Using their star power in the name of altruism, Régine Chassagne and Win Butler of Arcade Fire welcomed a sold-out crowd (and a few very special guests) to the Société des Arts Technologiques yesterday evening (February 19) in support of the KANPE Foundation. Co-founded by Chassagne, and with all proceeds of the evening going towards the establishment of financial autonomy in Haitian communities, KANAVAL KANPE was a taste of how fun a Haitian kanaval can be.
While the SAT's stark, industrial space wasn't the best choice of venue for something as lively as a kanaval, the KANPE volunteers tried their best to turn the space into a Haitian street; holiday lights and triangle streamers hung from the rafters, animal masks and colourful cloths decorated the walls, and kanaval dancers clad in bedazzled bras and blue and red skirts bounded around the venue, putting others' dance moves to shame. With the addition of a face-painting station near the back and a few people walking around selling masks, the stage was set for something truly fun. The crowd, however, didn't seem to get the memo.
With the promise of a performance by David Byrne and an appearance by actor Rainn Wilson weighing on the night, the crowd stood around stiff, holding their breath for "the big event." The event itself, however, wasn't about set times, and the show rolled out instead at a relaxed pace, starting at nine o'clock, and going till whenever they were done.
Opening the evening was musician/poet Saul Williams with a DJ set that last about an hour and a half. While the first hour was a great blend of hip-hop and bass-heavy spoken word, the last half came off as haphazard, and the crowd started to lose interest. It wasn't until he began playing "Someone Great" by LCD Soundsystem that everyone's ears piqued, setting off the cue for Win Butler (aka DJ Windows 98) to take over the DJ setup.
The kanaval dancers slowly took to the stage behind him, each performing their own mesmerizing solos as a duo of Haitian drummers played on, following Butler's lead. With Montreal-based singers Fwonte and Vox Sambou performing one after the other, the evening was turning into a relay of musicians; showcasing their talent for a brief moment before disappearing altogether.
Taking to the stage roughly two hours after the start of the show were hosts Régine Chassagne and Rainn Wilson. Briefly explaining that he met the members of Arcade Fire when he was hosting SNL and they were the show's musical guests, Wilson elaborated on the KANPE Foundation, its efforts and future goals, and thanking everyone who was present to support the event. Both Chassagne and Wilson then introduced the "queen" of the kanaval, Marjorie Villefranche, the executive director of Quebec foundation La Maison d'Haïti. The "king" was then announced as none other than David Byrne, who took to the stage wearing the same sash as Mme. Villefranche, the crowd yelling with joy. After a short speech, Chassagne then presented the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a New Orleans group who accompanied them on their last trip to Haiti. Knowing that all the key players of the evening had finally been introduced, the attendees loosened up and began to dance, swaying to the whims of the band as Butler and Wilson stood in the wings playing tambourine.
Eventually taking to the stage with a beer bottle (and using it as a cowbell), Win was followed shortly afterwards by Régine, Richard Reed Perry dressed in a gold mask and matching jacket, and of course, David Byrne. Launching first into Talking Heads track "Road to Nowhere" with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band backing them up, Byrne and co. moved gracefully through "Slippery People" and then "This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)," with Butler introducing it as one of his top five favourite songs of all time. Closing their short collaborative set with a cover of the Grateful Dead's "I Bid You Goodnight," all the musicians finally left the stage and made way for DJ Windows 98's closing set, the crowd still buzzing from the once-in-a-lifetime performance.