In a summer with no jazz fest, no Francos de Montréal and no Osheaga, it’s a minor miracle for Nuits d’Afrique to be happening at all. The fact the music festival’s 35th edition is running as usual, from Tuesday to July 18, is a testament to the event’s resilience.
Nuits d’Afrique has always been a bit of an underdog — a little festival with a big heart, that year after year presents a vibrant array of sounds from around the globe for an audience every bit as eclectic as its lineup.
“What I find special is the festival caters to people of different ages, and obviously we have a diverse crowd, culturally,” said Nuits d’Afrique managing director Suzanne Rousseau. “We get people from Africa, the Caribbean, Japan, Italy. It’s people who are open to discovering new things. It makes for a really special atmosphere.
“With Nuits d’Afrique, you see the vrai visage de Montréal. I feel at home when it’s multicultural. We’re privileged to have this mix; it’s so rich.”
Pandémie oblige, this year’s festival takes place in a hybrid format, with reduced capacity shows at Le National, Le Ministère and Nuits d’Afrique’s intimate home base Le Balattou; outdoor activities, projections and acoustic performances, all afternoon and evening at Quartier des Spectacles during the fest’s second week, July 13 to 18; and online.
The big difference this year is that the usual array of international acts will not be making the trip, which shifts the spotlight to Montreal’s dynamic array of Nuits d’Afrique regulars with roots all over Africa and around the world.
The festivities kick off Tuesday at 8 p.m. via Facebook Live, with the Bal de l’Afrique enchantée, a time- and continent-travelling odyssey through African music, from Ghanaian highlife to Congolese rumba and Nigerian Afrobeat, broadcast from Paris.
Other events in the festival’s Grands événements series include the Soirée rhythmes au féminin, Thursday at 8 p.m. at Le National, a quadruple bill featuring Algerian-Québécoise soul singer (and Nomadic Massive rap crew member) Meryem Saci; Benin-born chanteuse Carine au Micro, who takes inspiration from Angélique Kidjo and Miriam Makeba; Zimbabwe singer and mbira and kalimba player Chipo Nyambiya; and Brazil’s Flávia Nascimento, whose self-titled album was released last year. Tickets cost $20.
Hailing from Trinidad and Tobago but based in Montreal, reggae trio Jab Djab hosts a show Friday at 8 p.m. at Le National, with Jamaican-Québécois reggae artist King Shadrock and two artists originally from Burkina Faso, rapper-violinist Kayiri and reggae singer Kabey Konate. Tickets cost $20.
Ivory Coast singer Dina Lévry, co-founder of the country’s all-female band Bella Mondo Africa, settled in Montreal in 2019. She shows off her deep musical legacy, Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at Club Balattou. Tickets cost $15.
Also, Saturday, Latin-rap duo Sonido Pesao mixes cumbia, reggaeton and hip-hop, Saturday at 9 p.m. at Le Ministère. Tickets cost $15.
On Monday, Cameroon-raised retro-soul revelation Clerel continues the charm offensive that saw him play the jazz fest and POP Montreal last summer. He plays Monday at 8:30 p.m. at Club Balattou. Tickets cost $15.
Veteran Montreal reggae singer Juliet Nelson is at Club Balattou, July 14 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets Cost $15.
Longstanding Afrobeat party crew Afrodizz performs at July 15 at 9 p.m. at Le Ministère. Tickets cost $15.
Peruvian-Québécois party crew El Son Sono mix rumba, cumbia, fesjeto and salsa, July 16 at Club Balattou. Tickets cost $15.
And Rommel Ribeiro and Rodrigo Simões team up for a tribute to Brazilian legend Gilberto Gil, July 18 at 8:30 p.m. at Club Balattou. Tickets cost $15.
If that seems like a sprawling mix of sounds, then you’re catching on.
“People forget that Africa is a continent representing more than 50 countries,” Rousseau said. “There’s also Latin America and the Caribbean, where music from Africa was brought over. It’s 100 per cent connected.
“Our founder Lamine Touré is always saying, ‘Let’s make sure to represent everybody as much as possible.’ All this together makes the strength of the festival.”
AT A GLANCE: Nuits d’Afrique’s 35th edition takes place Tuesday through July 18. For tickets and information, visit festivalnuitsdafrique.com