L’Afrique avant tout: Se souvenir du 31ème Festival International Nuits d’Afrique

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    Jean-François Léger telling the story of 50 ans de Bossa Nova at Lion d’or. Photo by Danilo Navas

    The Lion d’Or is a theater and an ‘old style’ almost “noir” cabaret located at 1676, rue Ontario East, Montréal, Québec, Canada. It was founded in 1930, at the beginning of the emergence Of Montréal cabarets. Several artists of the time performed there including Jean-Louis Trintignant, Vic Vogel, Peggy Lee, the McGarrigle sisters, Alys Robi, Willie Lamothe and others. The establishment enjoyed a period of great splendor until the end of the fifties but was closed in the 70’s by the then self-styled “Defender of Public Morality” mayor Jean Drapeau. In 1987, the owners of the restaurant Petit Extra, located in the same building, bought the cabaret. It was renovated and seems now restored to its former glory. On the 23rd of July, the final night of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, Jean-François Léger occupied its considerably enlarged stage, off and on cloaked in darkness or bathed in blood-red and indigo-blue spotlights. His voice alternating between a tremulous countertenor and a soaring falsetto Leger launched into his fabulous story “50 ans de Bossa Nova”. The concert was a series of “highs”, two of the most memorable were probably the story of how Frank Sinatra got his full name on the cover of the album Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim: Arranged and Conducted by Claus Ogerman and, of course the explosive performance of a samba squad led by Michel Dupire.

    Percussionist Michel Dupire, who later led a samba squad. Photo by Danilo Navas

    The Festival International Nuits d’Afrique can only get bigger and better. With some timely changes to feature a greater degree of thematic architecture in its artistic programming it could go places and catch up with other major cultural events not only in Canada, but in the world as a whole. To assess the success of this 31st version of the festival we must return to back of a promise from its 2017 spokesperson, the Brasilian-Québécoise star Bïa, who promised that “From Madagascan punk, to Malian disco, from ragamuffin to soul, Nuits d’Afrique takes us on camelback, by rowboat, jet or rocket, across the fertile and eclectic fruit of baobab pollen, magical cures and the mother of all beats…” But listen with bigger ears now. Africa is always calling and will never stop calling us home. Perhaps it’s time to step up to a larger cultural stage and not only occupy greater space geographically, but maybe even slim down into a more sinuous event with a multi-layered cultural platform built on our oldest culture, the culture of our ancestors in Mother Africa, from whose womb we all really came.

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