Life after disaster: Remembering the 2011 Jazz Fest-Haiti cultural exchange

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A report by David Stafford for The New Orleans Advocate.

The Cultural Exchange Pavilion was established at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell in 1996 to honor New Orleans’ cultural ancestry.

In 2011, the festival used the cultural exchange to recognize New Orleans’ sisterhood with Haiti the year after a massive earthquake struck the Caribbean country near its capital, Port-au-Prince. The earthquake killed more than 100,000 people and caused immense damage to the country’s infrastructure.

It came just five years after New Orleans’ own epic disaster, Hurricane Katrina.

Jazz Fest’s focus on Haiti went beyond a normal year’s Cultural Exchange. Musical headliners in 2011 included many Haitian artists, including Wyclef Jean and Emeline Michel.

Michel also performed with Drs. Michael White and Jean Montes under the name “Haitian-New Orleans Connection” in the Economy Hall Tent.

Jazz Fest that year featured traditional vodou drummers, Haitian cuisine at the Food Heritage Stage, master artisans visiting from Haiti in the Folklife Village, and a Haitian procession band parading alongside the city’s social aid and pleasure clubs and Mardi Gras Indians.

The recognition of Haiti in its time of need was poignant and meaningful. At that point, it was the largest celebration of Haitian culture since the earthquake.

Jazz Fest’s spotlight on Haiti in 2011 helped lift up the musicians, artists, dancers and chefs of our sister culture in the Caribbean.

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