Friday, March 7, 2014

Arcade Fire in Haiti: Out of The Suburbs, into the Carnival

Since the release of Arcade Fire's 2004 debut album "Funeral," which prominently featured the song "Haiti," it became evident that the Canadian band had influences from the Caribbean nation running through their veins, literally in the case of co-bandleader Regine Chassange, whose family had long ago fled the Jean-Claude Duvalier regime for the safety of Montreal.

But it wasn't until the new record "Reflektor" that their inspiration and passion for this country flourished from the artwork to the videos to the music itself.

When the band announced their participation in Jacmel's 2014 Carnival in late February -- known locally as Kanaval and one of the region's largest Mardis Gras celebrations -- I knew it was going to be a unique experience and the perfect place to watch them perform this new material. It reminded me of when Paul Simon's "Graceland" came out, that despite all the cultural appropriation controversy it generated, the music's geography was key to its transcendence as an art piece. Furthermore, it established an important cultural bridge that would later leave an open field for new artistic proposals.

A similar pattern took place when the contagious and powerful rara street music that exists in the air of Haiti drove Arcade Fire to step away from their "Suburbs" surroundings. The desire for this change became evident when they opened for Haitian favorites RAM back in 2012 at a Partners For Health benefit concert. The experience of playing their rock-oriented songs to this audience unfamiliar with the genre led them to create a record that they could play in Haiti and make the crowd dance.

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