Soon we will reclaim the earth
All the tears and all the bodies
Bring about our second birth
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Brilliant white beaches, sparkling azure waters, pristine reefs and sweeping mountains – but the island isn't known for the natural beauty that should make it a top tourist destination. Instead, Haiti is known for its abject poverty and bloody political history.
From 1957 until 1971, François Duvalier ruled the small Caribbean nation of Haiti using a rural militia and specific voodoo practices. During this totalitarian regime marked by violence, many Haitians fled their homes on the western portion of the Hispaniola island, most seeking a better life on the North American continent. Two of these immigrants ended up in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Their daughter, Régine Chassagne, grew up to be a multi-instrumentalist and founding member of the band Arcade Fire.
Port-au-Prince in Haiti
Photo: Diego Tirira, via Flickr, CC 2.0
Although born and raised in Canada, Chassagne never forgot her Haitian roots, a fact evident on the band's début album, Funeral
released in 2004, in the song aptly titled "Haiti." The lyrics are sung in both French and English and detail some of the hardships endured by those living under Duvalier's dictatorship, including a reference to her relatives that still live on the island. In recent times, Haiti has been making international headlines for political and environmental reasons. Thanks in part to pressure from the US government, general elections were scheduled for January 2010, but were delayed due to a powerful earthquake on 12 January 2010 that devastated the already struggling nation.
In the wake of this catastrophe, the Haitian government estimates that more than 300,000 people lost their lives, while the destruction of severely strained infrastructure left almost two million people homeless. Amidst violence directed at UN peace-keeping forces suspected of introducing cholera to the crippled nation, Haitians went to the polls. After a long run-off, Michel Martelly was eventually sworn in as the new president of Haiti in April 2011, and now faces the arduous task of putting Haiti back together after political and environmental turmoil.
A table full of Haitian delights
Arcade Fire's "Haiti" is the eighth track on Funeral
, a sombre début and tribute to several of the band's relatives who died during the recording of the album. "Haiti" has been described as an elegy for Chassagne's distraught homeland and is a nostalgic four minutes recounting Haiti's checkered history. "Haiti" is number typical of the indie genre blending elements of rock and folk into an atmospheric song with a melancholy tone made yet more poignant by the quintessential Caribbean steel-drum-like accompaniment to Chassagne's ethereal and lilting voice. The song seems oddly upbeat considering the lyrical contents mourning Haiti's political unrest, "Guns can't kill what soldiers can't see. In the forest we are hiding, unmarked graves where flowers grow." But perhaps this bears testament to the indomitable human spirit and that Haitians the world over will rise above the problems of the past to embrace a brighter future.Funeral
, defined by emotionally charged songs like "Haiti," is a powerful début from the Grammy winning indie band, solidifying Arcade Fire's reputation for honest and heartfelt music that unapologetically pursues musical and lyrical material that forces listeners from their comfort zone.Suzanne van Rooyen
February 12, 2013
Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. Although she has a Master's degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and The Other Me.
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