What’s more valuable: money or culture? Carnival Arts pondered that question with our performance “Siren Song” on November 27, 2016. The Scavenger Queen led her army of skeletons and carrion birds, with their shopping carts overflowing with the discarded treasures of a throwaway consumer society, into a battle against the cultural wealth of Haitian Kongo dancers and drummers and the fierce ancestral power of Brazilian guerreiros. The battle was close, until the Siren Queen and her court descended from the sky and decided the winner. Singing a Cameroonian pop hit in her native Duala, the Siren Queen commanded the youth: “Oh, child, cherish your light. Know your worth!”
Developers built a playground for billionaires on Miami Beach called the Faena District. A single condominium in Faena House sold for $60 million — setting a new record for a “single-family home” in Miami-Dade County. A night at the Faena Hotel at that time cost $750 — roughly a month’s rent in the Liberty City neighborhood.
To inaugurate the Faena District, the developers’ non-profit foundation, Faena Arts, hired Claire Tancons to curate a procession down Collins Avenue. She hired world famous artists like Antoni Miralda, Los Carpinteros, Marinella Senatore, Carlos Betancourt — and us, Carnival Arts!
The whole performance, called Tide by Side, was pretty cool.
But what did it mean for the folks with the highest net worth — in financial terms — to invite folks with the least to perform for them? What did Carnival Arts have that they wanted? What did we want to say about what they have and we don’t? In August and September 2015, we posed these questions to each other. If one condo could fetch $60 million, what price could be put on what master drummer Catelus “Ton Ton” La Guerre could teach us? The rhythms and songs he knows have been passed down across generations from before slavery times, through the Haitian Revolution and all that followed, to us. What is that worth?
We came up with “Siren Song: A Battle between $$ and Culture.” The Siren goes by many names, from Disney’s Little Mermaid to La Siren in Haitian vodou to Mami Wata, the mermaid goddess of wealth floating through mythology across Central and Western Africa. She would be our avatar of cultural wealth.