Since its inaugural edition in 1987, the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique’s founding president and artistic director Lamine Touré has sought to establish Nuits d’Afrique on equal footing with Montreal’s bigger festivals. It hasn’t come easy. Still, over the years Touré has seen the little festival that couldn’t win Grands Prix du tourisme québécois awards for best festival with a budget under a million dollars, in both 2005 and 2007. And the small-budget festival has managed to put Montreal on the world music map, drawing big-name headliners like Omar Sosa (Cuba), Angelique Kidjo (Benin), Baaba Maal (Senegal), Sierra Maestra (Cuba), Cheb Mami (Algeria), Habib Koité (Mali), the late Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens (South Africa) and Papa Wemba (DRC), among others.
For this, their 25th edition, Nuits d’Afrique continues to expand, growing to over 30 indoor ticketed shows, and moving their free outdoor concerts from Place Émilie-Gamelin (Berri Square) to the larger and more welcoming confines of the Parterre of the Quartier des Spectacles (the sloping green space located just south of de Maisonneuve between the new OSM hall and the St-Laurent metro station). The always very popular Village des Nuits d’Afrique – a food and crafts market the theme of which this year is the word “tree” (people in Africa meet under the Baobab tree to listen to storytellers, artists and elders) – will also move there from July 21-24. Additionally, there will be a children’s village open from noon to 5 pm (free admission).
The longer indoor festival stretches over 12 days, from July 12-24. Here are The Rover’s choice highlights of this year’s indoor concerts:
Manu Dibango with Le Soul Makossa Gang
This is the big opening concert with the 77-year-old afro-funk/jazz saxophonist and vibraphone player Manu Dibango, the African legend who has played and recorded with everybody from Fela Kuti and Herbie Hancock to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Sly and Robbie. With opening act Marianne Aya Omac. July 13 at Metropolis. Showtime: 8:30 pm. $47 admission.
This Haitian singer has been called “The Joni Mitchell of Haiti” and has recorded and appeared on concert stages throughout the Caribbean, Europe and the Americas for over 20 years. Michel is part of the wave of Haitian musicians that rose up in the late 1980s and mixed conscious lyrics with several musical styles, including the native Haitian compas, twoubadou and rara. An exceptionally electrifying live performer. July 16 at Cabaret du Mile-End. Showtime: 8:30 pm. $33 admission.
Do not miss the Tuareg blues of Tuareg guitarist Omara “Bombino” Moctar, whose political protest songs have become the soundtrack of the Tuareg people’s rebellion against the governments of Niger and Mali. His guitar work echoes fellow Africans Tinariwen and Ali Farka Touré, as well as Jimi Hendrix, John Lee Hooker and Jimmy Page. Already a superstar in the Tuareg community and now poised for international stardom, Bombino is promoting his new album Agadez (Cumbancha Discovery Records) on a tour that brings him to Nuits d’Afrique. Bombino headlines Club Balattou on July 19. Showtime: 9 pm. $25 admission.
Nuits d’Afrique Sound System
Two nights of live performances and DJ sets by international world music DJs on the World 2.0 scene, spinning at SAT, July 15 and 16 beginning at 10 pm each night. Admission to one show is $15, or both shows for $20.
Festival International Nuits d’Afrique at various venues, July 12-24
For more info: www.festivalnuitsdafrique.com