The smell of frying seafood and patchouli oil accompanied the sound of exotic music from around the world for the crowd of revelers Saturday afternoon at Festival International de Louisiane in downtown Lafayette.
The festival has become a mecca for musical pilgrims. Performers and fans the world over travel to southwest Louisiana to hear a mix of music unlike anything else in the world.
From the African jams of the Malian group Tinariwen, dressed in long tunics and turbans, to the French Canadian electronic/hip-hop group Radio Radio, sporting bow ties and fedoras, Festival lnternational has it all.
“It’s definitely warm compared to back home,” said Radio Radio’s Gabriel Malenfant, of New Brunswick, Canada. “Warm in terms of temperature and warm in terms of the people. The Lafayette festival atmosphere is just electric. There’s lots of characters in the street, and people dance and feel the music like they’ve listened to you their whole life.”
The band is currently promoting its newest album, “Ej Feel Zoo,” which came out in March, Malenfant said after a short set at The Chat Room, a smaller stage hidden inside the Lafayette Science Museum.
Malenfant said this is the band’s third time playing at the festival, and he hopes they’ll be back again in the future.
“Every year we’d love to come,” agreed bandmate Jacques Doucet, of Nova Scotia, “but it’s only every two years to make a rotation of the bands. It’s so much fun. We feel like we’re playing at home.
“We were talking with (festival programming director) Lisa Stafford and she said, ‘We’d like for you to come,’ ” Doucet continued. “So we put everything on hold and came for this. It’s just really fun. We started out on the small stage, and now we’re on the main stage. That progression is really important to us as well.”
The fans are just as happy to have them back as they are to be here, according to Lafayette native Michelle Lutgring.
“We have thoroughly enjoyed Debauche Russian Mafia Band and Radio Radio,” said Lutgring. “We met them; we took selfies with them. They were so awesome!”
After excitedly trying to guess the name of “Unchained Melody” being played on a nearby pan flute, Lutgring and friend Jason Thevis also shared a number of festival secrets, such as selfie wars, a contest to see who can get the most selfies with random people and their patented “vision chain.”
“Anytime we lose one another, we put our hands up like that,” she said, throwing her hand straight up in the air and flashing her hand.
The duo also said how lucky Lafayette is to have such a great festival available for free.
“It’s so much more than just the bands,” Thevis said. “The bands are amazing, but it’s the atmosphere. You come and there’s so much stuff to do.”
Equally impressed was a group of French travelers who were celebrating the recent marriage of a friend who recently moved to Lafayette.
“I live here. They came to visit me,” said Sylvain Michelle, motioning toward his friends Jeff Paris and Remy Belfort. “It was my wedding last week. It was festival season, so we did Jazz Fest in New Orleans, and we are here today. It’s kind of a panoramic of Louisiana culture.”
The group said it did not come to see any particular band but to experience the festival as a whole and enjoy the time spent there with friends.
“We came just to enjoy the fest,” Paris said. “You just need to enjoy the moment, you know? You go to a stage. You don’t know the band. You enjoy the moment. You leave and you don’t even know the name of the band. That’s it.”
Other noteworthy Saturday acts included: The Duhks, a Cajun-like French Canadian folk group; Bombino, a guitarist and singer from Niger whose finger work could make even the greats jealous; and Texas funk rocker Black Joe Lewis. Also playing were local favorites, such as the gypsy funk act Vagabond Swing and Cajun veterans Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys.