World rhythms at Nuits d’Afrique

Richard Burnett

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.

Multi-cultural Montréal is a hotbed of world music year-round, but goes into musical overdrive during the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique. This year’s hybrid 35th annual edition features 18 indoor concerts from July 6 to 18, 2021.

Health and safety first

The top priority of Nuits d’Afrique is the health and safety of its audiences, performers and staff. All pandemic-friendly events are being given under the strictest sanitary conditions, in adherence with Québec Public Health directives. At the moment, wearing a face mask is mandatory at all times indoors. 

Montréal World Music Explosion

FINA was founded by legendary Montréal promoter Lamine Touré, who opened the city’s iconic Club Balattou in 1985. Congolese entertainer Dally Kimoko’s hit song Balattou à Montréal (which you can listen to on Spotify) spread the legend of Club Balattou where world-music superstars Papa Wemba, Baaba Maal, Salif Keita, Youssou N’Dour and Angélique Kidjo all made their North American débuts or early career-defining appearances.

Club Balattou also hosted the first edition of FINA in 1987. This year, the scaled-down festival presents some 100 artists performing in 18 indoor concerts in three different venues: Le National, Le Ministère and the iconic Club Balattou.

Two major online special concerts have been added to the program for opening and closing nights, featuring international artists who have marked the 35 years of Nuits d’Afrique.

Festivalgoers can also celebrate outdoors on the Parterre of the Quartier des Spectacles when new features and free activities for the whole family will be presented from July 13 to 18.

Here are some highlights from the festival’s six concert series:

Les Grands Événements Series

Concerts in this series includes Rhythms From the Woman’s Perspective (July 8 at Le National) showcasing the voices of Meryem Saci (Algeria / QC), Chipo Nyambiya (Zimbabwe / QC), Carine Au Micro (Benin / QC),and Flavia Nascimento (Brazil / QC).

The Voix du Monde series

Concerts in this series include the much-anticipated double-bill (July 7 at Le National) of Daby Touré (Mauritania- Senegal / QC) – known for his collaborations with Peter Gabriel, Souad Massi, Maxime Le Forestier and Poirier – and singer-songwriter Joyce N’sana (Congo / QC) who won the award for Radio-Canada World Music Revelation in 2021.

Les Incontournables series

Concerts in this series include Dina Levry (July 10), lead singer for the legendary orchestra at Hotel Ivoire in Abidjan and co-founder of the popular group Bella Mondo Africa, the first all-woman band in Ivory Coast; Montréal-based supersonic soul man Clerel (July 12) who performed on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and is poised to break out into the musical stratosphere; and soulful reggae singer Juliet Nelson who has collaborated with the likes of Buju Banton (July 14). All shows at Club Balattou.

Les Étoiles Nuits d’Afrique series

This concert series showcases the music of South America, including the Cumbia, Puya, Tambora and Mapalé sounds of Bumaranga (Colombia / QC) at Club Balattou on July 8.

Urban Groove series

Montréal’s mighty Afrobeat-Afrofunk combo Afrodizz (Nigeria / QC) return (July 15 at Le Ministère) to remind us why after 20 years they remain the gold standard of Afrobeat in Canada.  

Syli d’Or series

Les Syli d’or de la musique du monde Awards were created 14 years ago to showcase Canadian world music artists. This series presents three winners of the last edition: Boulila (July 6), Lara Klaus (July 7), and the Haitian Kompa of Ronald Lebeau & Kwaliti (July 17). All shows at Club Balattou.

Opening and closing nights

Le Bal de l’Afrique enchantée - Nuits d’Afrique special anniversary concert will be presented live on the Nuits d’Afrique Facebook page on July 6 at 8 pm. Live from Paris, the acclaimed ‘‘L’Afrique enchantée’’concert will be performed by Les Mercenaires de l’ambiance troupe of 11 musicians, singers and dancers.

To close the festival on July 18, also on the Nuits d’Afrique Facebook page beginning at 8 pm, is a Greatest-Hits concert compiled from the Nuits d’Afrique audiovisual archives, featuring famous headliners from around the world. 

Beneath the sun and stars

From July 13 to 18, Nuits d’Afrique presents six days of reimagined free outdoor activities, including the big top of the Cabaret Nuits d’Afrique where visitors can see artists during 40 intimate concerts, demonstrations and animation sessions.

In addition to daytime open-air workshops, a large-scale sound-and-light show will be projected onto the façade of the Maison symphonique each evening beginning at 9 pm, while festivalgoers can stroll around the Parterre of the Quartier des spectacles throughout July to check out the outdoor photo exhibition of performers from the festival’s first 35 years.

The free outdoor concerts usually held on the Parterre of the Quartier des spectacles in the Nuits d’Afrique Village, as well as the Children’s Village and Timbuktu Market, will all return in 2022.

The Festival International Nuits d’Afrique runs from July 6 to 18, 2021.

Richard Burnett

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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