Lilian Min
May 08, 2015 6:00 am

Canadian indie rock group Arcade Fire captured the mainstream’s attention when they won Album of the Year at the 2011 Grammys for The Suburbs, beating out albums like Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster and Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream. In the time since then, they’ve released their prolific fourth album Reflektor and joined Jay and Bey on stage for the release of streaming app Tidal; so it only makes sense that their latest venture is… a restaurant?

That’s right: The couple at the center of the ensemble group, Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, are pairing up with another husband-and-wife team, restauranteurs Jen Agg and Roland Jean, to open up Agrikol in the band’s home base of Montreal. In an interview with The Globe & Mail announcing the venture, Butler explained, “[Agrikol is] more of an art project. The idea is that it’s a cultural space. The thing that we were really impressed with at [Agg and Jean’s] Rhum Corner is that it’s this space for Haitian and Caribbean culture and it’s really cool and contemporary.”

The two couples came together with the concept after a rara (Haitian Creole festival music) listening party at Toronto’s Rhum Corner blew out the restaurant’s speakers. As good a reason as any to begin your own place, no?

The restaurant, named after the French term for a kind of West Indies island rum, has the input of both Haitian-born artist Jean and Chassagne, who often sings in French and is vocal about her family’s Haitian heritage; such as in the song “Haiti” off of first album Funeral.

However, it’s worth noting that the band has been criticized in the past for its use (and appropriation) of Haitian imagery, musical influences, and cultural practices, particularly the Afro-Caribbean religion voudon (often sensationalized as “voodoo”). While Chassagne herself may have Haitian roots, some have pointed out that she doesn’t always make the distinction between Haiti’s French colonial past and the language she sings in, and the island’s ties within the larger Caribbean community. Ethnicity and race, after all, are often much more complex than where our ancestors lived — and our connections to culture will always be varied and nuanced.

Still, Arcade Fire has given back to Haiti time and time again. They’ve helped raise money and awareness after the devastating 2010 earthquake, and supported non-profit Partners In Health to provide healthcare services to the country’s poorest residents.

Agrikol is an extension of their attempt to bring Haitian culture to a wider audience, a message that started with the band’s advocacy work and is now taking root in food form. Or, as Jean explains, “There are nearly 200,000 Haitians in Montreal, so definitely I think that Agrikol is something we need here. It’s a celebration of culture, and that includes food.”

(Images via here and here.)