Haiti

Banned Haiti artist Don Kato weighs carnival invite

Carnival Queen Fabienne Francois dances at Carnival celebrations in Jacmel, Haiti, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. The Carnival spirit will take hold again this weekend in Jacmel as its annual parade snakes through the downtown of the coastal town in a warm up to Haiti’s National Carnival Feb. 15, 16 and 17, which returns to Port-au-Prince this year.
Carnival Queen Fabienne Francois dances at Carnival celebrations in Jacmel, Haiti, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. The Carnival spirit will take hold again this weekend in Jacmel as its annual parade snakes through the downtown of the coastal town in a warm up to Haiti’s National Carnival Feb. 15, 16 and 17, which returns to Port-au-Prince this year. AP

Don Kato, the lead singer of Brothers Posse, a popular Haitian group banned from the country’s last two national carnivals because of his lyrics bashing President Michel Martelly says he’s not sure if he will participate in the upcoming celebration despite an invitation from the country’s newly installed prime minister.

“It will be difficult for me as prime minister not to let Don Kato go out,” Prime Minister Evans Paul told the Miami Herald in an interview before his office made an official announcement via Twitter and in the Haitian media.

The no-strings attached invitation, as Paul tweeted, was one of his first acts as prime minister since being sworn-in last month.

Gregory Saba, the head of the National Carnival committee, which is organizing the three-day pre-Lenten celebration that finally returns to Port-au-Prince on Feb. 15, 16 and 17, confirmed that Kato “has officially been put on” as one of the 16 bands invited to perform their beat-throbbing Carnival méringues on floats moving through the crowd on the Champ de Mars in front of the grounds of the razed presidential palace.

“The PM told him and yesterday the committee invited him to a meeting and spoke to his manager,” Saba said Thursday.

Kato said he learned about the invitation in the media “like everyone else.”

“Up until now, I personally haven’t received any phone calls from the one who invited me, the prime minister,” he said. “It’s a political decision. The one who asked that we be put on the line-up, the prime minister, should sit down with us since we have been banned for the last several years.”

Kato says he doesn’t want any favors, but remains uncomfortable given that the initial invitation wasn’t from the committee, showing that the group was being asked to participate on his own merits and strength of its lyrics.

In Haiti, carnival songs have predicted the fate of governments and the lyrics are viewed as the social and political pulse of the country. In his former life as the singer, Sweet Micky, Martelly was known for his highly critical lyrics during carnival that bashed the government of the day.

But when Kato and other artists in 2013 came out with similar lyrics, they were banned. While Martelly said he wasn’t bothered by the lyrics, he hinted in a radio interview that Kato group’s carnival Aloral, which accused his government of being all talk, wasn’t consistent with the year's environmental theme and would not create the kind of ambiance his government was seeking.

This year, Kato’s song Bon Bò A is an open letter to the government asking, “which side are you on? The good or the bad?”

Kato said he doesn’t want to be used as a political tool and has reason to be uncomfortable. During its 2013 carnival performance in the northern city of Cap-Haitien, previously banned but reinstated Grammy-nominated band Boukman Eksperyans experienced sound problems while performing its critical song Piou Piout. The song accused the government of talking too much and letting Haitians down.

“I don’t trust them and am hesitant to come out. If something happens then they will say, see this is what we were trying to avoid these last three years,” he said.

Saba said the committee is ready to give Kato the assurances he wants.

“He is the one who is going to choose his sound people, his generator. He will choose everything if he wants,” Saba said.

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