Kanaval 2018, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

If you turn on the radio in Haiti in the weeks leading up to Lent, you’ll be bombarded with calls for political and social change. The airwaves are filled with upbeat new party songs that musicians release for the Carnival season. Their lyrics hold up a mirror to society, mixing jabs at corrupt officials with calls for environmental protection and references to Haiti’s voodoo religious tradition.

But this year, there was no Carnival for the Carnival songs.

The past eight months have been marred by a series of anti-government protests over billions in missing funds related to the PetroCaribe agreement, an alliance between Venezuela and Caribbean countries including Haiti. People have been killed and dozens injured as demonstrators call for an independent probe into the money’s whereabouts and the ouster of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. In the wake of protests last month that shut down parts of Port-au-Prince for more than a week, officials canceled Carnival. It was set to take place this week.

The Carnival songs — always sharp — have been scathing this year.

“This is the first year where all the Carnival songs, or most of them, talk about the president himself,” says Carel Pedre, a well-known Haitian radio personality. “How he’s incompetent, how he’s a liar, how he’s making a bad move, how he’s not fit for the job.”

Pedre is the creator of PleziKanaval.com, a website that ranks Carnival songs in the weeks leading up to the biggest musical event of the year. It also features videos, artist interviews and an annual awards ceremony to honor the year’s top carnival songs. About 600 new songs were produced and submitted for airplay this year — several hundred fewer than in years past, but a healthy amount in light of recent unrest. Continue reading

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