The krewe linking New Orleans and Haitian Creole culture gave members and fans a more intimate experience with Haitian musicians than initially planned.

krewe du kanaval ball photo with win butler of arcade fire by steven hatley for my spilt milk
Win Butler of Arcade Fire at the Krewe du Kanaval Ball at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre, by Steven Hatley

On Valentine’s Day, the third annual Kanaval Ball took place at Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, and it presented a krewe learning to grow. The first Krewe du Kanaval Ball in 2018 took place at One Eyed Jacks with co-founder and Arcade Fire member Win Butler performing under his DJ name, DJ Windows 98. Last year, the ball moved to the Civic, where Boukman Eksperyans and Diplo and Jillionaire of Major Lazer topped the bill. 

This year, Kanaval moved to the Mahalia Jackson Theater, where Arcade Fire and Preservation Hall Jazz Band headlined the party, which also included performances by Michael Brun, Jillionaire, Lakou Mizik, Pierre Kwenders, and an assortment of Haitian inspired dance acts. Those acts are central to the krewe, which celebrates the cultural connections between New Orleans and Haiti. Preservation Hall’s Ben Jaffe, Win Butler, and his wife Régine Chassagne founded Kanaval, in part because of Chassagne’s parents’ Haitian roots. 

When krewe members paraded at the end of this year’s Krewe of Freret parade, they were led by Haitian drummers and dancers, and made explicit the connection between Mardi Gras and Haitian Carnival with signs that linked the two, including one that announced, “Haitian Revolution, New Orleans Evolution.” But at the ball, the Haitian component got the short shrift because of the weather. The first hours at the theater were to take place outside and in the lobby, but inclement weather forced everybody inside, where fans and the krewe members found themselves packed tightly around the Haitian acts. Some found it intimate, but for others it was simply cramped. It certainly seemed like some of the Haitian component belonged on the Mahalia Jackson stage, where only Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Arcade Fire played sets. 

The show was Arcade Fire’s first since 2018 and the end of the “Everything Now” tour, and the band didn’t show signs of ring rust. The band’s well-meant sincerity is one of its strengths, and it comes through most clearly in concert. When it closed with “Wake Up” joined by Preservation Hall and all the dance groups, the moment felt like the definition of the Kanaval spirit. 

“Krewe du Kanaval was created to honor New Orleans’ Creole culture with its Haitian and Caribbean roots—a piece of this city's history that is very important to me,” said Chassagne. “Our krewe hopes to join the amazing people of New Orleans carrying this torch and carve a place in the Carnival tradition to explicitly pay tribute to these roots.”