Sunday afternoon: The fickle weather deities are taking mercy on Luminato. After a morning deluge, the dark clouds relocate, allowing the sun to beam down upon the Hub, a.k.a. David Pecaut Square. Its warm rays shimmer off the giant disco ball hovering 25 metres above – Michel de Broin's piece of installation art, dubbed One Thousand Speculations (because it consists of 1,000 mirrors). A happy, diverse crowd of perhaps 1,500 people has gathered, enjoying the festive spirit. Both the Mill Street Brewery mini-restaurant and the Caplansky's Deli food truck seem to be doing brisk trade in suds and fries.
The Hub's décor might be uber-disco, but the music is decidedly not. I arrive in time to catch the second half of Bombino, the stage name of brilliant Tuareg singer/guitarist Omara Moctar. He's dressed in the traditional garb of the nomadic Tuareg people, residents of Saharan Africa – flowing blue robe and white head scarf, the taguelmoust – yes, I had to look it up on the Internet. I wouldn't have objected to an electronic surtitle board, to translate Bombino's lyrics from Tamashek to English, but that's a quibble, because the band plays with such love and energy that it sweeps me along. Moctar's drummer, even more swaddled in robes – only his eyes and hands are visible – is particularly impressive. Overall, the music feels like some sort of weird fusion of Muslim country rock. Moctar, only 31, plays a mean lick. Of and from him, expect to hear a lot more.
Bombino is followed by Amadou and Mariam, a husband-and-wife duet from Mali. Both are blind – Amadou Bagayoko since the age of 15, Mariam Doumbia since the age of five. They met, in fact, in the choir of Bamako's Institute for Young Blind People, 38 years ago. Better known in the West than Moctar because of their collaborations with the likes of Stevie Wonder, the Scissor Sisters and other bands, the couple now lives in Paris and tours widely. Their act could be a showcase for world music – a pulsating stew of rock, blues, Afro-pop, funk and jazz and traditional West African motifs that soon has the audience bopping.
"Do you feel alive?" Amadou shouts out to the crowd. Its lusty response suggests that it does.
I ask a woman swaying energetically to the beat how she is enjoying the show. She shakes her head indicating that she does not want to be interviewed. "I just want to enjoy the music," she explains.
Then I approach a middle-aged Guyanese-born couple, Patricia Wynter and Trevor Murray. He's a building manager and she, she jokes, "manages the manager." They are making their second visit of the festival to the Hub. They'd come the night before to see the Chinese reggae group Long Shen Dao, and Maxi Priest.
"We live downtown and try to see as much as we can," says Patricia. "I love this city. This is my city."
You could feel the love elsewhere as well. On Saturday night, there was a definite buzz of excitement in the air at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, where Serbian-born avant-garde performance artist Marina Abramovic, together with film and stage actor Willem Dafoe and androgynous singer Antony, were preparing to stage The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic, directed by the legendary Robert Wilson.
On the other hand, maybe the buzz was simply the result of the appearance of Conrad Black (in a cream-coloured summer suit), his wife Barbara Amiel (in pointy, low-heeled pumps) and former ROM CEO William Thorsell.
Not too many buyers, I notice, for the $50 souvenir program on sale in the lobby, but judging by the standing ovation and extended curtain calls, the provocative, avant-garde show itself was a hit.