Kanaval Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti by Leah Gordon

Soul Jazz Books

    Currently out of print

    “This book contains the most disturbing but exhilarating photographs you are ever likely to see" Bill Drummond

    Soul Jazz Records' new photography book release is a fascinating combination of stunning photographs (by Leah Gordon), cultural, historical and anthropological text (with essays by Madison Smartt Bell, Don Cosentino, Myron Beasley, Richard Fleming and Kathy Smith) and unique oral histories.

    Vodou, sex, death and revolution are key ingredients in the stunning themes and visual imagery of the street theatre of Kanaval in Jacmel, Haiti, where the men drag-up, wear diabolic cow horns, whip lassos and carry around dismembered doll parts. Light years away from the sanitized corporate-sponsored tourist parades of carnival throughout the world, this event is a vessel for everyday Haitians to shock and sexualize through masquerade, to mock local politicians, replay the slave revolt that gave birth to Haiti, the world’s first Black Republic, and to commune with the dead, with both personal and historical ancestors.

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    “After the devastation of the 2010 earthquake, Carnival was cancelled in Haiti — no one can remember the last time that happened,if ever. Thank the Lord and the Lwa that we have Leah Gordon’s astounding new book — which shows us all the beauty and awe

    of Haitian carnival and also teaches us, with its masterful photographs and prose, what that celebration means to Haiti and also to the human race.” Amy Wilentz (author of ‘The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier’)

    These photographs were taken in Haiti between 1995 -2009, the year before the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti. A percentage of the profit from this book will go to Ciné Institute, teaching video skills in Jacmel and Brand Aid, rebuilfding the artisanal community in Jacmel.

    “This book reveals a beautiful and strange worldJeremy Deller, Turner Prize Artist

    “This book is an adventure, full of horror, humour, sex, sensuality. The pictures have all the doubleness and capriciousness so typical of the Haitian psyche. Leah Gordon has been there again and again, year after year, digging almost forgotten details out, she has done her work. That’s what makes this book outstanding. Jorgen Leth, Filmmaker

    “This book contains the most disturbing but exhilarating photographs you are ever likely to see. One can only assume that Haiti is the most creative place on the globe. My advice is that you never go there in case you, in some small way, pollute their creativity with our bland western consumerist tastes. It is bad enough you are even holding the book. Buy it now and burn it before you have a chance to read it.” Bill Drummond

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    From Don Consentino's text (extract):

    "There’s a lot of weird shit going down during Kanaval in Jacmel, and not much of it has to do with Comus and Rex tossing “throw” to sequined revellers in New Orleans, or hot babes shaking their booties in Bahia, or all those belching, farting, goosing, pissing crowds Mikhail Bakhtin panted after on the Carnival streets of Renaissance Paris.   Forget all the conventional wisdom and all the conventional images of other peoples’ Carnivals to dig what’s happening way down south in Jacmel.  Make it a Naked Lunch moment.  Look at Leah Gordon’s photographs the way William Borroughs told you to look at the end of your fork before sliding that pronged sausage into your mouth.  See it in all its naked weirdness before you consume it."

    From Richard Fleming's text (extract):

    "In Jacmel, on Haiti’s south coast, an army of aggressive youths swagger down the street. Smeared from head to toe with a vile concoction of cane syrup and powdered charcoal, they dart at the crowd, snarling like wild, rabid animals. As if the throng lining the road hasn’t already recoiled enough at the fearful spectacle, they swing long hemp whips through the air in whistling arcs. Adorned with Beelzebub’s horns, these demonic metaphors for the experience of slavery look as if they have just emerged from the La Brea tar pits, or bathed in a fresh geyser of black crude oil. They are the lanceurs de corde, the “rope-throwers”." 

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    To coincide with the release of this book, Soul Jazz are also releasing a CD: "Rara in Haiti; Street Music of Haiti", recorded in Port au Prince by Soul Jazz Records. To accompany the riotous carnival sounds on this CD there is also excellent text by Richard Fleming (author of 'Walking to Guantanamo') and the striking photography of Leah Gordon. For more information or to buy this CD go here.

    Read reviews here:

    Daily Telegraph

    The Guardian

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