A report by Doug MacCash for NOLA.
The first Krewe du Kanaval, a high-spirited Haitian-inspired marching parade, took place last year. The colorful, percussive procession was conceived by Tuba maestro and Preservation Hall artistic director Ben Jaffe and New Orleans’ resident husband and wife rockers Win Butler and Régine Chassagne of the band Arcade Fire.
Krewe du Kanaval is meant to symbolize New Orleans’ historical bond with Haiti, which is not celebrated nearly enough in the 21st century Crescent City, according to the parade founders. In the early 1800s a tide of immigrants fleeing a slave revolt in what is now Haiti doubled the population of New Orleans, leaving an indelible Caribbean mark for all time to come.
Chassagne, the daughter of Haitian immigrants to Canada, said she sees and feels evidence of Haitian influence everywhere in her adopted city.
The origin of the Krewe du Kanaval is twofold. Jaffe said that in past years he and members of the Preservation Hall band often visited Congo Square in Armstrong Park on Mardi Gras morning to pay respects to the progenitors of New Orleans music in a spot where slaves once drummed. It was the band members’ solemn jumping off point for the rest of the day of celebration.
In 2015 Chassagne brought Jaffe and members of the band to Haiti, where Carnival costuming and street parades are an age-old tradition. Chassagne, Butler and Jaffe were inspired to somehow connect the dots between the two historically related cultures in contemporary terms. By 2018 the trio and few hundred others were marching and dancing from Congo Square into the Treme in tribute to Haitian heritage.
The first Krewe du Kanaval (Kanaval is the Haitian translation of Carnival) took place on the Tuesday before Mardi Gras. But, at the request of the city, the 2019 event was moved to Feb. 22, eleven days before Fat Tuesday. Two other downtown marching parades, ‘tit Rex and Chewbacchus, were also given new dates in 2019, as the city attempts to better manage police security during the busy Carnival season.
Chassagne said she views Krewe du Kanaval as a procession with a more serious intent than other purely sensual Carnival parades. “The celebration and joy of it comes from a more spiritual place than throws and booze,” she said. The gathering of people of all backgrounds is the most important aspect of the event, she said.
The Krewe du Kanaval will gather at 2 p.m. in Congo Square for dancing, music and performances. The queen and king of Krewe du Kanaval 2019 will be incomparable chef Leah Chase and bounce pioneer DJ Jubilee. The festivities will continuing until sunset. The Kanaval procession will take place during that time, following an as yet undetermined route and duration.
Afterwards, the Kanaval Ball will take place at the Civic Theatre starting at 9 p.m.. The ball, which is a benefit for Haitian and New Orleans charities, will feature performances by members of Arcade Fire, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Haitian roots music master Boukman Eksperyans, DJ Michael Brun, Diplo and Jillionaire of Major Lazer.