New NPR Documentary From WXPN/Philadelphia Explores Haiti's Influence On New Orleans Music

The story is being told through a content-rich website and a national radio documentary.

By: Jan. 12, 2021
Enter Your Email to Unlock This Article

Plus, get the best of BroadwayWorld delivered to your inbox, and unlimited access to our editorial content across the globe.

Existing user? Just click login.

New NPR Documentary From WXPN/Philadelphia Explores Haiti's Influence On New Orleans Music

A new year-long project that explores and celebrates the influences of Haiti on New Orleans' famed music, culture and community is being launched today by Philadelphia public music radio station WXPN.

Kanaval: Haitian Rhythms and the Music of New Orleans is a compelling story that is being told through a content-rich website and a national radio documentary set to air in February during Black History Month, in addition to a series of special musical, theatrical and community events.

"As we've done with our Peabody Award-nominated Gospel Roots of Rock & Soul project and previous ones examining Mississippi Blues and Zydeco Crossroads, our Kanaval project is an in-depth exploration of a significant contributor to modern popular music," said WXPN General Manager Roger LaMay. "The history and influence documented in Kanaval is an important but largely unheralded chapter in Black history and through it, we hope to help change the unjust narrative about Haiti as a nation of poor immigrants to one that has contributed significantly to our music and culture."

Distributed through NPR, the Kanaval audio docu-series ties the nation of Haiti and city of New Orleans through an historical perspective, focusing on the music that connects them. It is produced by Alex Lewis, an award-winning independent radio producer and musician whose projects include Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio, and WXPN's Gospel Roots of Rock and Soul, among many other projects. WXPN Assistant Station Manager Bruce Warren and General Manager Roger LaMay are the project's executive producers, and the series is hosted by New Orleans-based, Haitian-American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Leyla McCalla, a founding member of Our Native Daughters and alumna of the GRAMMYⓇ award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops.

In the audio docu-series, Haitian musician Paul Beaubrun summarizes the primary theme of the project when he says, "In Haiti we have beauty, we have art, food, dance, music, and all of that keeps us through hard times. We came through slavery to make this world a better place and through the freedom to express this in the music, you hear the resilience, the rhythms and it connects straight to New Orleans."

In addition to the radio docu-series, newly-reported stories on Haiti's cultural/music influences will air as part of WXPN's NPR-syndicated program World Cafe and on New Orleans NPR member station WWNO-FM.

Scheduled for May 2021, the live theater event and Philadelphia premiere of Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever will be presented at Fringe Arts in Philadelphia. Combining storytelling, video projection, archival audio, and dance, it is set to new music by Leyla McCalla, and directed by another New Orleans-based artist, Kiyoko McCrae. This vivid performance recounts the legacy of Radio Inter-Haiti, the country's first privately-owned, Creole-language radio station and the assassination of its owner, Jean Dominique, in 2000.

Various virtual Kanaval music events are planned to take place during summer 2021 and as part of the 2021 XPoNential Music Festival, WXPN's annual music festival, September 17-19. In partnership with the Preservation Hall Foundation, the project will culminate in a Philly Krewe du Kanaval Ball extravaganza featuring Haitian and New Orleans artists, scheduled for late 2021-early 2022.

As part of its outreach efforts to the local Haitian community, WXPN has assembled an advisory group to help coordinate events and facilitate conversations supporting this project.

Major support for Kanaval: Haitian Rhythms and the Music of New Orleans has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional funding from the Wyncote Foundation. The Kanaval audio-docuseries is also supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

More information about Kanaval will be available at and WXPN social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For ways to stream WXPN, visit


To post a comment, you must register and login.