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Celtic meets Cajun at the 2010 24th annual Festival International de Louisiane

Posted by Sharon Armstrong on Tue, 04/20/2010 - 19:58

The city of Lafayette lies just about 125 miles west of New Orleans, on the banks of the Vermillion River. Originally founded as Vermillionville in 1821 by Jean Mouton, a French speaking Acadian, it was renamed for a General Lafayette in 1884, and is the center of Cajun Culture in Louisiana.

The Cajuns, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, are distinct ethnic group living in Louisiana who are descended from French-speaking exiles from what was once known as Acadia in Canada. The name Cajun is a corruption of Acadian, and the area of Acadia was made up of Nova Scotia, and parts of Quebec, the Maritime Provinces and modern day Maine.

The Acadians were evicted by the British Government in the mid 1700’s in what became known as the Le Grand Dérangement, or the Great Upheaval. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Many Acadians found their way down south to Louisiana where they flourished in the bayous and swamps, leading a mostly rural lifestyle in many ways similar to the one they had led in Canada. They have had a profound effect on the culture of southern Louisiana, and while they have intermarried with other numerous ethnic groups that make up the gumbo society of the Deep South, and survived various orchestrated efforts over the years to suppress their language and culture here in American, they have proudly retained their distinct identity - in cooking, in lifestyles and, very importantly, music.

Ask anyone in the Deep South what springs to mind when talking about Cajuns, and the two most likely subjects will be food, and music.

The Cajun reputation for joie de vivre is as big part of the culture of Louisiana as Blues music and Creole cooking.

And, man, do those Cajuns love a good party.

One of the biggest parties they throw is Festival International de Louisiane, a free 5-day festival which takes place in Downtown Lafayette during the last full week of April. This year is the Festival's 24 th anniversary, almost a quarter century of celebration.

The Festival International is designed to encourage, not just appreciation of Cajun Culture, but also understanding of cultural expression from all cultures. to that end the Festival has six music stages, food court areas, street musicians, cultural workshops, international cooking (which I am looking forward to loads) and arts and crafts boutiques.

This year they also have well known Irish band Lúnasa who will be playing on Saturday 24 April, and Sunday 25. Lúnasa, comprising of Sean Smyth, Kevin Crawford, Trevor Hutchinson, Cillian Vallely and Paul Meehan, will be joined on stage by Tony Davoren.

Formerly of Riverdance fame, Tony now resides in Lafayette, and is a founding member or the Cajun/Celtic fusion band Celjun, who will also be performing at the Festival. According to Tony Lúnasa and Celjun intend to bring something unexpected to the festival, the introduction of session-style music playing, as well more formal concert-style playing. According to Tony sessions are the driving force behind both Celtic and Cajun music.

“To me, sessions are the guts of Irish music,” said Tony. “It’s where you learn structure, and it is a fun environment rather than being in your room, going over phrases. Lúnasa are all good friends of mine, I met all them guys at sessions before they were a band. They like to talk, and I like to talk, and so we are just going to talk about stuff, and play tunes. The sessions are where it all comes from – for me, it’s the most important part. It’s real. It’s organic. It’s acoustic. It’s what got me into music. It’s kind of Lúnasa's introduction to the Festival and we are just going to cross-pollinate music. Anything could happen!”

With a line-up including music from South Africa, Belgium, Acadia, Brazil, Quebec, Ireland, France, the Ivory Coast, Cambodia, Manitoba, Mali, and the United States, what can I say except indeed.

Anything could happen!

And probably will!