Festival International focuses on highlighting the multi-ethnic melting pot of southwestern Louisianan
By Jacob Morrow-SpitzerIn a region where the dominant culture can be traced to ethnicities from around the globe, it seems only fitting that an international-themed music and arts festival would thrive. Since 1987, the Festival International de Louisiane in Lafayette, Louisiana – the urban center of the Acadiana region of the state – has been an annually dominant force in the celebration of the region’s cultural heritage, attracting artists of multifarious backgrounds from over 20 countries around the world to achieve its aim of “enrich[ing] the community with a celebration of its native cultures through performing arts.” The five-day, donation-based festival attracts nearly 300,000 attendees each year, crowning it the largest international music and arts festival in the United States.
Festival International focuses on highlighting the multi-ethnic melting pot of southwestern Louisianan culture while educating the general public of the history of region’s people. This history, however, begins far away from Lafayette in the southeastern region of Canada and northern Maine, where a
group of French natives settled in 1604 and called themselves “Acadiens” or “Cadiens” – a world that over time evolved to “Cajun.” After refusing to support the British Crown, the group was expelled from the area in 1755 and packed onto ships back to France, where nearly half of the 15,000-person population died from smallpox and cold temperatures. Soon after, the Acadians would petition to the Spanish government to resettle them in the newly acquired Spanish Louisiana. The year 1785 saw 1,600 Acadians relocated to the swampland at nearly the same time as a broader French-speaking immigration wave occurred in the region, joining Caribbean and African slaves, free blacks, native tribes and other American and European whites. Over multiple generations, these diverse heritages began to fuse into a new, mixed culture of people with unique musical sounds. Cajun and Creole music, known as zydeco, incorporates many of the sounds of these various cultures, often times including accordion, guitar and violin.
In 1985, city officials in Lafayette planned to celebrate this historic and cultural diversity while simultaneously revitalizing the city’s struggling downtown district in the midst of an economic downturn in the rural communities of the state. This unique and daring experiment attempting to create an international heritage festival soon manifested a major success: not only has Lafayette seen a considerable turn around (its population has risen steadily since the 1990s, nearing 125,000 residents now), but the Festival International was also a major hit. Since its opening years, the festival has drawn in artists from various Francophone regions of the globe; mixing both local and international acts, the festival frequently has artist representation from Senegal, West Africa, Canada, France and many more. Street performances and food are also spread into the arts scene, allowing for constant entertainment and demonstration of the plethora of cultures at the event. Due to the bi-lingual nature of the festival, much of the live coverage is orchestrated to the public in both England and French.
This year, the 31st anniversary of the Festival International de Louisiane takes place from April 26-30 and includes headliners such as Balkan Beat Box (Israel), Ginkoa (U.S.-France), Mokoomba (Zimbabwe), GIVERS (Louisiana), and GuGu Drum Group (China). The event will feature customary zydeco, Cajun and creole music in addition to a range of diverse sounds from various regions and heritages. Per tradition, the family-friendly festival will open with French immersion school students parading the flags of the participating countries through the revitalized downtown streets of Lafayette, ending on the main stage of the festival. To find out more about the event, visit the Festival International de Louisiane website at www.festivalinternational.org.