Tuesday, 30 July 2013

skatalites at festival nuit d'Afrique

The Skatalites  |  Festival International Nuits d'Afrique

            PHOTOS  |  EVAN CRANDELL

July 18, 2013 - They are entrancing: bubbly, bouncy, and upbeat with an undeniable sense of continuous, driving motion. A train that does not stop: repetition, repetition, repetition, with occasional variation. With low end thumping and punchy melodies, their sound has come out of jukeboxes, radios, and iPods for decades. Last Thursday fans of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique knew what they were in for and the band delivered. They are a vital part of music history. They are legends. They are the Skatalites.

The Skatalites train took off in 1964 and despite an almost 20 year hiatus, it has been chugging along regularly since 1989. The original band members practically invented the ska genre. Not the ska you hear nowadays, but a more laid back, down tempo version like its Jamaican successors rocksteady and reggae. The people of Montreal clearly knew how important the Skatalites are to modern music because there was not an open space in the audience at the Loto-Quebec stage when the band came out. The magnitude of seeing alto saxophone player, Lester Sterling - one of the original members from 1964, walk on stage in 2013 was not lost on anyone. 

There is an inherent excitement one feels when seeing a band with such a rich and storied history. It is simply such an advent to hear these musicians in the flesh. As the show began, the Skatalites bursted out of the gates and it felt like everyone was high… on the music There were the signature syncopated horn melodies, pumping bass riffs, forceful drum fills, and those ever-present, inescapable, pulsating offbeat guitar chords. Any fan of the genre in attendance was immediately satisfied. 

A few songs into the performance, however, I noticed something. The feeling of the music had changed. Or, more accurately, it had not changed. My feeling about the music had changed. Even though the band would stop between tunes, each one started to sound like the next. They all blended into one long song. Time slowed down. It began to feel like they should start wrapping up the concert, even though they were only half way through their allotted set time. Nobody else in the crowd seemed to notice, though; perhaps it was just my own feeling. 

There were splashes of variance. Of particular note were some fiery trumpet solos from Nathan Breedlove that used complex jazz language to shake things up. For some of Sterling’s alto solos, he quoted different melodies such as Pop Goes the Weasel and Paul Desmond’sTake Five”, One can wonder how these musicians maintain their energy after playing for so many years. Perhaps this was Sterling’s way of keeping the music fresh. Doreen Shaffer, who has been with the group regularly since they reunited, graced the audience with a few vocal numbers in the middle of the set including “My Boy Lollipop,” “Sugar Sugar”, and “Simmer Down”. Shaffer’s vocal delivery was timeless and her cheerful vibrations were infectious.  

Musicians across the genre spectrum frequently discuss the uses of tension and release in music. The performance by the Skatalites contained a whole lot of release. Perhaps this is why nobody in the audience seemed to care that the songs sounded so similar to one another. They just wanted to hear hits like “Latin Goes Ska”, “James Bond”, and “Guns of Navarone”. The music performed was for having a good time, and a good time was certainly had by the audience. When a band has played an integral role in creating a genre of music and continues to play shows to thousands of loving fans, they have earned the right to keep that train rolling as long as it will go. 

More photos of The Skatalites

More reviews of Festival International Nuits d’Afrique
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