Culture & Conversation

Montreal welcomes the world to Nuits d’Afrique

With just 24 hours of recovery time from that other festival, the 27th edition of Montreal’s vibrant Festival International Nuits d’Afrique is upon us, and you have until July 21st to catch some of the living legends and emerging talents on the world music stage.

Although the bulk of the festival’s musicians hail from francophone, West African countries, the music is far from limited to that vast, diverse continent. The festival offers many Latin, Caribbean and Middle Eastern sounds as well, with artists from Mexico, Brazil, Israel and Guadeloupe, to name just a few. And while the first half of the festival is ticketed indoor shows – mostly at Club Balattou and Cabaret Mile End, two wonderful venues – free concerts and activities abound as well as of July 18th, and go until the closing night of the 21st.

The festival kicked off last night with three simultaneous shows to choose from. Algerian singer Hana El Bécharia, “the desert rocker”, rocked Cabaret Mile End with her brand of traditional gnawa music. Meanwhile, over at Club Balattou, the festival hub, Mamselle brought her blend of jazz, Cuba trova and traditional folklore from her native Mexico. A little further east in the city, French reggae group Danakil, with opening act Afrikelektro – a Moroccan-Congolese trio of, you guessed it, electronic Afrobeat – got the dance party started over at La Tulipe.

If you have a hard time making decisions, or suffer from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), the Nuits d’Afrique Festival might cause you some anguish. Most of the ticketed night-time shows run simultaneously, but with some of the artists performing multiple times throughout the festival, you might be able to catch them at some point.

In keeping with the current trend in world music, the festival this year is introducing a “Sound System” series, where two nights of live DJs will bring the electronic dance beats of some of the hottest talents on the world music scene to Montreal. For $35, you can purchase a two-night pass to see Grammy award-winning Mexican rappers 3Ball Monterrey, along with Montreal DJs Funky Falz and Masala Sono on July 11th. Eastern European party-makers Balkan Beat Box will perform on July 13th, along with two more Montreal acts, Latin rapper Boogat and Balkan Beat’s own DJ Touski, also on the 13th.

If your tastes lean toward the more traditional or critically acclaimed, don’t miss Benin’s Grammy award-winner Angélique Kidjo’s free show at the Quartier des spectacles on July 19th. Also performing for free during the 18th to the 21st are Jamaica’s Skatalites, Congolese hip-hop pop singer Herléo Muntu, Congolese-Québécoise “AfroBluHop” soulstress Joyce N’Sana, and Senegalese-Québécois griot Zale Seck.

Well worth the $25-40 tickets are Maria de Barros, goddaughter of Cape Verdian legend Cesaria Evora, as well as the unlikely rock/rap/reggae duo of American Joe Driscoll and Guinean Sekou Kouyaté – they couldn’t communicate with one another other than through music when they met in 2010. And then there’s Youssou N’Dour protégé Aurelio Martinez, and “the White Stripes of Ethiopia,” the Krar Collective.

Interactive and family-friendly activities include a Kids Village with face painters the Timbuktu Market, featuring kiosks selling African clothing, jewellery and sculptures, as well as multiple dance and percussion workshops, all running from the 18th until the 21st.

Bon festival!

The 27th Festival International des Nuits d’Afrique runs July 9-21 at venues across town. For more information and to check the full programming, visit the festival website.

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