Drums, horns, dancers, vocalists and colorful costumes will fill the French Quarter streets as the Krewe of Kanaval debuts on Tuesday, February 6. The procession, a joint venture between Ben and Jeanette Jaffe plus the Preservation Hall team and the group Arcade Fire’s Regine Chassagne and Win Butler, takes off from Preservation Hall at 2 p.m. and heads to Congo Square for further festivities. Kanaval, incidentally, is the Haitian kreyol spelling of carnival.
“What we want to express through this event is the important connection between New Orleans and Haiti,” explains Ben Jaffe. “It is one of the many important historical and cultural pieces of our city that is not always understood or celebrated, but it is a part of our life. It is a part of the food we eat, it is a part of the music we play, it’s part of many people’s spiritual being, it’s part of religion in New Orleans. The history between New Orleans and Haiti and New Orleans and Cuba and Cuba and Haiti is profound. Their history is as much our history as our history is their history.”
This multi-faceted celebration will be centered around free activities at Congo Square that include music by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Arcade Fire, the Haitian group RAM and several deejays—one coming in from the Congo and another French-African deejay arriving from Montreal.
Jaffe compares the way the Krewe du Kanaval came to be as similar to how the Society of St. Anne’s krewe, the Krewe du Vieux and even Tipitina’s emerged. “It was a group of people coming together with like-minded spiritual, musical and cultural interests and using that to expand their community,” he offers.
From Congo Square, a procession led by Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes will head to nearby St. Augustine Catholic Church for a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Slave. It will circle back to the Square before returning to the French Quarter to arrive at One Eyed Jacks, 615 Toulouse Street, for the krewe’s ticketed, nighttime ball. Music will include Haiti’s Grammy-winning, internationally renowned and politically and socially conscious group Boukman Eksperyans, which blends its traditional Haitian roots and instrumentation with the modern sounds of electric guitar and today’s styles.
Profits from the show and membership fees will benefit the Preservation Hall Foundation and KANPE, an organization founded by Chassagne, whose parents emigrated from Haiti. The money will be directed to underserved people in Haiti and New Orleans.
“It’s going to a very beautiful symbolic and physical form of our appreciation and love,” says Jaffe. “The people of New Orleans’ large Haitian community [primarily based on the West Bank] are so excited to have such a positive shine on their Carnival traditions.”