Dancing Globally: Highlights from Festival International

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The 23rd annual Festival International de Louisiane was billed as 500 artists from 15 countries on six stages. You can throw in "along with lots of fried goodness" to that tag line, and you would have an idea of what happens in Lafayette, La., for five days during April.

Festival International began in 1986 as a visual and performing arts festival celebrating the French cultural heritage of southern Louisiana – primarily a combination of French, African, Caribbean and Hispanic influences. The largest outdoor, free Francophone event in the U.S., the festival places special emphasis on highlighting the connections between Acadiana and the Francophone world.

This year, Louisiana native Marc Broussard was the headliner for Thursday night. Though many rumors swirled as to the identity of his "surprise guest," it ended up being not Dave Matthews, but his father, Louisiana Hall of Fame guitarist Ted Broussard, plus female vocalists from Chic Gamine of Manitoba, Canada and Lafayette native Roddie Romero.

Broussard followed 2009 Grammy nominees Locos Por Juana,  whose music is a blend of Latin flavors with members from Colombia, Puerto Rico, Venezuala and Argentina.

On Friday, Ilê Aiyê brought drum and dance from Brazil, and self-taught guitarist and singer Alpha Yaya Diallo showcased world beat music from Guinea. Austin’s Grupo Fantasma, a blend of Latin funk with hints of late ‘70s War and Santana that makes you get up and dance, closed the night.

On Saturday, sunny skies shone down on the artists’ wares lining the downtown streets. Everything from African art and drums, hand-made stained glass, alligators made from sheet metal, fleur-de-lis necklaces, Cajun cookbooks, and antique ceiling tins were for sale.

After working up an appetite strolling through the Marché du Monde, hitting the food vendors was a must. Crawfish nachos, crawfish pistolettes, fried catfish topped with crawfish etouffee, shrimp po-boys, crawfish and tasso pasta, boudin and jambalaya were for sale for between $5 and $7.

On Saturday, music began around noon. New Orleans’ TBC Brass Band paid homage on horns to Willie Bobo with "Grazin’ in the Grass," and Ray Charles’ "Hit the Road Jack."

Dengue Fever, a six-member band from Los Angeles, formed in 2001 by brothers Ethan and Zac Holtzman, played their hit song "Tiger Phone Card," as well as songs from their album "Escape from Dragon House." The band – known as Cambodian psychedelic pop rock, because of their lead singer, Chhom Nimol, a well-known karaoke singer from Cambodia who now lives in California – was an afternoon hit for the crowd.

Chicha Libre, a six-piece band from Peru and the U.S., played unique psychedelic surf music with synthesizers and guitars. The Ivory Coast’s Dobet Gnahoré played Afro-beat sounds and has been described as "a soulful tornado of movement."

Malajube, an indie-power foursome from Québec which formed in 2004, sounded like a Canadian Radiohead.  They played "Porte Disparu" from their latest album Labyrinthes, and "Étienne D’Aout" and "Montreal -40C" from their album Trompe-L’Oeil. Despite the French lyrics, their music is a universal way to speak to people.
Closing out was French electronica band Orange Blossom. Drummer Carlos Robles Arenas, violinist Pierre-Jean Chabot, percussionist Mathias Vaguenez and vocalist Leïla Bounous brought together their wide range of ethnic backgrounds (French, Algeria, Arabic and Middle Eastern) for a mutli-layered electronic back beat of rhythms.

Overall, Festival International was an amazing, free opportunity to see music from across the globe and experience the musical bridge between cultures.

An especially important item to buy at Festival International is a pin. Each year, two designs of pins are made (one blinking, one not) and all festival patrons are encouraged to buy one as a way to keep the festival free. Although the price went up to $10 this year, it’s still quite a bargain.