A few years back, I decided to make a solo trip to one of my second-homes, New York City, and while I was down there I had the joy of catching Fela! The Musical. Now we all know that New York knows how to do Broadway so needless to sayall my senses were blown. However it was actually a book that I bought on my way out of that performance that left the strongest imprint in my mind for all these years; Fela: This Bitch of a Life by Carlos Moore.
This beautiful and unconventional biography of the Nigerian icon Fela Kuti was so poignant and well written that it really had my soul traveling back in time and over seas. Throughout this book there was often reference to the club that Fela had opened called Afro-Spot, later renamed as The Shrine. This ‘Shrine’ had become the place where many of the most amazing musicians of this world played on rotation, where Fela performed regularly, where dancers dazzled eyes, where heat dominated, where political truth was spoken, where minds were opened, and where souls were exposed. As Fela himself explained, ‘Why Shrine? Cause I wanted someplace meaningful, of progressive, mindful background with roots’. That line resonated in my mind for years because I craved such a place for us in Montreal, in this era.
This year my wish became reality. For three unbelievable nightcaps at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, The Savoy became what I would call ‘The Shrine’ and Kalmunity Vibe Collective had the opportunity to electrify over 1200 souls with incredible musical talent, skill, depth and energy.
Many of you may already know this 9-year veteran collective that started holding down a residency at Sablo Kafé and now offers two great nights of live organic improvised music at Les Bobards on Tuesday nights and Dièse Onze on Sunday nights. Revered for being one of the best live acts, jazz acts, hip hop acts and more in this city, it was about time that they got to rock it at the Jazz Festival. From my prior experiences seeing this collective my expectations were more than sky high and yet KVC still managed to blow my mind off this sphere. I had initially planned on only attending the first of three nights but I ended up needing a fix each night.
The first of the nights was under the ‘Congo Square’ theme so I made sure to have on my dancing shoes. When I strolled in at around 12:15, the Savoy was packed but I didn’t have to wait in line, which means it was probably right under the 400 heads capacity. It took me a minute to squeeze my way to the front of the stage where I was pleasantly surprised to see each member of the band repping hard in their beautiful masks, beads and feathers. The outfit award definitely goes to saxophonist, Vincent Stephen-Ong, who was rocking crisp white Jordans, an impeccable white suit and a white skeleton painted on his face. The getups and lighting were a beautiful touch to help the audience get into that festive vibe, especially for the KVC newbies who might have needed that extra push. Within the first few minutes of getting there, I was completely drenched. Partly because the Savoy is a carpeted room that really captures all human heat but mainly because Jahsun (founder and lead drummer of KVC) was laying down rhythms so hard that my hips could barely even keep up.
Being the backbone of this collective, instrumentally and logistically, Jahsun often leaves more room for the other instruments and vocalists to shine, but staying true to the Congo Square theme we got to experience drums as a highlight, which was such a treat. Another musical highlight that stuck out was Christopher Cargnello on guitar. Truth be told, I’m rarely a fan of guitar because I think it’s a little overrated (I may have fell for too many guitarists back in my teens) but Cargnello really reignited my love for the instrument with all of his soul-vibrating solos and particularly with the strong lead he took on a few of the pieces which really set a nice tone for the other musicians to build on. Vocally the wonderful Sam I Am blew me away, she strolled on sporting a long bright yellow mesh dress and big Donna Summer hair, and just killed us with her power notes and extensive vocal range, not to mention she’s a magnificent dancer who can really get down in 6-inch heels.
Every thing was shaping incredibly till around 1:30 when the band took a much-deserved break and poof The Savoy emptied up faster then a jar of Nutella at a day camp. I knew the break would make KVC lose a couple of people but this was outrageous, probably a good two thirds of the audience left in search of their festival fix. That’s when I really saw how much KVC is a give-and-take experience, because with all that empty space in the room, even though the musicians were still giving their everything, the vibe had lost its strength.
The second night of the series was truly the one for the books. Firstly, KVC didn’t fall for that break trick again and decided to push through 2:30 of performing straight, which is an amazing feat on its own but when you think about how this is all live improvisation, it’s truly extraordinary. Secondly, this night was dedicated to the great J Dilla, so you know that every musician was bringing their A-game. That night the energy in the room that was so magical that words really can’t do it justice but what I can say is that everything was aligning perfectly from Jordan Peter’s guitar strums to DNA’s knowledge dropping to Blu-Rum 13’s rap flow to the Nomadic Massive guests appearances. I must particularly applaud the Fredy V & Jonathan Emile duo; these two multi-talented vocalists are just natural born entertainers who have you hooked on every eye blink they make and as a duo, wow, they just owned the stage. At one point in the night when we were all two stepping and singing along to the live remix of ‘Find A Way’ (ATCQ), my musicoholic friend from New York turned to me and said ‘Montreal hands down owns the live music scene, New York could not possibly compare’. As I looked around the room I knew we all felt the same. People’s eyes were glistening with emotion, everyone was swaying on the right beat, and all the connotations were straight hitting people’s minds. Even an earthquake couldn’t have shifted the audience’s focus that night. Just writing about it is swelling my heart all over again
After such an epic night, I had to make it to the last of the series. I was glad to be carrying my media pass that night because the line up was insane. Again, KVC was laying their all for the people, and that enthusiasm was being thrown right back at them. Seeing all these nights back-to-back really brought to my attention how in-sync the musicians are with each other and the audience. Many of the musicians and vocalists had never even performed together and yet they managed to create pure brilliance right before our eyes. I must say one of the most memorable moments of the third night was when Beatbox extraordinaire X-Wam built an outrageous 4min beat that he finished off with a beat medley mix of Michael Jackson. I’ve never heard so many ladies scream so high and at the same time. None of us could compare to the high range of Ms. Malika Tirolien though, who just ripped it up with her insane scatting skills.
I would love to continue this play by play of the most epic musical experience I’ve witnessed in Montreal (ever!), but I will leave that incomplete imagery in your mind so that you can go fill it in by checking out the Kalmunity Vibe Collective yourself on Tuesdays at Les Bobards or Sundays for more of a jazzy night at Dièse Onze.
I really must raise my hat to the excellent soundman at The Savoy for serving us such impeccable sound, the Jazz Fest for making those three nights possible, the 30+ poets, singers, MCs and musicians of KVC for sharing their talent and soul with us and of course to Jahsun for being the backbone behind this amazing collective.
Truly inspired by it all
[Photos courtesy of Mariel Rosenbluth]