Festival D`ete de Quebec 2001
The World’s Oldest World Music Festival
Festival D`ete de Quebec
by Sidney Bechet-Mandela
The last stop on the JazzUSA.com North America music festival tour is Quebec City, Canada. This picturesque area, nestled on the St. Lawrence River, has produced Cirque Du Soliel and also the globe’s oldest world music festival, Festival D`ete de Quebec.
Of the four incredible music celebrations covered by this writer this year, St. Lucia, Ravinia (Chicago), Grenada and now the 34th annual Quebec City Summer Festival, only St. Lucia was new to me. Even then, I pretty much knew what to expect, and ended up with no surprises. As I’ve come to learn, no matter how many times you go to this festival, unpredictability is the norm.
What can’t change about this charming place is it’s rich history and French culture. A list of reasons to come visit any time in the summer quickly comes to mind, but, without a doubt, it’s the growing festival of arts and music that makes this world-class destination a must for music lovers everywhere.
Every July, for two weeks leading up to Bastille Day, indigenous musicians from around the world gather in Quebec, which is less than a three hour plane ride from most cities in the upper mid-west U.S. and even closer for those in the east. It’s amazing that it’s still one of North America’s best-kept secrets, considering this fortnight explosion of musicians, clowns, actors, artists and craftsmen.
While music should be the focus of this review, journalistic integrity wouldn’t be served without mention of the incredible architecture and overwhelming Old Europe atmosphere of this well-preserved 400 year old town. Many have compared the experience to being in Paris.
The festival is held in the upper and old part of the city, that still is the only walled-city in the Americas north of Mexico City. The geographical set up is opposite of another preserved, musically rich town, Salvador, in Bahia, Brazil, where the new city was built over the old one.
You actually walk through the old gates of the huge stone garrison post for the Quebec festival. Then, there’s not only music everywhere, but every kind of practicing art, right on the street in front of you. One night, there were two acts I wanted to see, who were on at the same time. I decided on one, but it turned out I was disappointed in the performance. So, since all the many and varied venues are within walking distance, I hurried to the next venue. I never made it.
On the way, I kicked myself for choosing the wrong act, hoping not to miss much. It turned out not to matter, because up the cobblestone hill was four people, heavily made up, in the most outrageous costumes, performing a very serious opera on the tallest stilts I’ve ever seen.
At the intersection of a narrow street and even smaller alley, not even the antique brick under their sticks, the navigation of the curbs, the people trying to pass through the gathered throng, or the occasional car, stopped these incredible performers from dancing in their blocked out space.
In her Oriental garb, the heroine would swoop under an awning across the street, take two giant steps, then lean and look right down at you, throw her arms up, turn, on beat, and continue with the dance for the other corner. The villain, not only swooped and swirled as incredibly, but also carried a huge sound system on his back that was the source of the quartet’s music. Like a lot of this festival, it was surreal.
The unpredictability factor of the Quebec City festival comes from the format itself. Of course, there’s jazz, but also rock, pop, classical, Cajun, folk, hip-hop, funk, children music world beat and the incredible music of the Quebecois. There’s 15 indoor and outdoor venues, not counting the many bars who book their own entertainment, with over 800 performers from 20 countries.
It’s like the Olympics, but only for musicians. All with an eight dollar pass, though some shows are extra.
Among the big names In jazz, this year were John Pizzarelli, the exciting French trumpeter, Erik Truffaz, violinist Didier Lockwood and the New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble. Blues lovers got Susan Tedeschi and Corey Harris, and the names in rock and world music, especially Africa, were bigger.
Just like my last visit however, it was the names of acts I didn’t know that gave the outstanding shows. Practitioners of the American art forms of jazz, dance and funk from Europe, South America, and Canada all gave scintillating performances.
Among the best were the Cosmic Connection from France, Doppelganger and the Funk A Fones, both from Quebec.
In the detailed description of the acts in the festival guide, bands that were coming after I left, with names like N’Java from Madagascar, Funky Family from France, left me salivating.
Also like my last visit, I left Quebec City raving over a band that I completely fell in love with, and found in the most unexpected place. If you’re a music lover, you must know the feeling of “finding” a great act that no one has ever heard of. The Quebec City Summer Festival is the place for that.
Last time, it was an incredible, funk-reggae-rock band from Montreal called Rude Luc, who I heard in a bar in Quebec. I still keep up with the activities of the lead singer.
This time it was another group from Montreal that I literally stumbled upon. Again, I was walking to see another act, when I happened across the ten piece band called Fanfare Pour Pour.
They were playing in a fenced off recessed plaza outside a building, but it might as well been in a Fellini movie.
In fact, the song had to have been from a Fellini movie. I sat, and was treated to a fabulous musical aggregation that evoked the music of Raymond Scott, early Duke Ellington, Nino Rota, and Carla Bley. If you know any of this music, you can not only understand my excitement, but my sense of surrealism.
Fanfare Pour Pour essentially passes itself off as a band that plays gypsy music, which is exactly what the ten dress like, gypsies. They sometimes had that oom-pah feeling of an early 20th century European brass band, especially the tuba player, who was also accompanied in the horn section by a trumpet, saxophonist and clarinetist. There was also a violinist, two guitarists, including one who doubled on harmonica, a bass drummer and a percussionist.
They played intricate, syncopated music with bright spacious arrangements played at breakneck tempos or slowed to a waltz. The dynamics were also presented at extreme points in accordance with building and sweeping motifs. The music was captivating and transfixed anyone walking past the plaza.
It wasn’t commercial acoustic jazz like the cool breezes of Pizzarelli and his trio, or the funky, mostly accessible, acid jazz of Truffaz, but it was more satisfying, maybe, just because I didn’t know what was coming. In Quebec, it seems one hardly ever does.