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ARKIB : 06/08/2004

Acadian music charges crowd at French Celtic festival

LORIENT (France) Aug 5 - If measured by the audience's enthusiasm, Acadians ought to have their own country right away.

The joyous and dance-hungry crowd of several hundred didn't care if it was two in the morning, shouting out their demand for New Brunswick band La Viree to play yet another encore.

It was the Canadian group's fourth performance that day at the Interceltic Festival of Lorient in Brittany, western France, but La Viree was happy to oblige, laying into their violin, mandolin, guitar and drums as if they had only just started.

``Marvelous! Wonderful! This is the real French stuff,'' Breton native Olivier Le Bihan exclaimed as he took a breather in the packed and stifling Acadian hospitality tent to gulp down some beer.

In celebration of the 400th anniversary of the first permanent French settlement in North America, ``l'Acadie'' is the guest of honor at the festival, to introduce Acadian culture to a wider audience.

Though the event is much more than just Acadian music: there are bagpipers from the Scottish highlands, jig dancers from Ireland, Breton rock from Lorient as well as other Brittany communities and folk music from the Spanish region of Galicia.

Festival artistic director Jean-Pierre Pichard sees the annual 10-day gala as an opportunity for an ``exchange of cultures,'' for the 4,500 participants and more than 600,000 people expected here by the time it ends Sunday.

Every year the festival showcases one country or region. In 2003, it was Asturias in northwestern Spain, this year it moved beyond Europe for the first time to Acadie. Next year it's Ireland's turn.

As head of the National Society of Acadie and the 70-strong delegation in Lorient, 42-year-old Denis Laplante is in charge of promoting Acadian culture and the French language worldwide.

Some 300,000 Acadians in Canada live today throughout the four eastern provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

Laplante told AFP that in the face of the overwhelming domination of English - just half a percent of Newfoundland and Labrador's population of 500,000, for instance, is Francophone - ``it's almost a miracle that the Acadians still speak French today.''

``Every time a people loses its language, it loses its culture,'' he said.

Worldwide estimates put Acadian descendants at around three million, including places such as French Guiana and the Falkland Islands - ending up there after the English brutally expelled them in the mid 18th century in what is known as ``La Grande Derangement'' (The Big Upheaval).

But if you thought Acadian culture was disappearing, think again.

Just how vibrant it is was reflected at the Festival Interceltique in the foot-stomping rhythms of La Viree and Roland et les Waljacks, political messages from singer-songwriter Fayo and virtuoso fiddle performances by 17-year-old prodigy Dominique Dupuis.

Dupuis, an energetic and slight girl who like La Viree hails from New Brunswick, has hardly put her violin down since she was 10. At one of her shows, it appeared she was flirting with individual audience members - always smiling, catching their eye and encouraging them to clap louder.

``It's almost like a cat-and-mouse game. When you transfer some energy, well, then you can feel that energy coming back from the crowd, that's what gives you even more of a rush,'' she told AFP in an interview before picking up her fiddle for a one-on-one performance.

``You get an adrenaline rush just from hearing the crowd cheer and you want them to cheer even more. It's an incredible feeling.''

Many of the concerts are free of charge, notably the entire festival ``Off'' outside the many ``Celtibars'' in the city center.

Passing five cafes one evening, there was bluesy rock - in the Breton language, of course - from local band Terre Neuve, Franco-Irish folk group Kaerphilly, Quebecois trio La Baratte a Beurre, another Breton rock and gypsy music quartet called Caina and, for relaxation, a bagpipe group playing ``Amazing Grace.''

Marie Lannon, a 21-year-old vendor at a stand selling casual sportswear, skipped the hard cider and traditional crepe Breton on her way to the Acadian tent in favour of the ``Assiette Acadienne.''

Lobster, red peppers and mayonnaise on baguette, and a side of potato salad. Just the right amount of energy before she headed for the dance floor. - AFP

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