Modibo Keita The Shed Montreal Jazz Fest Festival

Modibo Keita. Photo by Christopher Mancini

Jazz Fest hip hop/R&B concert series the Shed isn’t a best-kept secret anymore

“We’re a tight-knit community and we’re trying to create unique moments. Everything is improvised, so once it happens, you’ll never get to see it again.”

Since 2017, the Shed has been considered something of a best-kept secret among live improvisational R&B and hip hop aficionados in Montreal.

The pop-up concert series emphasizes both creating and living in the moment: the details are only revealed a day before the show, so when you agree to check out the Shed, you’re accepting that anything can happen.

After making its Jazz Fest debut in 2019, founder Modibo Keita is bringing it back for three nights at MTelus’s M2, fka the Savoy. The tinier, sweatier room at the former Metropolis has long been the site of some of the fest’s most unexpected highlights, and this year’s back-to-business edition promises to bring the spot back to prominence.

“I’d describe the Shed as a collective of likeminded hip hop and R&B musicians,” says Keita. “We’re a tight-knit community and we’re trying to create unique moments. Everything is improvised, so once it happens, you’ll never get to see it again.”

Did the Shed come about as a response to the current state of live music, where camera phones and static setlists rule?

“Because the Shed can be so unpredictable, when people come they choose to live in the present moment,” Keita said. “In the world we live in today, with social media and technology, it’s rare to go to a show where people focus just on what’s happening.”

That being said, there’s no rule about phones off, but it’s something a lot of Shed regulars have naturally adopted. Keita said they have about 100-plus hardcore fans who rarely miss a show, and he views the Jazz Fest as an opportunity to come out of the shadows a little and introduce the growing brand to new

Keita had a chance to participate in last year’s abridged Jazz Fest as arranger and musical director of the Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On?” tribute, and although he’s looking forward to the fest’s usual energy returning in 2022, the enthusiastic crowds a year ago did make it feel like a grand event.

As SimbO, Keita is also embarking on a solo career of his own. He’s working on a project different than what you might find on his SoundCloud page: a two-volume album steeped in the supernatural, half- recorded here and in Mali. The Mali part was done in January and the local half will be completed later this summer. In addition to playing in the ensemble, SimbO will also be grabbing the mic and singing.

“It’s been a cool challenge,” he said. “I took some time off the horn to get better at songwriting and work on my vocal technique. The way I see music, the instrument is just the medium to convey the message, and I feel like I have a message I want to convey with my voice.”

The Shed is happening at M2 (59 Ste-Catherine E.) as part of the 2022 Montreal Jazz Festival on June 30, July 1, July 2, 11:59 p.m., free

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