Largest Francophone festival in the world returns to Washington

Washington is welcoming the largest celebration of French culture and language in the world -- the Francophonie Cultural Festival.

Natalie Plumb, special to

WASHINGTON – With 220 million French speakers worldwide, French advocates think the language and its culture deserve a toast.

The largest celebration of French culture and language in the world — the Francophonie Cultural Festival — is returning to the Washington area March 1 through April 13. Organized by the D.C. Francophonie Committee, the 13th annual D.C. festival includes six weeks of music, dance, cuisine, theater, film and demonstrations from Francophone performers throughout the world.

The word “Francophonie” references French-speaking communities or countries. Countries range from Lebanon to Romania, Djibouti and Mali. “Francophone” means French-speaking.

There are 75 member states and governments within the International Organization of La Francophonie, making up one of the largest linguistic zones in the world and more than one-third of United Nations members.

Organizers say events such as literary salons, concerts, culinary samplings and children’s workshops help teach the D.C. community about French culture.

“This is an opportunity to explore the French-speaking world and to understand how vast it is,” says festival spokeswoman Deb Fiscella. “It includes Africa, Asia, the Middle East and more.”

In 2012, the festival’s events attracted more than 8,000 people. At each festival, artists from French-speaking countries are invited to perform in venues throughout the Washington area, including the Smithsonian museums, embassies, Lycee Rochambeau — a local bilingual French and English private high school — and theaters like the Avalon Theatre.

Jennifer Pietropaoli, spokeswoman for the Alliance Francaise — one of the collaborating organizations presenting the Francophonie Cultural Festival — says this year’s festival has a wide selection of Francophone countries.

“It’s one of the most varied collection of events we’ve had,” she says.

This year’s performers and events are hosted by Lebanon, Senegal, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Haiti, Mali, France, Djibouti, Quebec and the Republic of Cameroon.

On April 12, singer-songwriter Kaissa will change the dynamic of the Smithsonian African Art Museum, blending African and Western musical styles. A Cameroon vocalist raised in Paris, she has worked with artists including Paul Simon and Diana Ross.

Other upcoming events include a lecture by Haitian author Franketienne, who specializes in the relationship between Creole and French, a presentation and tasting with Quebec’s beer sommelier Sylvain Bouchard, a solo performance of Moliere’s “Dom Juan” — the French version of the Spanish “Don Juan” — several children and adult award-winning film screenings and more.

On March 22, the festival held a sold-out Grande Fete, or “Big Party,” at the French Embassy. The gala had about 1,700 guests, and showcased more than 40 embassies’ foods and traditions, according to Fiscella.

Pietropaoli attended the festival and the Grande Fete for the first time this year.

“The Grande Fete was incredible — chaotic, but incredible,” Pietropaoli says. “It was really wonderful to see so many passionate people coming together to share their culture, mostly through cuisine.”

For a full schedule, tickets and information, visit the Francophonie Cultural Festival’s website.

In addition to the countries listed above, the Francophonie Cultural Festival is presented in collaboration with the D.C. Francophonie Committee, the Smithsonian Associates, Alliance Francaise, La Maison Francaise and the French-American Cultural Foundation.

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