PORT-AU-PRINCE — Carnival may be more than a month away, but that’s not stopping Haitians from launching the party early. A week after marking the fourth anniversary of Haiti’s tragic Jan.12, 2010, earthquake during which their singer-turned-president urged them to celebrate life, Haitians kicked off pre-carnival celebrations Sunday.
Jumping and dancing into the streets, they transformed a downtown public square that once housed tens of thousands of quake victims under tents, into a musical stage. Oversized floats, DJs and enthusiastic Rara bands took over the Champ de Mars in front of the razed presidential palace as part of the weekly carnival warm-ups that will take place between now and carnival weekend, March 2-4, in the city of Gonaives.
Like in the last two years, Haiti’s official carnival celebration will rotate this year outside of the capital. Carnival drums, however, were not the only rhythms playing Sunday in this quake-recovering capital. Uptown in Petionville, hundreds of jazz fanatics enjoyed the second day of the Port-au-Prince International Jazz Festival in the capital featuring Daniel Schenker Quartet of Switzerland, guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke from Benin and Haiti’s Réginald Policard. The musicians performed at the NH El Rancho hotel, one of several newly rebuilt and opened post-quake hotels in Haiti.
“In North America, there is just very sad press about Haiti, about poverty and despair, but no one is touching on the spirit of the people,” Canadian jazz artist Julie Michels said at a Sunday brunch hosted by Canada’s Embassy to welcome the jazz festival.