I am seated on a ping pong table in a small lost village in the Southwest of France, my laptop on top of my knees. A few meters away from me, a band of happy dudes from Romania are playing music, drinking beer and enjoying themselves. Later in the evening, I will join them, and then we will most probably be joined by other people from Spain, Brazil or Palestine. I feel so grateful for all these meetings right now.
I am currently at the international folklore festival of Montignac.
It all started when I was six. My France-trotters of parents had decided they wanted my brother and I to travel around the country and visit a different region every year. For our second regional trip, we went to the French Périgord, a delightedly green area in the Southwest, full of medieval castles, prehistoric caves and welcoming locals. But at the end of our stay, while we were supposed to leave and not come back, I told my parents – actually, I cried them a river – that this was my paradise on Earth, and that I was coming back no matter what.
To their credit, we did come back the year after. And the year after that, and so on. It has been more than twelve years now. I grew up with this certainty that no matter how bored and unhappy I would get during a full year at school, there would always be this parachute, those two weeks in earthly heaven that would make me forget everything but the very definition of happiness.
I was ready to welcome anything related to that place, to say the least. That is why two years after, when we discovered the international folklore festival of Montignac, a little town nearby, the dice had already been loaded so that I welcomed it with open arms. Quickly, this festival became such a tradition that I could not imagine missing it.
First, one needs to imagine what Montignac is. This small village in only inhabited by 3000 people, most of whom stopped working, which doesn’t stop it from being a dynamic place whose cultural offerings are much wider than in many other largest towns. Besides its pittoresque cuteness and awesome inhabitants, Montignac, ‘Monti’, has two richnesses: the cave of Lascaux, the most well-known prehistoric cave in the world, and its festival. Every summer, during a week, this place no one has ever heard about before turns itself into a center of the world. Every year, folklore groups from ten different countries come to town to demonstrate their arts, in a week full of talent, music, dancing, and multiculturalism. Around every two years, two people who met there get married, and the awesome president of the festival never stops reminding people that this event is about peace, sharing, and welcoming the ‘youth of the world’.
For years now, I have seen the festival as a tourist, stuck in a public like one another. Then, in 2015, I called its director to ask for an interview for the newspaper I was working for at the time. Not only did he say yes, but he also proposed me a spot as a journalist for the festival’s gazette. I haven’t left it ever since. For the first time, I spent a week interviewing people, getting closer to artists, musicians and dancers from countries I didn’t even know existed, and it was wonderful. I remember a lot of work and tears for that period, but it paved the way for what was to follow. I am writing the festival’s newspaper for the fourth year in a row, and this year, I also became a guide for a Romanian group.
Being a volunteer, I discovered that instead of one festival, there really were two: the official one, where a show would take place every evening on a stage and the groups would make shorter performances during the day; and the ‘off’ one, even better: parties at night, mixing up people from all the countries invited, meetings backstage, deep conversations, Facebook friend requests and a team that works together. Behind the artistic performance, this festival has a whole spirit and is all about the people themselves. The leader of the Romanian group told me yesterday that coming to France cost them a lot of money; ‘But the President of this festival is a very good friend of mine. When he asks us to come, we come’, he said plainly.
// The Romanian group parading in the streets; here, on the bridge //
I have many wonderful and cherished memories from the ten years that I have spent looking forward to the festival every summer. I have lived things as extraordinary as learning a few moves of salsa by the Colombian World Champions. In 2014, I witnessed a Mongol singer interpreting, in French, the universally-known ‘La vie en rose’ by French artist Edith Piaf. He probably could not understand anything he was saying, but hearing this was wonderfully moving. I also still have melodies from the United States and Japanese taikos stuck in my head. I will never forget the image of these two musicians, from Spain and Scotland, symbolically swapping their pipes, and I receive regularly news from my Georgian, Ecuadorian or Irish friends, met at this festival.
To me, it has been nothing less than life-changing. When I was younger, I thought about working in astronomy or history, before eventually applying for a degree in international relations and social sciences. I cannot imagine myself in any other kind of studies now, and I owe it partly to the festival of Montignac. Wouldn’t it have shown me how much I valued multiculturalism, meeting people from the whole world, culture itself and traveling, I wouldn’t have been that sure of my choice.
There is something wonderful in the way that every year, this youth of the world gathers in this little village of 3000 inhabitants. They then leave with an image of France shaped by Montignac, as much as we stay with the idea they gave us of their country. However, when I talk about the festival around me, I can be sure I’ll always have a few negative reactions, of people telling me that we should let these traditions from another age die for good. In France especially, when one says ‘folklore’, one often thinks about old men and ladies in dusty traditional costumes, boring steps and music and lack of modernity. I would be glad to welcome those people at this festival. Most of the other countries have a completely different approach of folklore than us; many of the groups come from universities and have modernized their traditions while remaining faithful to their core. This leads to an explosive mix of energy and tribute to their culture that unites generations and links those people’s past to their present. For many of them, music and dancing are also a way to express themselves politically: recently, in Honduras, to protest against the regime’s policy, people filmed themselves dancing in the very particular Honduran way, so as to show that nothing could steal their joy and identity away from them; and this year, the festival welcomed a Palestinian group, whose opportunity it was to exist as a people, away from the conflicts that torn Middle East apart.
At the heart of the festival is a delightful paradox: by keeping alive those traditions that come from an age without any globalization, these artists pave the way for even more positive sharing with people from all over the world. I call it an open-minded nationalism, and every year reinforces the happiness and confidence towards the future that I feel thanks to it.
// 1300 people are waiting for the final performance at the Terrasse de l’Amitié //