Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nuits D'Afrique 2009

I caught a couple of shows at Nuits D'Afrique this year, my first time going to any of the festival's indoor programming.

Balattou was crammed likely beyond capacity for banjo player Jayme Stone, from Toronto, and griot Mansa Sissoko, now living in Quebec City. Their album Africa to Appalachia fully deserves its Juno award, tracing the African roots of the banjo and demonstrating the commonalities between traditional West African and American folk music, from bluegrass to Maritime fiddle tunes. Stone rarely sounded like a regular banjo player; with his instrument tuned down to F to match Sissoko's kora, he sounded at times like a second kora, or in the vein of Malian guitarists like Ali Farka Touré and Boubacar Traoré. The rhythm section of bassist Paul Mathew and drummer Nick Fraser, on kit and calabash, rounded out the sound and gave it a deeper bottom than on the record. One thing about the intimacy of mostly acoustic African music is how deep the groove can be at low volume.

This was starkly contrasted the following night with Peru's Novalima, highly electrified and using the amplification to power their grooves. They're a band that rocks the party hard, mixing reggae and electo touches into Afro-Peruvian music - or would it be better described as bringing cajons into reggae? I was compelled by the songs where the polyrhythms of Afro-Peruvian music (and Novalima's three percussionists) were allowed to shine. The majority of the set was typical of electro-reggae-pop from across the diaspora, with the guitarist unleashing a dubbed-out siren from some sort of oscillator on top of his amp. I was impressed with how seamlessly loops were integrated into the band and how tight the percussionists played to the beats.

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