World rhythms at Nuits d’Afrique

Richard Burnett

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 32nd annual edition showcases some 700 artists from 30 countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, from July 10 to 22.

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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" 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 debuts or early career-defining appearances.

Club Balattou also hosted the first edition of FINA in 1987. This year, the festival presents 125 concerts and activities, eight concert series, six indoor concert venues (including Club Balattou), as well as six days (July 17 to 22) of free outdoor performances on the Parterre of the Quartier des spectacles.

World Music Legends and Icons

This year’s official opening concert is by Nigeria’s Femi Kuti & The Positive Force, July 12 at MTELUS, part of FINA’s Grands Événements Series, which presents the top names on the international scene. Femi – touring his new album One People One World –  is the eldest son of afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti and is an afrobeat superstar in his own right. This show promises to be one for the ages.

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 Incontournables Series, Les Rencontres Series, The Revelations Series, and the Les Voix du Monde Series, which showcases women vocalists, such as Votia from Réunion (July 16), Djazia Satour from Algeria (July 18) and Banda Kakana from Mozambique (July 19). The late-night Les Étoiles Nuits d’Afrique Series at Club Balattou starts at 11 pm (free entry for anyone holding a ticket to a FINA show).

Outdoors, do not miss the many free concerts from July 17 to 22. Highlights this year include The Skatalites, arguably the greatest band to ever come out of Jamaica. The Skatalites began performing in May 1964, backing all the developing artists of the day, such as Toots and The Maytals and “The Wailing Wailers” featuring Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, and deeply influenced everybody from The Police and The Clash to No Doubt. All but two of the original members – vocalist Doreen Shaffer and trumpet player/saxman Lester Sterling – have passed on, but Shaffer and Sterling will be in Montréal alongside the newer members on July 17 for what promises to be one of the biggest parties in FINA history.

FINA’s official outdoor closing concert on July 22 features the legendary Guinean performer Sekouba Bambino, one of the African continent’s most prolific artists who has made versatility his trademark, whether solo or with the Bembeya Jazz band or the famed African salsa group Africando.

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The Nuits d’Afrique Village

In addition to local and international acts are six days of free activities and workshops for the entire family on the Parterre of the Quartier des spectacles from July 17 to 22. There is an expanded Family Area and an array of food and drink vendors offering dishes from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. 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 10 to 22, 2018.

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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