Arcade Fire’s Win Butler promised Reflektor would sound like a mix of “Studio 54 and Haitian Vodou,” prompting calls of cultural appropriation. Now, he co-owns a Haitian restaurant and fuses American pop and Haitian konpa as DJ Windows 98. Haitian music nerd David Henderson traces Butler’s Haiti obsession back to its source. Here’s an excerpt. For the complete article follow the link to the original report.
A black Pioneer DJ mixer rests atop a wooden altar that’s carved intricately, displaying a Haitian countryside scene. Behind hangs a framed Haitian tapestry, featuring two mermaid-like creatures. Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler fiddles with the wires jutting out from the mixer. He’s wearing a black trench coat, and a wide-brimmed black hat. He stares down, his identity hidden. Not that it matters – there are only seven people in the bar, Ti-Agrikol in Montreal, and it’s not clear that any of them know the long-legged Texan scheduled to DJ tonight has headlined Glastonbury, won a Grammy, and performed with David Bowie.
Butler surveys his creation. He looks a bit disappointed that the space is almost completely empty, but he’s in good spirits anyway. He slips behind the bar to chat with three members of his staff. Then, he disappears, even though his set as DJ Windows 98 was supposed to start 15 minutes ago.
Butler returns, and the crowd has shrunk. He fidgets with the mixer some more, then sneaks into the courtyard out back, where leftover metal garbage cans pierced to look like Haitian metal art sit among discarded tarps and soggy planks of wood. The cans once surrounded Butler’s bandmate and wife, Régine Chassagne, while she belted her lines to ‘It’s Never Over’ across seas of adoring fans at arenas around the world. At the time, the cans looked gorgeous, but compared to the massive metal display of serpents and roosters and bearded men adorning the back wall of Ti-Agrikol’s courtyard, they now look like a cheap imitation.
It doesn’t matter that Butler is slouched outside among the Haitian metal art and discarded Reflektor tour supplies as the sun goes down and the smell of Haitian chicken sneaks out of the restaurant next door. He isn’t hired entertainment – he’s Ti-Agrikol’s part-owner. His bar is a beacon of Caribbean cool in frigid Montreal. The cocktails are $8, citron-heavy, and delicious. When Butler finally starts his set, more than an hour late, he simply clicks play on a track on his laptop and leaves the DJ mixer for the bar. He seems afraid to draw attention to himself.
But then he settles in, as does the small crowd. The transitions are abrupt at times, gorgeous at others, like when Butler fuses ‘Sexual Healing’ and an instrumental Haitian konpa track. He bobs and sways behind his silver Macbook – it’s Apple sign obscured by a photo of the citadel, a massive stone fortress built among the forested mountains of northern Haiti.
The singer’s obsession with Haitian music, art, and the culture of Kanaval (the Haitian word for carnival) can come off as strange, or worse – as a cynical ploy to recycle the music and culture of the world’s first black republic to make his Montreal bar, and his indie rock band, that much more interesting. Yet, Butler’s love for Haitian music is genuine, and, to me, his bar seems less a trophy case or a money grab than an attempt to distill one perfect night in Jacmel, Haiti, into a dynamic, liveable space.
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