For a city of only 1.6 million people, cultural diversity is incredibly high in Montreal. Vision Diversité is a program that for the last five years has sought to showcase up-and-coming local world music acts, and dole out a variety of awards, including recording studio time, promotional campaigns and even video press kits. All the acts bring various musical styles into a fusion of sound that could only happen in this unique, culturally mixed city.
In an interview in the Quartier des Spectacles official blog (the downtown neighborhood which hosts many of the city’s cultural events), Vision Diversité’s artistic director Pamela Kamar explained the birth of the showcase: “In 2011, Arometis, a compilation album featuring 17 Montreal-based artists with a wide variety of musical backgrounds, demonstrated that artists with very different influences could work together, regardless of their roots. Cross-pollination was enough to bring them together. Based on that experience, we realized the artists and their music needed to be introduced to venues, labels and institutions. These artists have a place on our artistic landscape, but there was a need for an event to promote them. So we had the idea to launch a showcase: the Vitrine des Musiques Locales Métissées.”
This year, 16 groups performed over three nights (Oct. 23-25): comprising artists who have immigrated from around the world, including Iran, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and various African countries, as well as homegrown musicians who have been influenced by all the global beats they have encountered here.
The recipient of this year’s Grand Prize went to Gotta Lago‘s African Guitar Spirit project. Lago, who immigrated from the Ivory Coast in 1998, and while not exactly a newcomer on the scene, his new project is a beautiful return to his roots, performing as a trio with only a bassist and percussionist, exploring traditional melodies yet also blending them with blues and other influences.
Of the other acts that impressed us at the showcases, there was Brazilian singer/songwriter Isaac Neto, who moved to Montreal in 2007. Neto mixes Afro-Brazilian rhythms he grew up listening to in São Luís do Maranhão with samba, forro and bossa nova. He is also an accomplished classical guitarist and continues to perform in that medium as well. Neto released his first full CD, Meu Quelê, earlier this year, which was originally conceived as just a duo with a percussionist, then grew into a more complex production, and features 13 original songs. His was a set that if you closed your eyes, you could find yourself transported to a peaceful sunny beach in Bahia.
Akawui is of Native American and Chilean heritage whose music reflects both those familial influences. Combine that with a deep love of Brazilian music, which he pursued studying percussion there for a time, and you have a very original sound. His stellar performance featured Native American drummers along with his full band, and three Native American dancers in costume that both sonically and visually blew the audience away.
Born of a Belgian father and Congolese mother, John Kinsha spent his childhood in the Democratic Republic of Congo before escaping the war-torn country to Montreal in 1991. He has noted that growing up he listened to wide range of music, from Charles Aznavour to Bob Marley and Papa Wemba to IAM, and dreamed of one day being able to express himself musically as they did. Kinsha had an incredibly classy live set which hit all the beats and showed all the makings of an international star. His first CD album release is forthcoming.
Solawa is a fascinating new local musical project which brings together spoken-word artist/singer Moe Clark with harpist/singer Eveline Gregory Rousseau, Argentinean singer/saxophonist Damian Nisenson, bassist Jean Félix Mailloux, and Iranian percussionist Ziya Tabassian. The project grew from a mutual “desire to share and discuss different cultural heritages” by all the musicians. And there are no borders to the music they perform: from an African-inspired lullaby sung in Native American Cree language, to others sung in Spanish, English and, of course, French. They were finalists for this year’s Grand Prize and were a crowd and jury favorite.
Other groups which made our hit list include Lasso and Sini-kan. Lasso, whose real name is Salif Sanou, originally hails from Burkina Faso. From a family of griots, he moved effortless on stage between the kora, flute, percussion and vocals. Lasso calls his music style FRAMM, which stands for “Fusion Reggae Afro Mandingue Métissée.” Then, Los Viejha, a group formed by Mexican immigrants to Montreal, takes the traditional Afro-Mexican music style of son jarocho and injects it with a mix of reggae, ska, Afrobeat and cumbia that made it impossible for the audience to stay in their seats. And finally, the Samuel Bonnet Quartet which could be most generally described as a jazz ensemble. But like many Montreal musicians, the Israeli/French classically and jazz-trained guitarist Bonnet brings all those influences and more into the mix, smoothly blending soul, klezmer, Brazilian and Native American styles into his original compositions.