the Arab Spring.

To the western ear, Mosbah’s music recalls the early folk music of Arlo Guthrie and the Hippie movement, but in the context of Tunisia and the politics of the Arab Spring, the familiar chord sequences and their predictable modulations were nothing less than revolutionary. Opting for the western diatonic scale, which emphasizes the major keys, Mosbah's songwriting represents a complete break, rejection of the persistently weighty Arabic minor key that is synonymous with the severity and inflexibility of orthodox Islam. Lest we forget, the Arabic scale was born in the intemperate heat and despair of the Sahara, its unvarying interval equal to the resignation to and acceptance of a fate from which there is small chance of exit. Small wonder the many Tunisians in the audience were hanging on every word and note, united in the common cause that is the cry for freedom, which speaks to the power of music to offer hope and change the world. Mosbah reminds us that music can move us in many ways and in many directions, and is always more than the sum of its notes.

Prior to the festival, both Ladama (South America) and Meklit (Ethiopia) had been invited to participate in the Ted talks, because both are on the leading edge of advancing the cause of women through their music. Meklit’s songwriting, in its cumulative effects, is a correction to the disappearing art of composition (one of the casualties of monophonic rap and hip-hop). Her playlist seamlessly threaded together otherwise unlike, unrelated genres, but all the tracks bared her signature interval and passion, marked by highly creative and sometimes extraordinary changes that shunted the listener to a very special place. Her jazz inflected compositions were easily festival highlights, in no small part due to the note-perfect backup supplied by her band. Her saxophonist, in particular, was geared to the mood of the moment, a study in the art of listening, forsaking any hint of virtuosity in respect to the thrust of the music.

The best voice of the festival belonged to Senegalese born Tété, who flawlessly backs himself up with a mean, heavily accented, foot-stomping rhythm guitar. And while his music is bluesy (folk influenced), his consistently devilish hooks turn many of the composition upside down and sideways and leave you wanting to hear the next and then again. His deep, resonant voice melts into the brain like butter such that if you’re English and don’t understand the French lyrics, you don’t care because you’ve been totally seduced by the voice. You can bet we’re going to see more of Tété in the future.

In the heart of the city (Quartier des spectacles) with soft cool grass under the feet, the last six days of the festival feature free outdoor concerts from early afternoon until closing time, which is why Les Nuits d’Afrique is much more than the sum of its remarkable music and myriad of activities and workshops, and of course the famous home-away-from-home Timbuktu market place. It’s about people from every background imaginable sharing the same public space and creating a vibe, an ambience that privileges everyone in attendance. “And in the end the love you take is the love you make” is perhaps the festival’s most lasting effect, long after the music has shut down, the tents have been folded and the instruments put to bed.

Those who came are already counting down the days to the 2019 festival while savouring the empowering and ennobling aftertaste of yet another remarkable edition of Montreal’s Les Nuits d’Afrique world music festival.

We acknowledge and salute festival founder M.Lamine Touré, who was appointed to the distinguished Order of Canada (2018), the country's highest civilian honour.









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