It may feel like Montreal has a more music festivals than coffee shops, but not all fests are created equal. Some satisfy a need for sassy pop, some for big-name jazz – the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique brings the heat of the savanna to our very own downtown core…
Over a quarter of a century old, Nuits d’Afrique is keeping the momentum of last year’s anniversary edition with a killer lineup, including none other than Tiken Jah Fakoly (pictured above) as this edition’s godfather. Known for his powerful rhymes and politically engaged lyrics, this reggae legend from the Côte d’Ivoire will be closing the show on July 22 with a free outdoor performance right on the Place des Festivals that’s sure to keep the rhythm alive all the way until next year.
Between now and then, though, there is much music to be moved to! The festival is offering a record-breaking 91 shows and workshops by over 500 artists from 32 countries this year. After an unofficial kick-off by the chart-climbing Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, on July 10 at Cabaret du Mile End, the Maghreb-French reggae-rock of Gnawa Diffusion will officially launch the fest on July 11 at Metropolis. In the same series – the Grands évènements series – the legendary Tambours de Brazza from the Congo will set the town alight in their Montreal première at La Tulipe, on July 12.
Though it spreads the joy all over town, Nuits d’Afrique’s base is the Quartier des Spectacles. That’s where the main outdoor stages are, where every evening, starting at 8 p.m., there will be projections of live sets on the façade of the Maison Symphonique de Montréal. For families, the Children’s Village promises face painting and activities, and for souvenir seekers, the Timbuktu Market unites 44 craftspeople and their unique creations. The Village Nuits d’Afrique, during the last four days of the festival, means 28 free concerts on the Loto-Québec Stage! And when hunger strikes, the Nuits d’Afrique Terrace beholds the gentle flavours of yassa, a typical Senegalese dish made from onions, mustard, lemon and olives, as will jerk chicken, among other hot, spicy options.
One of the coolest things in the fest is the Révélations series, putting forth the new wave of world music ambassadors. Dub Inc. from France brings you reggae with a heavy dub influence on July 16 at 9 p.m. at La Tulipe. Haiti’s BélO, playing Cabaret du Mile End on July 15 at 8:30 p.m., made it to the Huffington Post’s Top 10 list of world music artists to keep an eye on with his folk style with jazz, rock, world and rara inflections. Tunisia’s Emel Mathlouthi is a fixture of political protests and a trip-hop-rock artiste who’ll fight the good fight on July 17 at 8:30 (Cabaret du Mile End).
Following last year’s great success, Nuits d’Afrique and Masala bring back their Nuits d’Afrique Sound System nights: World 2.0 events with an electro stamp. Masala’s DJs will lead two events at the Société des Arts Technologiques, on the Main. Spoek Mathambo, from South Africa, will join forces with Haitian Québécoise Sarah Bernard, aka The Salivation Army, for the first night: it’ll be a wild mix of kwaito, electro, funk and dancehall brewed with a world sound. The second night will unite Senegal’s Didier Awadi with DJ /rupture from the U.S. in an African hip-hop party spiked with Latin American and Maghreb-born sounds.
There’s an extra-special visit on Friday, July 20 as the festival plays host to Calypso Rose, from Trinidad and Tobago. A living legend of calypso, this 72-year-old was one of the first women in the genre. She’s shared stages with Miriam Makeba, Bob Marley and Michael Jackson in her time – and now she’s ours to see! On Saturday, July 21, the exclusively female group Nimbaya – formerly Les Amazones – will keep the femme-power vibe going when they hit their drums while performing an amazing choreography.
For early risers, Nuits d’Afrique puts on open-air workshops starting at 11 a.m. every day where you can learn everything from gumboot to samba, capoeira, drums and a West African dance course by the famous Oumar N’Diaye. Then again, you may be a night owl; in that case the Étoiles Nuits d’Afrique series is for you. These nighttime get-togethers at Club Balattou, starting at 11 p.m., are unpredictable musical free-for-alls complimentary to anyone holding a ticket to any 2012 Festival international Nuits d’Afrique show.
Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, July 10-22, 2012
Isa Tousignant is contributing editor for Canadian Art, Montreal correspondent for Akimbo, and a freelance writer on art, culture, travel, design and shoes for everyone from enRoute to Canadian Business to herself.