Festival International de Louisiane
Lafayette’s 28th annual dance blowout, April 23-27, hopped!
By Jay Trachtenberg, 4:47PM, Tue. Apr. 29
The streets of Lafayette, Louisiana, a quaint college town, explode the last weekend of every April for Festival International de Louisiane, a free celebration of the music, arts, and food of the French-speaking world – Africa, Caribbean, Quebec. Austin was represented by Black Joe Lewis, Hard Proof Afrobeat, Gina Chavez, and the Preservation.
Unlike an increasing number of festivals that feature hugely popular mainstream pop/rock bands that draw intolerably large crowds, this remains a refreshingly regional event. That said, Festival International continues to experience growing pains and now arrives much more crowded than my first trek to Acadian two decades ago when it featured two stages and a children’s area.
The kid’s stage remains, but now there are five other outdoor stages that include a huge main venue that hosts primarily international bands. There are also block-long areas where international artisans exhibit and sell their wares. Special kudos to Lafayette’s NPR station, KRVS 88.7, for broadcasting live from the main stage throughout the weekend. That’s public service.
Proceedings kicked into gear Friday night. The Soul Express Brass Band, who just a few years ago were marching in the streets, now commanded a stage for their modern but funky take on traditional New Orleans street beats. Arriving from Austin where they performed intimate shows in KUTX’s Studio 1A (hosted by yours truly) and Flamingo Cantina later that night, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars filled the Festival’s main stage with tunes from their new album, Libation, a combination of reggae, highlife, and their country’s indigenous sounds.
Discovering Imam Baildi proved a real delight, the Greek band updating its country’s more traditional music with rock, pop, and electro flourishes. No trip to Louisiana is complete without a heavy dose of zydeco and veteran Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band certainly filled the bill. A third generation zydeco accordionist, the seasoned frontman put the Heritage Stage in a dancing mood. The evening ended with Malian Tuareg nomads Tinariwen casting a spell with trance-like desert blues.
Saturday’s fare began with Haitian band Belo mixing up various Caribbean styles. Two of Louisiana’s most renowned and seasoned groups, BeauSoleil with Michael Doucet and Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, treated their loyal fans to the best Cajun music on the planet. Even then, the night belonged to the Africans.
Baloji is an irrepressible Belgian singer and rapper with Congolese roots, who, with his L’Orchestre de la Katuba, mixes funk, soukous, soul, and hip-hop into an exotic party music. Brandishing chiming guitars that interweave with dance grooves, the band had the main stage in a frenzy. If that weren’t enough, the finale of Niger’s guitar ace, Bombino, applied icing on the cake.
After opening with acoustic guitar and hand drums, he plugged in his Stratocaster while the drummer took to his kit and the fireworks began in earnest. Bombino takes the Saharan desert trance groove to another level with his high octane, in-your-face, aural explosion. Catch him Saturday at Austin Psych Fest.