Days after Donald Trump was elected; three small butterflies fly into a second-floor room. One rests on a table, and the other two on a bed. A little girl, wearing green and white, runs to the butterflies, making a “yupee!” with her eyes. Her parents were also in the room and began to think to themselves about the three butterflies: that if they could speak, the things that these butterflies would say about the world that they have seen and the obstacles now placed before human beings.
In fact, no one knows the truth about neither myself nor you, let alone about Rock and Roll. “We know the culture war, but don’t know what it’s for… we have lived your southern strategy…”, #politics, sings Arcade Fire in “Culture War,” without letting us know what the instrumentation is about (it’s a mystery.) The same goes for their other songs. The way by which such lyrics come to a woman or a man is also a mystery, whether an angel cometh at night to whisper poetry to a chosen musician or not that at all. What we do know is that the “?” the beat, goes on, continues to, weirdly, answer many of our questions with real poise.
“City with no children”
I feel like I’ve been living in
A city with no children in it
A garden left for ruin by a millionaire inside of a private prison
In the beginning of what we now consider to be “civilization,” because of agriculture, there was the city. Agriculture allowed human beings to found strong settlements and for them to thrive. With settlement came the promise of better settlement and with it well known inventions: democracy but also theatre.
From it came Voltaire telling us folks to “cultivate our garden.” It is as obvious today but for the world of yesterday, it was not. Sometimes yesterday’s all powerful monsters, smirking ego, come knocking on today’s gate and we have what Arcade Fire sings about in “City with no children.”
A city with no children is a dead city, Arcade Fire seems to be telling us. Children seem to be a metaphor for hopeful spirit, and it’s what this Rock and Roll is about: take it from me and we’re dead.
The summer that I broke my arm
I waited for your letter
I have no feeling for you now
Now that I know you better
The song is hazy from its very beginning. The tragedy began when?! Is waiting for a letter tragic? It might be. We know not what we know when singing that we’re in a garden left for ruin.
I feel like I’ve been living in
A city with no children in it
A garden left for ruin by a millionaire inside
A private prison
Millionaire is also billionaire if this song is to be correct about our society’s ills. There are agents of our demise walking among us, profiting and not gardening as much as much less paid teachers for examples are. The question has an answer and its politics, but it’s also music. First we dance then we fight / first we fight than we dance, no wise person has ever told me but years of listening to music has hinted. Boy, aren’t we in a major mess if we don’t at least call out this person destroying our society’s childhood. Not to mention that actual children can be corrupted.
It’s any American city and its day. The streets are filled with cars zooming by and with pedestrians walking slowly. The city carries with it the myth that it is a capital of street culture, a harbor of graffiti and of youthful language. Here, Minerva, Roman goddess of craft, continues to reign though the “city within a city” tells others its patron is either the God of Beauty or of art. It’s only the case if the boys and girls who populate it live and love here: the infrastructure is not going to do it for you. It’s either ruin or happiness in this one life of ours.
“Haiti” / AHEO
In the forest we are hiding
Unmarked graves where flowers grow
Hear the soldiers angry yelling
In the river we will go
Tous les morts-nés forment une armée
Soon we will reclaim the earth
All the tears and all the bodies
Bring about our second birth
Because Arcade Fire’s Regine Chassagne is of Haitian origin, the band has mixed in Haiti music and themes into its rock and roll. The group has even composed a song “Haiti,” layering French and English into a pretty ambient and melodic love letter.
Tony Allen, Fela Kuti’s drummer, had the ingenious idea of forming an orchestra, AHEO, to combine Haitian music and West African music into an album, Afro Haitian Experimental Orchestra. It’s truly a brilliant album, like much of Arcade Fire’s Haiti Rock. “Yanvalou” is the album’s highlight – it is named after a slow, gorgeous, Vodou dance originally from Benin, practiced to give thanks to the earth.
Why was Regine Chassagne in Canada? Per 19th century Haitian writer Louis Joseph Janvier, by 1824, 20 years after Haiti’s independence, the sugar industry that had made fortunes in the France’s St. Domingue, the ex-Haiti, was practically dead. Per Haitian historian Alain Turnier, entire fields of coffee were left unharvested in 1827 because a lack of interest. Why? Haitian writer and politician (ex-Prime Minister of Haiti) Jean Jacques Honorat brings up these two observations and others in his book Enquete Sur Le Development to prove a point that Haiti’s economic problems began when the masses began to refuse to work. All or most had fought in the War of Independence but also some, the Generals, became large landowners. Inequality had set the country on a bad path. A garden was being left to ruin.
It is this ruin that landed Regine Chassagne in Canada; her family fled from a dictatorship, the sort of government that inequality and massive poverty can produce. Prejudice was also part of it: deep prejudice against darker skin Haitians, and other prejudices. Most contemporary Haitians are descendants of the Kongo (many of the slaves that descended from Dahomey and Nigeria were taken away by their masters to New Orleans amongst other cities after the end of the Haitian revolution.) The Kongo Empire that supplied the slaves who would become the future Haitians was in Central African. Though the Kongo, for the most part Bantu it seems (, a lot of African history is passed down orally,) are descendants of Nok civilization and so also originate from the Nigeria area, modern Nigeria, and Benin, once Dahomey, “Kongo” is a pejorative term in Haiti and many, if not most, Haitians rather consider themselves to be descendants of Benin than of the Kongolese Bantu.
Both Tony Allen’s AHEO and Arcade Fire chose to something about their experience with Haiti, whether if it was a rich tradition or having had to leave it. They chose to cultivate, even if far from home or an old home.
A garden left for ruin needs music. First we dance then we fight. First we fight then we dance. We don’t fight at all, we rather dance. Regardless of the scenario, a garden needs music, girls and boys.