For anyone familiar with Caribbean music, the news might have seemed too good to be true: Kassav, the internationally famous band from Guadeloupe and creator of zouk party music, was coming to Miami. Kassav was to have been the headliner at a heavily advertised festival July 25 in Bicentennial Park. The price was incredibly good -- advance tickets cost a mere $18. The event was the final stop on a three-day, three-city tour by Kassav and two popular Haitian groups, Phantom and Boukan Guinen.
As it turned out, this was a case of devenn (bad luck) all the way around. The 2000 people in attendance never heard Kassav or Phantom and didn't get their money back. The scene devolved into a stage-front riot. The MC was arrested. In the days that ensued the turmoil spread to Haitian radio as angry concertgoers debated blame and demanded refunds. Underlying the debacle is some discontent within Miami's Haitian community over City of Miami police officers' handling of security.
There are differing versions of how and why things went wrong on that sweltering Sunday night. But everyone agrees the defining moment occurred when Miami Police Lt. Craig McQueen leapt onto the stage and grabbed the microphone from MC Hallan Daphnis.
It was nearly 10:00 p.m., after a delay of almost two hours, when Daphnis walked on to the dark stage and told the crowd that the off-duty police hired as security officers didn't want to work overtime. Kassav and Phantom had yet to play.
Attempts to reach Daphnis for this story were unsuccessful. But according to an arrest report, the MC said the show "had to be canceled" because the promoters "did not have enough money to finish the event and pay the sound director's [sic] and also the security company."
McQueen, who was supervising a detail of several officers, heard Daphnis's announcement and went ballistic. He strode onstage and elbowed the MC aside. "He's lying!" McQueen yelled. "We're already here till eleven o'clock. Why don't you tell the people the truth: The main act -- Kassav, isn't it? -- is not here! See, this is what can happen when people lie. You apologize to the people for lying to them."
Daphnis mumbled something, but by then the crowd was screaming wildly. McQueen appealed for order and Daphnis departed. The majority of the audience began to leave, more or less peacefully. Someone smashed the ticket trailer's window and several of the park's plastic chairs were taken. Then one cluster of people close to the stage grew unruly and rushed at Daphnis, recalls Miami attorney Phillip Brutus, a relative of Daphnis who was standing nearby. "They tried to hit him, tried to tear his clothes," Brutus says. "They were yelling at him to give them their money back."
Soon the police hustled Daphnis into a squad car. When Brutus asked the officers why they were arresting the MC rather than his assailants, the police cited Daphnis's deceit. Brutus says the officers also swore at him, shoved him, and threatened to handcuff him if he didn't leave. "So I just walked away, fuming," Brutus concludes. He bailed out Daphnis, who police charged with inciting a riot and disorderly intoxication. (Brutus later filed an internal affairs complaint against McQueen and another officer.)
The two-hour delay, according to several sources involved with the program, resulted from technical problems and money shortages. Early in the evening, when a series of local hip-hop groups took the stage, it became clear the program would last much later than the scheduled 9:00 p.m. finish. Thus promoter Cynthia Blanc of Laurent Entertainment had to come up with enough money to pay the security, fire, parking, and clean-up personnel to work longer. Blanc was able to cover those costs for an additional two hours.
But the owner of King Sound and Lighting, Oddis Mesa, says the musicians were not paid, "so they left." He adds that his company still hasn't received its $10,500 fee. "Somebody in New York is going to send us $9000," Mesa says. "That's $1500 profit we don't get, but it's enough."
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Promoter Blanc denies that the bands were stiffed. She asserts that Kassav and Phantom received their money well in advance. She doesn't want to name the fee. (Blanc handled the Miami leg of the tour; the three bands had played in New York and Boston the previous two days.) Blanc says Phantom was waiting to go on when the uproar began. Furthermore, she insists, Kassav did not leave the park; rather the members never arrived. "They were on their way into the park when the whole thing broke out," Blanc recounts. "We called them and said not to come into the park, there's a riot. They were here [in Miami] and I have hotel receipts to prove it."
Blanc says she spent about $80,000 on the concert, and now she doesn't have the money to refund ticket payments. The accounting office at the Bayfront Park Management Trust, which oversees all events at Bayfront and Bicentennial parks, confirms that Blanc has paid numerous required costs totalling about $15,000. Still outstanding are the surcharges and taxes she owes on ticket sales.
Some concertgoers are angry about more than the spoiled event and lost ticket money. People such as attorney Brutus and businessman Jean-Claude Timmer, who are friends of promoter Blanc, contend the show might have gone on if police hadn't taken such a belligerent stance. "I've seen this before," says Timmer, who runs an auto-tag agency. "[The police] were determined to stop [the concert]."
Most Kassav devotees knew only that they'd lost their money and the chance to see the band they love. Lacking a clear explanation from organizers, many fans believe they were swindled. "What they did was to straight-up fool us," scoffs Wyman Bacon-Beer, who adds he returned to Miami early from a trip for the concert. "The promoters told us Kassav was going to be there and they knew they were not going to be there."