PULSATING TO THE SAME BEAT
by Eduardo Carli de Moraes
“Music is the universal language of human emotion.”
THEODOR REIK (1888-1969),
The Haunting Melody – Psychoanalytic Experiences in Life and Music
Between June 26 and July 6, Montréal hosted the 35th edition of its world-famous International Jazz Festival. Every year, in the heart of the francophone metropolis of North America, this event attracts a huge audience of music-lovers. No less than 2 million visits are registered to its splendid outdoor site.
The 2014 Jazz Fest offered more than 300 free concerts, which took place in several different open-air stages at the magnificent Quartier Des Spectacles, beautifully adorned to receive this massive gathering of Music Worship. In addition to the wide range of free events, dozens of paid gigs happened in pubs, theaters and concert halls across the city, some of which had sold-out tickets months before the first musical note was played.
It was the dawn of the Canadian summer and the heatwave made sure there would be no shortage of sunlight and sweat during the 11 days of musical feast. During his spicy and enthusiastic concert, the Haitian singer Jean-Jean Roosevelt said jokingly that Montréal – a city where winters are quite harsh – had been promoted to the status of Tropical Island. People all around seem to be filling quite at ease: it was possible to chill out in the grass in front of certain stages, if your legs needed some repose; or else to join the jumpin’-and-cheerin’ crowds who were in partying-mood.
Alain Simard, who founded the F.I.J.M. (Festival International de Jazz de Montréal) 35 years ago, and acts nowadays as its president, considers:
“If it has become the largest cultural and tourism event in Québec, it is especially because it represents social interaction at its best, the very essence of the now-iconic sense of joy and celebration identified with Montréal and Montrealers, and the welcome they offer to visitors from everywhere. Everyone is invited and participates with an unparalleled openness. All distinctions – ethnic, linguistic, political, economic and generational – cease to exist. Music and human warmth are the common denominator! The Festival is an inclusive, cool little urban oasis, where we can gather by the thousands and relax peacefully in a joyous musical environment, where the reigning impulses are to discover, share and celebrate together.”
Québec’s Prime Minister, Philippe Couillard, also celebrates the festival’s scope: “For 35 years, the F.I.J.M. has attracted the greatest artists on the international scene. It brings together jazz legends and rising stars. Over the years, this rendez-vous has become the world’s largest jazz festival. Its success is a testamente to our values. We are an open, ambitious, passionate, and festive society, much to the delight of music lovers around the world.” (Mots des Dignitaires, p. 13) What may sound to some ears like an overstatement was actually endorsed in 2004 by the Guinness Book of Records, which considered the Montréal Jazz Festival the largest of its kind worldwide. The Downbeat magazine, in its 80th anniversary edition, in which it explores The 80 Coolest Things in Jazz Today, also ranks F.I.J.M. as one of Earth’s greatest jazz festivals.
Montréal, the most populous city of the Canadian province of Québec, with more than 1 million and 600 thousand inhabitants, experiences during the Jazz Fest an extraordinary human effervescence, driven by the impressive amount of temporary visitors who attend the event – including musicians, sound engineers , roadies, journalists, photographers, filmmakers, dancers, artists of various strains etc. Besides, of course, the crowd of music lovers, which constitutes a multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic audience that highlights the intense cosmopolitism that’s one of the main trends of Montréal.
Ever since its 1st edition in 1980, the festival has been harbouring concerts by major figures in world music: F.I.J.M’s history registers performances of “myths” such as Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Astor Piazzolla, Dizzy Gillespie, Tom Jobim, James Brown, Dave Brubeck, Tony Bennett, Cab Callaway, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, among many others. In 2014, amongst the greatest attractions of the festival were the bluesman B. B. King, the soul diva Aretha Franklin, the pianist and singer Diana Krall, plus some artists linked to the world of rock’n’roll, but very much respected in the universe jazz – Elvis Costello, Beck Hansen and Ben Harper. This 35th edition also paid homage to the flamenco guitarist, recently deceased, Paco de Lucía (1947-2014), to whom the festival was dedicated.
The achievement of this mega-event is only possible because of public and private powers who join forces in order to make it happen with clockwork precision: Québec’s Ministries of Tourism, Transport, Culture & Communications, among others, work-in-sync with private partners like Rio Tinto Alcan, Bell, TD and Heineken. The Montréal Jazz Fest is a non-profit organization and the official publication states that “the activities are carried out with no intention of financial gain and all profits are re-injected in the operations of the festival and its free activities.” This latest edition was accomplished with a budget of 25.2 million Canadian dollars and was responsible for the creation of 1,500 jobs.
A study published in 2011 by SECOR gives us an idea of the broader economic impacts of the Festival on the sectors of housing, food and transportation – all of them go through one of their biggest annual booms during Jazz celebrations in Montréal: it is estimated that the expenditure of tourists and production teams, whose presence Montréal is wholly or partly justified by the festival’s occurrence, adds up to 96 million Canadian dollars. As for the origins of visitors, the statistics show that 30% come from the U.S., 25% from the province of Québec, 18% from other regions of Canada, 18% from Europe and 9% from other countries.
Despite being a festival devoted mainly to music, F.I.J.M. also makes room for other forms of artistic expression, including street-dance performances (have a taste of it on a video at the end of this post). The public also had access to a fine arts gallery, where rare paintings by Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis were on display, side by side with numerous works of artists from Québec – for example the highly talented Yves Archambault, who has been, for the last 20 years, responsible for the illustrations of the Jazz Fest posters and flyers. Below, you can see some of the most impressive works by Archambault in recent years – check it out:
Montréal’s Jazz Fest has also an educational mission: it aims at enabling children and youngsters to discover and cherish the world of music at an early age. The idea is to provide the newcomers-to-life with some sparks that hopefully will start in them a passionate fire of musical devotion. Families with kids can be seen circulating quite at ease through F.I.J.M.’s welcoming spaces, and a key initiative in this regard is the Musical Playground For Children (Parc Musical Pour Les Enfants). It seeks to provide entertainment to children while at the same time planting in their soil the seeds of love for art. In one of the attractions of the park, the kids could jump, dance and roll over the keys of a giant piano. In another, they could slide down through a huge saxophone, whose “mouth” expelled not musical notes destined to sail in the wind but rather laughing kids with veins filled with adrenaline.
Despite its various delight for the ears, the Festival was also filled with eye-candy: giant and colourful flags representing pianos were gracefully swingin’ in the breeze; the building of the University of Québec à Montréal (UQÀM) served as a screen-of-stone for astonishing projections of photographs portraying great musicians in action; and all around the eyes could enjoy the gorgeous architecture of the Place Des Arts and its surroundings.
Another very interesting practise of the festival is its Carboneutrality, which means that Montréal Jazz Festival pledges to accomplish an event that has no deleterious effects on the environment because of increased emissions of carbon dioxide. Both F.I.J.M. and the Festival d’Été de Québec are committed to being “carboneutre”: all the pollution and dirt, resulting from the increased pace of transport, rising consumption of electricity and the largest waste production are counteracted by “green projects” supported by the festivals. I found this eco-friendliness to be truly laudable. In addition to the wide range of free cultural events provided to the general public – an excellent example that it’s possible to achieve both artistic quality and broad popular access – Québec’s summer music festivals play an important role of ecological awareness and sustainable practices. It teaches us that, when the music is over, the job’s far from done: time to start recycling and planting trees.
All things considered, this was by far one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in a music festival. It was profoundly rewarding to go through these several days of musical feast in Québec’s metropolis – which has already become one of my favorite places on Planet Earth. I have a heart full of “bravo!”s for Montréal’s excellent event – and I strongly wish I can come back in the future to enjoy a brand new banquet of melodies, rhythm and people in cheerful interactions.
I especially liked how, apart from being a Jazz festival, there’s not a drop of orthodoxy or narrow-mindedness in defining what artists fit the canons of what “jazz” means. Instead, Montréal delightfully wishes diversity to reign. No purism erects borders, prohibits styles or condemns trends: Montréal’s attitude, it seems to me, is one of receiving with wide-opened arms Music in all of its diverse manifestations. There was no musical apartheid going on, but rather musical expression was taking place in a very broad ethno-cultural spectrum: I could experience the spicy African rhythms of Mokoomba, from Zimbabwe; the Australian big-band Melbourne Ska Orchestra; the Cuban group Conjunto Chappottin y Sus Estrellas, experts in salsa, mambo and rumba; the futuristic and orchestrated hip-hop ensemble Deltron 3030; the heavy blues of high-voltage of Miss Layla Zoe; the soulful rock’n’roll from L.A.’s Vintage Trouble; among many other examples.
Theodor Reik wrote in his fascinating book The Haunting Melody that “music is the universal language of human emotion.” This idea never made as much sense to me as it does now. In Montréal, during this unforgetable week in which I was a Latin American flannêur in one of the cities I loved the most to meet, I felt like some sort of human-fish swimming in a sea of people of extraordinary diversity. Humans from differents creeds, colors, roots, backgrounds, affiliations, languages, clothes, tattoos, idiosyncrasies, were coming together in a joyous celebration. It dawned on me with unprecedented force how much music has a potential of transcending apartheids and making people pulsate in the same beat. It filled me with hope that another world is possible, in which differences are not a reason to sever relations but much more an invitation to join together and co-evolve; in which all apartheids fall down and individuals salute each other with “namastê”; in which art is respected, cherished and collectively celebrated as a practical force that enables la joie de vivre; in which music’s power of transgressing borders and languages proves that it is quite possible to build precious spaces in which John Lennon’s dream – “The Brotherhood of Man” – is already alive and kicking. I still can hear its heartbeat.
MUSIC WITHOUT BORDERS
A film by Eduardo Carli de Moraes / Awestruck Wanderer
You might also enjoy taking at look at my
Album of photographs.
Cheers, fellow earthlings!
“Without music life would be a mistake.” (Nietzsche)