Festival International de Louisiane, voted Best World Music Festival in our 2012 Readers' Choice Awards, will be held April 25-29 in beautiful downtown Lafayette, LA. As always, the festival is rooted in Francophone music from around the world, but also focuses on other cultures who have contributed to Louisiana's history. Tons of local bands join international folk, rock, and blues legends, but my favorite part of the festival is unquestionably the world music, and I agree with my readers that Festival International is far and away one of the best places to discover new global sounds that I've never heard before, and catch some of my favorite touring bands. For the full 2012 Festival International lineup, visit their website (they even have a cool mobile app that you can download to make your schedule), and make sure you don't miss these ten amazing bands and artists, just a sampling of some of the great world and roots music that's on offer at this year's Festival.
I've had the pleasure of seeing Seun Kuti, son of the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti, twice in concert, and let me promise you this: you do not want to miss your chance. The boisterous, soulful horn-laden Afrobeat of Egypt 80 (most members of which were in Fela's original band) will leave you dazzled, and Seun is a wildly talented frontman and performer in his own right. While you're at it, pick up their CD, From Africa With Fury: Rise, which made my 11 Best World Music CDs of 2011 list.
Bombino is the hottest artist to emerge from the Tuareg culture since Tinariwen introduced us to the sound of the electric desert blues a decade or so ago. The modernity of his wailing, bluesy guitar layered over the rich, pulsating traditional rhythms of the Tuareg people is something very worth experiencing.
I will be the first to admit that I'd seen the name "Beats Antique" a few times, but hadn't ever sought them out for a listen until they showed up on Festival International's schedule. Now that I've had a taste, though, via some YouTube videos and a few tracks purchased on iTunes, I'm crazy excited to see them live. Electronic punk meets traditional Middle Eastern and modern Arabic fusion? Put me down for some of that.
One of my favorite contemporary African musicians, Cheikh Lo blends mbalax (think Youssou N'Dour, who has, indeed, worked with Lo in the past) with soukous (Congolese Rumba) and reggae for a sound that is danceable and modern and, I think you'll agree once you've seen him, rather addictive.
Quick, what do you know about the music of Reunion Island? Not much? Well, it's about time that changed, don't you think? This tiny island, whose closest neighbor is Madagascar, has a really terrific traditional music scene, which is quite unlike anything you've ever heard or seen. Expect Sufi-style trance-inducing rhythms, African call-and-response singing, and a highly physical performance. It'll be great fun, that much is for sure.
Debo Band hails from Boston, but with an Ethiopian pedigree and plenty of African street cred. Eleven members strong, with horns, strings, accordion, and plenty of funky-bordering-on-psychedelic drum rhythms, this band is the toast of the world music scene these days (and, indeed, scored themselves a nomination for the World Music Trailblazer Award in our 2012 Readers' Choice Awards), and fans of African music and American funk should make a special point of checking them out.
Slavic Soul Party! also snagged a nomination for the World Music Trailblazer Award in our 2012 Readers' Choice Awards, and this Brooklyn-based outfit certainly lives up to the trailblazer moniker. Blending Balkan brass band music with Latin funk and gypsy grooves, they're big, they're loud, they're talented, and they're tons of fun.
Khaira Arby is one of the reigning divas of Malian Music. From both Berber and Sonhrai backgrounds, her sound is very much in the same desert blues vein as that of the aforementioned Bombino or Tinariwen, but her style has a distinctive maternal warmth and modern edge. Her live performances are captivating, so don't miss your chance to see her.
Ably representing the traditional Irish contingent this year is this nimble five-piece group. Their sound is clean and feisty, and they're a serious fan favorite among Irish trad geeks (like me), and any fan of acoustic string-based music (ahem, Cajun music lovers) should make sure to check them out.
Lafayette, LA is the central hub of Louisiana's Cajun culture. The Cajuns, for those who don't know, are descended from a group of French-Canadians from the Maritime provinces called Acadians, who were expelled from Canada by the British in 1755. Some made their way to Louisiana, where they were offered asylum, others laid low for awhile and resettled areas of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. There remains a close connection between these two cousin cultures. Vishten, from the Northern branch of the family, will surely dazzle the Lafayette crowd their outstanding fiddle-based music and traditional stepdancing, and their Southern cousins will undoubtedly embrace them with open arms. For the ethnomusicology geeks among us, give a good listen to Vishten's music, before or after one of the great Cajun bands that are playing the festival (try the Lost Bayou Ramblers or the Savoy Family Band, if you're stumped on where to start), and you can compare and contrast what changed and what stayed the same over generations of separation.