PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 10, CMC – Several carnival bands here are crying foul over what they allege are plans by the Michel Martelly administration to exclude them from this year’s carnival because of songs critical of the government.
Some bands say it is ironic that the president has allegedly censored them, because of their controversial lyrics, when, as a carnival performer,the President built a reputation as the king of carnival by denouncing governments, lampooning politicians and being “outrageously anti-establishment.”
“As young artists, we learned how to do this from him, watching him denounce government after government,” said Don Kato of the group Brothers Posse, claiming that his band is among those “disinvited” from the 15 bands to be featured on floats for this year’s carnival.
“It makes no sense that, as an artist, I can’t sing about the environment I am living in, and you want to sanction me because I’m not singing in favor of you,” Kato told reporters here. “We are not into politics, but we cannot sit quiet and not express the suffering our brothers and sisters are living in,” continued Kato of his reggae-fused song.
“What I am singing is what the people are saying,” he said. “They are not lies. So if he (Martelly) thinks I am against him, then the whole population is against him.”
But Martelly said it’s not automatic that an artist be chosen to perform during carnival, adding that Kato’s song “doesn’t bother me.”
He said the group’s carnival song – accusing his government of being all talk, is inconsistent with this year’s environmental theme and would not create the kind of ambience his government is seeking when it takes the annual three-day pre-Lenten cultural showcase, which begins Sunday, out of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Martelly said the aim is to boost the earthquake-ravaged, French-speaking Caribbean island’s tourism.
“It’s a party that’s being organized; it’s not a protest,” Martelly told local radio here. “The carnival is not like it was a long time ago. Before it was do as you like, take to the streets.”
He said the band lineup was selected by an 18-member carnival committee he appointed, adding that he personally chose three bands and only “intervened once” after the committee prematurely announced the lineup, which included Brothers Posse.
“I called the committee and I told them, ‘Careful, I would suggest you listen to the carnivals first,’ ” Martelly said.
Haiti roots band Kanpech also said it will not be on a float for the second year in a row, accusing the president for its omission.
“This isn’t being decided by a group of five or six people; it’s one person,” said Frederic “Fredo” Pierre Louis, the band’s lead singer.
But Carnival committee President Gilbert Bailly said bands “were chosen randomly” – something he hopes to change next year.