Krewe du Kanaval and Preservation Hall bring New Orleans and Haitian music to the Big Ears Festival

The Kanaval Krewe of New Orleans joined in a parade at the 2022 Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee.

La Krewe Du Kanaval brought the sights and sounds of New Orleans and Haiti to the streets and concert halls of Knoxville, Tennessee, the last weekend of March as part of the sold-out Big Ears Festival . Preservation Hall Jazz Band, 79rs Gang, Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses and Sporty’s Brass Band represented New Orleans while two Haitian groups, RAM and Lakou Mizik, came from Haiti.

The Big Ears Festival, which began in 2009, is a four-day event focused on cutting-edge music in multiple fields at various venues in downtown Knoxville. Krewe du Kanaval was launched in 2015 by Ben Jaffe, the creative director of Preservation Hall, two founding members of the rock band Arcade Fire: Win Butler and his wife Régine Chassagne, whose family is Haitian. After moving to New Orleans, Butler and Chassagne met Jaffe and invited Jaffe on a research trip to explore Haitian culture.

As Ben Jaffe said Dough magazine, “When we were there, Régine introduced me to the gentleman who had the group called RAM, Richard Morse. And immediately there was a brotherhood there. He’s doing very similar things in his community that are also being done in New Orleans, like what Preservation Hall is doing, just on a different scale and with different obstacles.

RAM had previously appeared at the New Orleans Jazzn and Heritage Festival in 1994 and 2011. The latter was when Haiti was the festival’s featured country and RAM members were in high demand. In addition to concerts, parades and an interview on the Allison Miner Musical Heritage Stage, the RAM held drumming sessions and voodoo ceremonies during the seven days of Jazz Fest. Morse, the leader of the group, feels a strong connection between Haiti and New Orleans. “They are twin sisters, separated at birth,” he said. In the years of the Haitian Revolution in the early 19th century, Haitians fled the island and immigrated to New Orleans where they doubled the city’s population in a short time. “But New Orleans was adopted and ended up with better instruments, trumpets and brass, so jazz grew in New Orleans,” Jaffe said. “Haiti has tin horn and lots of drums, but I believe jazz has Haitian rara at its roots.”

Morse’s father was a Latin American scholar and his mother a famous Haitian dancer/singer/educator. He grew up in the United States and joined his first band after college for almost 6 years. He spent time in New York City play in clubs like CBGBs. He only moved to Haiti after a friend encouraged him to find his ancestral roots. Her journey to explore the rhythms of Haitian folklore led to a life-changing experience that resulted in a permanent move. He learned Haitian Creole at age 28 and began working for and then acquiring a historic hotel, the Olfosson in Port-au-Prince. He revived the tradition of hosting weekly folk dance performances at the hotel and married the lead dancer of a dance group. In a documentary film, Morse’s wife, Lunise, summed up what came next: “We had two kids and formed a band.

RAM has since become a Premier rasin roots music group in Haiti. While Lunise was already a dancer, her lead vocal abilities cemented RAM’s sound. Now their son William, born while the band was forming, is the lead guitarist. RAM has released seven albums. They have refined a unique sound based on traditional rhythms and songs, often from voodoo ceremonies, which are reworked into new creations, sometimes with English lyrics.

Although they have a strong drumming contingent, it’s RAM’s electric guitar that brings a rock element to the mix. The appearance of one of their first songs in the soundtrack of the Tom Hanks film philadelphia cream (1993) raised the profile of the group early on. Since then, they’ve had some great music videos that give an idea of ​​the band’s presence in Haiti, whether it’s in Oloffson or in the streets.

When Haitian life isn’t turned upside down, as it unfortunately is now, RAM performs weekly at the Oloffson. RAM has always faced enormous challenges given the difficult political situation in Haiti. But the band continues to record, perform and tour the United States despite obstacles at home.

The Kanaval Krewe was formed after this first trip in 2015. In 2018, The Kanaval Krewe launched a annual Mardi Gras parade and carnival ball in New Orleans and, in turn, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band traveled to Haiti to perform as part of Fèt Gede, a The day of the Dead festival. On repeated visits, members of Preservation Hall have come to realize their own ancestral ties to Haiti. Covid has largely suspended special events since the start of 2020, but recently they have started up again.

Last October, Krewe du Kanaval brought RAM to the Broadside in New Orleans for a Gede celebration and RAM did a short US Gede tour. While in New Orleans, a RAM spin-off ensemble called Imamou recorded at the Preservation Hall studio. Morse is especially grateful for the support that Jaffe, Preservation Hall and the Krewe du Kanaval have given the group over the past few years, which has also included school residences in Lafayette, Louisiana, and Asheville, North Carolina.

Just days before the Big Ears Festival, RAM and Preservation Hall took part in a special free Kanaval Ball at the Fillmore in Philadelphia, sponsored by local radio station WXPN. The station previously premiered a two-hour special, Kanaval: Haitian rhythms and music from New Orleans, which was made available to NPR stations and for online access. Hosted by Leyla McCalla, the program features the music of RAM among many other Haitian bands.

In Knoxville, Krewe Du Kanaval was featured in a night of appearances at the Tennessee Amphitheater. The group joined in an afternoon parade with the local giant puppet group, the Cattywampus Puppet Council, followed by a free outdoor street party and evening of performances at the Windmill and the mine.

Indeed, the Festival des Grandes Oreilles this year had a distinctive Haitian focus in addition to the involvement of the Krewe du Kanaval. Leyla McCalla, from New Orleans, presented two concerts, one focusing on her new album, Break the thermometer. Slated for a May 6 release on ANTI Records, the tracks are taken from a theatrical presentation based on the archives of Radio Haiti at Duke University. Additionally, Haitian American flautist and composer Nathalie Joachim, Grammy winner for her debut album Ayiti fandom was also featured in two very different sets. Additionally, there was a beautiful set from jazz drummer Ches Smith’s band, We All Break, which emphasized a fusion of jazz and voodoo traditions.

Public interviews were conducted by renowned Haitian scholar Laurent Dubois with McCalla and Nathalie Joachim one morning and Jaffe and Morse the next. Dubois noted that the work between RAM and Preservation Hall “activates deep, deep-rooted connections…and makes explicit connections that have been implicit,”

After great experiences in Knoxville and Philadelphia, Krewe du Kanaval will grow into an independent civic organization based here in New Orleans with expanded community engagement throughout the year beyond carnival season and nationwide. said Jaffe.

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