Montrealers’ Hallelujahs for Haiti

By P.A. Sévigny on February 11, 2010

Trois semaines après que la terre s'est soulevée sous leurs pieds, environ 200 000 personnes sont censées être mortes, écrasées sous des tonnes de béton émietté. Port-au-Prince est en ruines et les survivants fouillent les décombres pour de l'eau et un peu de nourriture. « Les damnés de la terre » de Frantz Fanon a pris une nouvelle signification alors que les images numériques de la catastrophe haïtienne commençaient à faire chemin à travers les médias. À son crédit, la planète a commencé à se rassembler et l'aide était en chemin.
Within days after the earthquake, the first of this city’s several benefit concerts was held for the Médecins Sans Frontières who were already hard at work in a compound outside of the city’s ruined hospital. Québec rock star Arianne Moffatt opened the concert with a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah- a masterpiece which many believe could become the anthem of our times. Two thousand years into modern history and people still have to deal with Dies Irae-the wrath of God. Cohen knows it may be difficult to put our trust in the hands of a loving God but there’s still a choice because we can still believe in each other.   
Et c’est ce que les habitants de Montréal font pour les gens à Port-au-Prince.
« L’ultime fléau qui peut encore s’abattre sur l’Haïti », a indiqué la comédienne Guylaine Tremblay, «  c'est l’indifférence, notre propre indifférence.  »
MICHAELE-JEAN-BW.jpgAnd while the wrath of God took less than a minute to shake an entire city into the ground, it took less than a week for this city to prove it could do something about the pain and hunger that defines life on the streets of Haiti’s Port-Au-Prince. During one concert held in the Gésu Theatre on Bleury Street, Québec’s favorite songwriter Michel Rivard’s a capella cover of Haiti superstar Mano Charlemagne’s Le Mal du Pays put a spike through the heart of every man and woman who ever left his home and his family for a better life on the cold streets of this city. “Toi tu traines ta vie avec le mal de ton pays!” has a lot to say for anybody who drives a cab or works a lift-truck in a frozen warehouse in some industrial park located north of the Metropolitan Blvd.           
 Québec torch singer Florence ‘K’ accompanied herself on the piano as she sang a subdued cover of Jean-Paul Ferland’s La Musique, Mon Amour after Papa Groove’s brass nearly blew the roof off the rafters of the old church basement with its ferocious energy. After Dorian Fabreg and Carole Facal, the original members of Montreal’s famous Dobracaracol, performed their duet, the crowd was on its feet because it was the first time the girls had performed together in years. Facal’s own number, a driving gospel tune, brought in the new Nomadic Massive, a club sensation out of Montreal North who proceeded to stake out their own place among the evening’s stellar line-up.     
“If the politicians in Montreal North bothered to listen to these guys,” said political science student Robert Hudon, “…they could have done something to avoid the riots after Freddy Villanueva was killed.”   
 A lot of people thought the  Telus party was nothing less than one big party. For an event that billed itself as the ‘L’Union fait la Force’ party, few could argue the point as the money rolled in to pay for what many described as ‘…one of the best parties in town’. While it’s difficult to keep track of all the city’s benefit concerts being held for Haiti, the Telus benefit was special because it was organized by the city’s arts & entertainment people- specifically its new, young and vibrant Haitian arts community. The Telus Theatre benefit’s instant shake ‘n bake party atmosphere took off as soon as the theatre’s doors were opened for business. While hundreds of people packed the theatre’s main dance floor, north-end Montreal MP Denis Coderre was sitting with friends and supporters near the bar as far away from the club’s floor level speakers as possible.   
« C'est important » a-t-il dit au The Métropolitain. « Ceci est très important. C’est triste de penser que ça prend une tragédie comme celle-ci [le tremblement de terre haïtien] pour que les gens se rassemblent, mais regarder ce qui se passe. Les gens travaillent ensemble et ils parlent déjà de bâtir, et non simplement de reconstruire un nouveau Haïti. »
During televised Friday night benefit concerts on both the CBC and Radio-Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s pledge to have the Canadian government match any Canadian’s donation to a recognized Canadian charity provided at least $100,000,000 for emergency relief work on the island. But Governor General Michaëlle Jean’s actions spoke louder than anything done onstage as she personally made her way through the city’s north-end community centers to show her support and solidarity with the victims of Haiti’s latest catastrophe. During a brief stop at Montreal’s North-end TOHU pavilion, the Governor General stole the show with her frank and sincere televised appeal for the victims of Haiti’s recent earthquake. As Jean got ready to take her turn before the television cameras, many of the city’s Haitian policemen could be seen smiling with obvious pride as they watched the nation’s Governor General, a native-born Haitian, speak for the people of their homeland.
La chef de l’opposition municipale Louise Harel, une séparatiste avouée, a indiqué au The Métropolitan a quel point qu’elle était impressionnée de la visite de la gouverneure générale et croyait qu’elle faisait une bonne chose pour les gens de Montréal-Nord-particulièrement sa communauté haïtienne.
 « Ce n'est pas politique » a dit Harel. « C'est simplement d’aider des gens quand ils ont vraiment besoin de notre aide, » a-t-elle indiqué alors qu’elle a rapidement écrit un gros chèque pour l'effort de la Croix-Rouge canadienne en Haïti.
Papineau MP Justin Trudeau was also in the crowd along with Québec’s Immigration Minister Yolande James and Viau MNA Emmanuel Dubourg who took his own star turn with his “Je me souviens’ quote during the Thursday night Telus party. Dubourg’s recent work among affected community groups in his district is quickly giving him the reputation as being one of the major players among Jean Charest’s Liberal stars in Montreal North.    
“This is wonderful,” he told The Métropolitain. “The people of Montreal are getting to know who we really are, but we still have to remember how the situation is still urgent. People are hungry, people are thirsty and we still have to help them build a new city.”
Denis Coderre est d'accord avec Dubourg. Non seulement croit-il que le Canada devrait se dédier à trouver des solutions permanentes pour la pauvreté endémique de l’Haïti, mais il devrait également profiter de la situation actuelle « pour bâtir un nouveau Haïti, un Haïti véritablement démocratique et finalement un Haïti qui se soutient lui-même. »
Later, in La Perle Retrouvée, a community center located in the basement of a de-consecrated Montreal North church, organizers were setting up more chairs as people kept coming in to see the televised benefit concert. When Montreal entertainment personality Gregory Charles began signing La Dessaliniere, Haiti’s national anthem, with a singular gospel beat, the entire room stood up as they added their voice to the anthem.
Antoine Alexandre was standing near the basement’s back door as he was getting ready to go home and hit the books. As a communications student who is trying to get his Québec teacher’s certificate, Alexandre spent most of the last week wondering what happened to his family. His brother Hans, a Catholic priest, lost his church and he only recently received news about the rest of his family who are all safe but completely destitute and effectively out on the street.    
“I want to bring them to Canada,” he said, “…but now we lost all of our papers and it’s going to be very difficult.”
À ce moment, des policiers et des agents de sécurité sont entrés par la porte arrière pour escorter la gouverneure générale à l'avant de la salle. Alors que la gouverneure générale rentrait dans la salle, elle a vu Alexandre et a immédiatement étendue sa main pour le saluer et pour lui dire quelques mots avant de continuer pour rencontrer d'autres qui avaient hâte de la voir.
“I can’t believe it,” said Alexandre who was visibly moved by the experience. “I just met the Governor General of Canada. She shook my hand and talked to me like I was a friend. This is such a great country…I just love this country.”
Leonard Cohen was right. Sing Hallelujah!


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