Sunday, September 07, 2008

Saturday Night's All Right

Youssou N'Dour performs with Divine Brown at Yonge-Dundas Square

What a difference a day makes. Last night we were part of a perfectly pluralist crowd on a perfectly September Toronto night attending a free concert by Youssou N'Dour. Today, Toronto is back to a gray rainy Sunday. The concert last night at Yonge-Dundas Square was part of the Toronto International Film Festival and promoted the film "Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love". The weather couldn't have been better. It was a clear, cool end-of-summer night, when darkness drops quicker than a curtain, and the gaudy electronic signs of the square seemed a little more festive than usual. When we first came to Toronto, I would go out of my way to see at least a couple of movies as part of the Festival, but moving to the West end combined with hard-to-come-by tickets have removed us from the thing and it's easy to forget TIFF is on at all. This year, the festival has added more free public events and it helps to fold all that's happening in the city into the feeling that there is actually a festival going on that you can take part in it. It's not just something going on within darkened theatres or behind velvet ropes but in the streets. Last night, adding an air of something different, American director Spike Lee introduced Youssou N'Dour and at other times during the show, the film's director made an appearance as well as the composer of the score. More to the point of this being a Toronto festival, it was fun to look around you and see the mix of the crowd. The audience consisted of parents with their kids, hipsters alighting doobies, plenty of Toronto-based Africans out to see a homeland hero, Asians, whites, Sikhs... well, any ethic group you could define really. Not that I think such a show in NYC or London would have been any different, it was still something to behold.

What brought so many different types of Torontonians together was simply the man and the music. A music that despite my only passing familiarity, was obviously spiritual, joyful and downright kick-ass. To many, N'Dour might only be known as the foreign sounding voice on the Peter Gabriel collaboration "Shaking the Tree" (or on other such ventures with Sting et al), but to many others he is a giant of music (not just African or World Music).

Yet, I still can't turn on a radio and hear his music. Not that it matters to me. Probably most of the "radio" I hear comes over the telephone lines not the air waves anyway. Which is a good thing if you want to hear talent like N'Dour. Commercial radio was in my youth an escape now I do anything to escape it. This point is really just a digression. What went through my mind as we enjoyed the lights, the dancing and the rhythms was who could live in a world without this? Societies that by some inane religiosity ban music (from the Taliban to the Mennonites) are not places I would want to live. What is often thought to be the universal human expression (though sport and art would also figure in that description) music continues to unite and bind us, and help us see a world beyond ourselves. It was fun to see Toronto enjoying itself without pretension, without posers, without cares, and waving to the joyous sounds coming from the stage.

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