To most people who have, at some time or other in their lives, been students of geography Africa is a continent; a rather large one, no doubt, but also unfortunately still viewed through white colonial eyes and so a “dark continent”. But to the African she is not only an animate being, but Mother Africa. Many European and American musicians, despite having been suckled by her don’t always see her as the source of everything living and therefore the music they play. However, without Mother Africa, there would be no human race as we know it to be, no drums, no any other percussion instrument and therefore no proto-language of communication, which means no language; following which, many eons later of course, there would be no Blues and certainly no Jazz. To most people anywhere – including nice ordinary people in Canada – this does not mean very much, except when there is a festival celebrating culture through music, such as the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, designed to showcase African culture principally through music.
In celebrating its 31st edition and as is customary, the organisers of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique have complied a disc of seventeen songs by artists from Africa and countries where the African diaspora has spread – especially the Caribbean and, of course, more especially Québec, Canada. The 2017 compilation provides for those who could not be at the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a front row seat to the excitement of experiencing the talent on stage at various venues in Montréal between July 11 and 23, 2017. Those of us who were at the festival were spoiled by the embarrassment of riches on display, but this disc comes a very close second to being there. Don’t be fooled by the frugal package; this is truly a goldmine of artistry. It does not in any way claim to be comprehensive of the musical treasures of Africa or of African peoples spread around the world. However, the disc does put the listener up close to the visceral excitement that set fire to each of those thirteen days in the summer of 2017.
With the hindsight of being a guest at the Festival during its closing weekend, one is happy to see that “Dellali” by the Algerian group Djmawi Africa is on the disc. The fiery music on this track digs into the Gnawa tradition of West Africa and is a triumphant, inebriating piece of music. Listeners might be a bit mystified to find Luiz Bonfá and lyricist Antônio Maria’s magnificent work “Manhã de Carnaval” on this disc and that too performed by the Québécois, Jean-François Léger. It bears recalling that “Manhã de Carnaval” appeared as a principal theme in the 1959 Portuguese-language film Orfeu Negro or Black Orpheus set in Brasil by French director Marcel Camus. The film’s soundtrack also included songs by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes, as well as another composition by Bonfá, “Samba de Orfeu”. However “Manhã de Carnaval” appears in multiple scenes in the film, including versions sung or hummed by both the principal Afro-Brasilian characters Orfeu and Euridice. To my mind the finest song on the disc is “Mû Mbana” by Kolon Bai from Guinée-Bissau. It is a clue as to the origin of the Blues or even the Brasilian chorinho comes from. Like the great bluesmen or a Brasilian chorões (Pixinguinha, for instance). Magically Bai doesn’t sing, so much as “cry” the song, its tears seeming to soak deep into the soil of Africa from whence this music came.
The booklet is far too spare which certainly, for me at any rate, lacks the requisite information about the performers – so essential to the listening experience. However, the engineering, albeit performed by perhaps seventeen (or more) different individuals in disparate parts of the world has been captured on a myriad of different engineering consoles and is remarkably uniform, and although that feat does not make up for what’s missing, is certainly a minor miracle of sorts.
Track list and Musicians – 1: Mo Jodi – Delgrès; 2: Con Sabor – Sidi Wacho; 3: Kulindiswe – Mokoomba; 4. 1 million c’est quoi? Mbongwana Star; 5: The Good Life – Ben L’oncle Soul; 6: Fyah Fyah – Jesse Royal; 7: Fattouma – King Abid; 8: Pierrot Lunaire – Tété; 9: Tiempos de Amor – Las Cafeteras; 10: Ensen Dhaif – Emel Mathlouthi; 11: Bessou – Just Wôan; 12: 32 Désanm – Ziskakan; 13: Abaraka, merci – Zal Sissokho & Buntalo; 14: Dellali – Djmawi Africa; 15. Manhã De Carnaval – Jean-François Léger; 16: Baby Jane – The Dizzy Brains; 17: Kolon Bai – Mû Mbana
Label: Disques Nuits D’Afrique