The 27th edition of the Festival International des Nuits d’Afrique closed on Sunday July 21st, ending a 2-week run of shows from local and international musicians, and four days of free outdoor concerts and activities.
Free, outdoor events of the festival’s last day included the Afriqu’en fête parade, African dance and music workshops, followed by concerts from Algerian folk singer Karim Saada, Chadian afrobeat funksters H’Sao and Cuba’s Orquesta Aragon.
Meanwhile over at Cabaret du Mile End, Morocco’s Aziz Sahmaoui and University of Gnawa showed why his fusion of traditional North and West African – gnawa is the healing trance music of Sufi groups with roots on the slave trade from West Africa – has been hailed as “thrilling,” “sophisticated” and “intoxicating” among countless other superlatives from critics and musicians.
Gnawa is believed to have mystical, healing properties, capable of bringing listeners into a trance-like state. And while it was common for the floor in front of the stage to quickly fill with people dancing, this was the only show, as far as the Rover could tell, where the packed theatre had people at the bar, the sides and the very back dancing and rhythmically waving their hands in the air.
For some of us, the trance had to be broken in order to catch the closing show. This was perhaps the festival’s only logistical issue. Club Balattou, at St. Laurent and Marianne, was the festival hub, but with many of the concerts running concurrently or immediately before or after at Cabaret du Mile End on Ave du Parc or Place des festivals downtown, travel times between the venues sometimes ate up 20 minutes of time.
As it turned out, there was no need to have rushed – Heavy Soundz, scheduled to perform at 11:00, still hadn’t hit the stage at midnight when this Rover writer had to leave. Second minor logistical issue: scheduling a closing party for Sunday night at 11:00pm. From all accounts, it was a great show, and if Thursday’s Hip-Hop Night with Heavy Sounds, Alquemia Verbal, Agua Negra and Boogat was any indication, one heck of a party.
At one point during that show, there were no fewer than 12 people on Balattou’s small stage, including five MCs and vocalists (one wonders if the group might soon earn itself the nickname ‘the Latin Wu-Tang’). The Montreal group’s energetic blend of hip-hop, reggae and Afro-Latin beats is the perfect dance party soundtrack. Like the stage, the small dance floor at Balattou seemed to also expand — suddenly holding a mosh pit and revellers carried overhead by the crowd.
In the end, Nuits d’Afrique proved to be not only a celebration of world musicians visiting Montreal, but a celebration of the wonderful world music being made right here by our vast, diverse and immensely talented communities. There was excitement in discovering new bands and in learning the names and functions of new instruments – but ultimately, the greatest feeling was joy: joy in the Ethiopian groups of family and friends dancing and ululating at Krar Collective’s show, joy among the hundreds from Montreal’s West African community that sang every word along with Angélique Kidjo, and joy in the clapping and dancing of the middle-aged Moroccan men in suits at Aziz Sahmaoui’s show.
It is no secret that Montreal is a musical mecca, producing and/or nurturing artists like the Arcade Fire, Grimes, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the Stills, Karkwa, Patrick Watson, and so on. But let’s not overlook the incredible talents who have made Montreal their home, or who make music influenced by the richness of the culture and community into which they were born – Karim Diouf, Boogat, Zale Seck, Aldo Guizmo, Joyce N’Sana, Bobo and Mamselle – and let’s not keep them a secret in Montreal either.
The Festival International des Nuits d’Afrique ran from July 9 to 21 at venues across town. For more information on the festival please visit their website.