Written by our Ambassador for Canada

Nuits d’Afrique 2020 going virtual: world music lives on in Montreal

Carine au Miro Nuits d'Afrique
Carine au Micro. Photo provided by the Nuits d'Afrique Productions.
Akram Moussa
Written by Akram Moussa, our Ambassador for Canada
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Nuits d’Afrique 2020 is cancelled. The festival started on 27 September and was supposed to go on in a hybrid format until 31 October. A 34 days event for the 34th edition. It takes a cosmopolitan city like Montreal to make a world music festival with a local lineup, but the recent spike in cases slashed everything, and the festival adapted.

Nuits d’Afrique 2020 goes virtual

Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra
Gypsy Kumbia. Photo provided by the Nuits d’Afrique Productions.

It didn’t surprise anyone that the festival got cancelled back in the summer. And it didn’t surprise anyone that the Nuits d’Afrique Productions would have the courage, ressources and energy to try again with a hybrid edition this fall. Twenty-five concerts would have taken place in prestigious Montreal venues such at the Fairmount, the Gesù, and the famous Club Balattou.

The lineup was 100% local, but with a worlwide appeal representing Africa, Latin America and the Carribean. On the press release, the festival described the different genres of music like this: “Tuareg bues with dancehall”, a melding of Senegalese and Guadeloupean sounds”, “African salsa”, “Latino rap”, “electro-kompa”, “reggae and gospel”… which makes anyone with a sensitivity to world music excited.

However, in the end, because of the new restrictions, only about 10 artists will have their performance posted as a live. Fortunately for them, four artists performed in front of a small crowd before the cancellation: MATÉO (which went live thursday 8), Wesli and Oluwa Banjo.

Other performers include ILAM (Senegal, Quebec) who will showcase his new album Néné to make us enjoy his mixing of Afro-blues pop and Teranga traditions. Gipsy Cumbia (Colombia, Balkans, Quebec) is exactly what its name suggests: Afro-Columbian rythms, melodies from the Andes and the Balkans, with Quebec influences for a luminous and magical celebration. All the ingredients for a crazy, wild party. Finally, Zal Sissokho would have shown us the joys of the kora, this amazing west-african instrument. His most recent album, Kora Flamenca, is a collaboration with guitarist Caroline Planté. Tune in every Thursday of October and the first of November to watch amazing performances by these Montreal musicians. For the full schedule, you can check the festival’s Facebook page.

Montreal, epicenter of world music

Montreal is a cosmopolitan city accepting of all. The music scene encourages all kind of music, and music traditions. The Nuits d’Afrique and Club Balattou help a lot by producing international concerts, organizing a competition for emerging bands, and many more. Club Balattou is the compass of the African community in Montreal: in the 80’s and 90’s, many now-legends made their North-American debut or early career concert there, like Tiken Jah Fakoly, Alpha Blondy, Calypso Rose, and Miriam Makeba. The latter was also Godmother of the festival in 2000. Nuits d’Afrique also organizes a competition: the Syli d’Or. It is aimed at emerging bands who can perform and be judged by a crowd and professionals. Each year, the finalists win many gifts, including a booking at the festival’s next edition. 2018’s finalist La Pirogue opened for Salif Keita! In 2019, kora player and singer EMDE was crowned.

The city itself helps: even if nothing is perfect, the majority of the population is accepting of diversity. That encourages the immigrants to make art and show it proudly outside their communities. There are also other structures in the city like le Centre des Musiciens du Monde, which teaches traditional instruments such as the Iranian setar, the West African kora or the Brasilian pandeiro. The non-profit also presents workshops and master classes, as well as concerts and a yearly festival. L’Institut du Monde Arabe, another non-profit, also organises a festival. These are just a couple of examples of what is happening year-round.

Nuits d’Afrique 2020

Zal Sissokho and his kora
Zal Sissokho. Photo provided by the Nuits d’Afrique Productions.

The festival had taken all the appropriate measures including reducing capacity, social distancing, offering hand-sanitizing, and everything went smoothly from 27 to 30 September.

Despite the cancellation, the festival will go on in a virtual format: “Eight concerts (editor’s note: now 10) programmed at the festival will be filmed, before the team selects the best moments and makes them available for free on the festival’s digital platforms on Thursdays 8, 15, 22 and 29 October” explains Suzanne Rousseau, the executive director. The artists are: MateoWesli, Naxx Bitota, ILAM, Bantu SalsaAyradDakka Dembélé, Zal Sissokho, Nomadic Massive, and Gypsy Kumbia.

For more information, you can visit their website or our festival page.