World rhythms at Nuits d’Afrique

Richard Burnett

Multi-cultural Montréal is a hotbed of world music year-round, but goes into high gear during the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique. More than 700 artists from 34 countries and hundreds of thousands of festival-goers will converge on Montréal from July 11 to 23 for a series of ticketed indoor shows and free outdoor concerts at the 31st annual edition of Nuits d’Afrique.

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Montréal’s World Music Explosion

Nuits d’Afrique was founded by legendary Montréal promoter Lamine Touré, who opened Montreal’s iconic Club Balattou on St-Laurent Blvd. in 1985. The intimate 150-seat nightclub — where such world-music superstars as Papa Wemba, Baaba Maal, Salif Keita, Youssou N’Dour and Angélique Kidjo made their North American debuts or early career appearances — hosted the first edition of Nuits d’Afrique in 1987.

“Organizing Nuits d’Afrique was difficult in the early years,” says Touré. “For the first seven years, Balattou financed the festival. I had to adapt and create a team to deal with the realities of funding. Then we proved ourselves.”

Congolese entertainer Dally Kimoko wrote the song Balattou à Montréal which, Touré proudly says, has “made Balattou known throughout Africa.”

Nuits d’Afrique is now an essential stop on the global world-music circuit: This year, a total of 145 concerts and activities are being presented on indoor and outdoor stages during the festival’s 13 days.

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World Music Legends and Icons

The Grand Événements Series presents the top names on the international scene. This year, iconic and blind Grammy-nominated duo Amadou et Mariam from Mali will open the festival at renowned music venue Metropolis (July 13) and get you dancing to the sound of their brand new album with its Afro-disco beats; and French sensation Ben l’Oncle Soul brings new life to Frank Sinatra classics to the beats of reggae, hip hop and soul, at Le National (July 17).

There are many more indoor concerts as part of the Prestige Series, Urban Africa Series, Nuits d’Afrique Sound System Series showcasing DJs and MCs, Les Voix du Monde Series, Les Rencontres Series, The Revelations Series (notably Jamaican Jesse Royal, part of the current Reggae Revival movement, at the Fairmount Theatre on July 14); and the late-night Les Étoiles Nuits d’Afrique Series at Club Balattou, starting at 11 p.m. (admission is free for anyone holding a ticket to a Nuits d’Afrique show).

Outdoors, do not miss free concerts, notably those by Nigeria’s Seun Kuti and Egypt 80, legendary band of Seun’s iconic late father Fela Kuti, the king of Afro-beat (July 19); the hugely-popular Admiral T from Guadeloupe will celebrate his rich 20-year career by mixing gwoka, biguine, salsa, R&B and hip hop (July 21); and Colombia’s Tribu Baharú will close the festival with a big blow-out showcasing champeta music on July 23.

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The Nuits d’Afrique Village

In addition to local and international acts – more than 500 singers, dancers and musicians on the free outdoor stage from July 18 to 23 – are six days of free activities for the entire family on the Parterre of the Quartier des spectacles. There is an expanded Children’s Village, an array of food and drink vendors offering dishes from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean; and the Disques du Monde record store, where you can purchase terrific Nuits d’Afrique compilations and T-shirts. Meanwhile, the Timbuktu Market is filled with dozens of craftspeople and merchants, selling jewelry, paintings, sculptures and exclusive African robes.

The Festival International Nuits d’Afrique runs from July 11 to 23.

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Richard Burnett

Richard Burnett, blogger

Richard “Bugs” Burnett is a Canadian freelance writer, editor, journalist, blogger and columnist for alt-weeklies, mainstream and LGBTQ publications. Bugs also knows Montréal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter.

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