Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 10, No. 4, 2011
  Current Issue  
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
  Contributing Editors
Bernard Dubé
Sylvain Richard
Nancy Snipper
David Solway
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
David Solway
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somverville
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
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




© Chantal Levesque © Chantal Levesque

The 2011 Festival 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.

© Chantal LevesqueThere 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.

One 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.

African 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.

The FINA not only pays tribute to Africa’s indigenous music but the considerable hybrid, fusion music it has engendered. © Chantal LevesqueThat 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.

© Chantal LevesqueIn 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 for FINA.

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 sounding contrived.

K’Koustic 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. © Chantal Levesque

But 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.

I 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 years.

© Chantal LevesqueFrom 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© Chantal Levesque 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.

From 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.

Nakutakia siku njema! Baadaya.


© Chantal Levesque

© Chantal Levesque 

© Chantal Levesque

© Chantal Levesque


Photos © Chantal Levesque
Report filed by Robert J. Lewis



BENEFIT CONCERT FOR HAITI, SALLE GESU, JAN. 20TH (Papa Groove, Ariane Moffatt, Bďa, Kodiak, Echo Kalypso, Doriane Fabrig (ex-Dobacaracol), Claude Lamothe, Ian Kelly, Pépé: Box-office 514.861.4036
Nuit d'Afrique: July 12th-24th = shared webhosting, dedicated servers, development/consulting, no down time/top security, exceptional prices
Film Ratings Page of Sylvain Richard, film critic at Arts & Opinion - Montreal
Montreal World Film Festival
Festival Nouveau Cinema de Montreal, Oct. 10-21st, (514) 844-2172
CINEMANIA(Montreal) - festival de films francophone 1-11 novembre, Cinema Imperial info@514-878-0082: featuring Bernard Tavernier
Montreal Jazz Festival
Montreal Guitar Show July 2-4th (Sylvain Luc etc.). border=
Listing + Ratings of films from festivals, art houses, indie
Armand Vaillancourt: sculptor
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