Post-Game: The Sights & Sounds of Haiti Kanaval

March 9, 2011

Words by Erin MacLeod and Etienne Côté-Paluck


It’s Mardi Gras, but Haiti’s been partying for quite sometime. From mid-January, every Sunday there have been pre-Carnival—or Kanaval—parades. Marching bands take to the streets and folks don costumes in a series of what could be called dress rehearsals for the big show this week. Kanaval in Haiti was apparently smaller than it has been in past years, but its very staging is what’ss significant. In the aftermath of earthquake-caused devastation, it didn’t even occur in 2010 and the Champ de Mars, a traditional destination for carnival parades in Port au Prince, is currently jammed with tents.

To get some insight on the sounds of Kanaval, LargeUp chatted with Haitian correspondent Etienne Côté-Paluck as he prepared to take part in last week’s Jacmel carnival. Witness the scale of the celebration in this clip (watch after the jump)

As Côté-Paluck explains, “There are no real boundaries for Haitian carnival music.” As see in the video there are marching bands. “There are traditional rara bands and les bands à pied (literally “bands on foot”),” he said. “They play their own music—but it’s all very fast. Carnival music in Haiti is close to carnival music in other Caribbean nations—it’s 160-180 bpm most of the time. It’s not soca, but you can see it’s like that a bit because of the rapid rhythm it has. It’s traditionally based on tamtams and some horns that are used. The lyrics are usually about bringing people together.”

But apart from the marching bands, like other Caribbean islands, Haiti also has acts that create songs for the season. For instance, Boukman Eksperyans is a band that’s been a mainstay of Haitian music and carnival for many, many years. Here’s a classic example from 1990, entitled “Ke’m pa Sote”:

A tune called “Kan’n Apa” is this year’s Kanaval entry from the band. “They are doing a song that encourages people to work together. It promotes unity,” Côté-Paluck describes, “During the present political campaign it’s refreshing to hear someone say: ‘I’m not walking with anyone, I am walking with everyone.’ “

But there are some new Kanaval styles: “You can also see rap artists doing carnival music in the last five to ten years. There have been a couple huge hits with carnival songs, doing fast songs, sometimes doubletime—parts of the song fast and parts of the song slower. The most famous hiphop act in Haiti, Barikad Crew, in 2008 did a song that’s still a huge, huge hit. It’s called ‘Toup Pou Yo’, and it’s an example of a double beat that just gets faster.”

For a 2011 kreyol hiphop Kanaval option, check Rockfam’s “Ca Va”: