“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
This is a saying that is truly emblematic of New Orleans. You can take it in a negative sense (nothing ever changes around here), or you can perceive it positively: Change is inevitable but we still maintain.
Mardi Gras is no different.
In my lifetime, several of the old-line krewes stopped parading (Comus, Momus and more), but more have popped up to represent the changing demographics and mentality of our citizens: Bacchus, Orpheus, Endymion, Krewe du Vieux, Muses—even Chewbacchus.
No, these groups didn’t exist when I was growing up in New Orleans. Bacchus was created in response to the elitist attitude and membership of many of the older krewes. Krewe du Vieux evolved from the CAC’s Krewe of Clones and re-introduced broad and adult-themed satire back into Mardi Gras.
Now comes Krewe du Kanaval, a Haitian-themed co-creation of Win Butler and Régine Chassagne (the daughter of Haitian immigrants) of Arcade Fire, who have been New Orleans residents for some time now. It’s a joint effort with Ben Jaffe of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and his wife Jeanette. (Kanaval is the Haitian Creole word for carnival.)
The inaugural Krewe du Kanaval will take place on Tuesday, February 6, will leave Preservation Hall at 2 p.m., and will stop at Congo Square and One Eyed Jacks for block parties.
Preservation Hall had been hoping to launch a Krewe for some time, said Ben Jaffe. “For many years my wife, Jeanette and I have wanted to celebrate Mardi Gras in a unique way that reflected our reverence for the spiritual side of this unique holiday. We had wanted to do something in Congo Square that was inclusive and representative of modern New Orleans, of post-Katrina culture. Through Win and Régine, we discovered the deep cultural connections between Haiti and New Orleans and Krewe du Kanaval is our way of expressing the mutual love and respect for these two beautiful cultures.”
This brand-new krewe creation (the first in New Orleans in five years) has been criticized in some quarters as co-opting our culture in some ways, but I don’t see it that way.
It’s refreshing and appropriate that newcomers to the city see into the heart of what makes New Orleans beautiful and culturally unique, and then make it their own in a way that creates an even deeper meaning.
Here’s an example: In 1961, a 26-year-old musician from Pennsylvania (read into today’s jargon, an equivalent to today’s millennial) decided to put down roots in New Orleans after having been stationed in Fort Polk, Louisiana during his military service. He became entranced by the city’s traditional jazz culture and musicians and on a shoestring, created a small informal venue where the city’s trad jazz musicians could play and continue their music traditions. This was Allan Jaffe, one of the originators of Preservation Hall. Preservation Hall is about as ingrained now in New Orleans music as brass bands. It’s become part of the thread of the tapestry of our musical culture.
An “outsider” “co-opted” New Orleans culture, and look what happened. How beautiful and apropos that his son Ben is continuing his father’s mission in collaboration with others who love our music. Plus ça change…
Happy Mardi Gras!