Radio Sandwell African / Caribbean News

Haitian musicians say they're barred from carnival

2013-02-10 22:46:19

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- At least three Haitian bands said Saturday that they are being kept from performing at Carnival and that they suspect it's because President Michel Martelly's administration considers their songs critical of the government.

Such a decision would be seen as ironic by many since Martelly himself used to openly mock earlier Haitian governments in his previous career as a musician named "Sweet Micky." His performances during Carnival were legendary for him criticizing authorities, mooning audiences and dressing in drag.

Haitian musicians have long used Carnival as an outlet to air frustration from the streets in this impoverished country. Lyrics often implicate the government as the source of that grief even if officials aren't specifically named.

"These songs reflect the Haitian reality, but (Martelly) takes it the wrong way," said Thomas Asabath, manager of the band Brothers Posse, which was rejected from the Carnival lineup. "Where's the freedom of speech? Where's the democracy? It shows that he has no tolerance" for criticism.

The group's song "Aloral" blasts the government for failing to fulfill five initiatives that focus on education, the environment, rule of law, energy and employment. A video for the song shows a suit-clad man with a bald head, like Martelly, dancing on a desk and thrusting his pelvis.

"If you can't deliver, leave," said band member, Don Kato, who sings the song.

In a radio interview with Scoop FM, Martelly said Brothers Posse was cut because its song didn't meet the criteria of creating "ambiance" or promoting a "positive image" of Haiti.

"We're organizing a party, not a protest," Martelly said.

He said he told the Carnival committee to view videos of the bands and listen to their songs after the panel released the official performance lineup, which originally included Brothers Posse.

Brothers Posse wasn't on the committee's final list of 15 bands that will begin performing Sunday in the northern seaside city of Cap-Haitien. The street party lasts for three days.

The Carnival committee's president, Gilbert Bailly, couldn't be reached for comment Saturday.

Richard Morse, singer for the band RAM, said his group felt it got the runaround from the Carnival committee while trying for a performance slot. In the end, he said, the band was offered a payment that would have yielded a loss and the committee didn't offer lodging, transportation and meals as it did last year.

Morse said he had heard that Martelly didn't like the song that RAM wanted to perform. "People just assume the song is about him," the singer said.

RAM's song "Men Bwa W," which roughly translates as "Here's a beating," doesn't directly criticize the government but many Haitians interpret the lyrics that way. The band's video shows a woman who physically resembles first lady Sophia Martelly stuffing herself with food - a Haitian symbol for avarice and corruption.

Frederic Pierre-Louis of the band Kanpech said his group also was barred from performing. His song, "Nou Pap Ka Matel," calls on an unidentified entity to bring change.

"If you can't, you need to leave," Pierre-Louis sings.

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