Dear Wyclef Jean,
Simply stated: Wyclef Jean (no relation) is a living legend. You may know him from his rhythmic melodies with the Refugee Camp and their groundbreaking second album “The Score”. Others may be more familiar with his eclectic solo albums and production credits for Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Beyonce, Carlos Santana and Shakira (2x)! True fans witnessed him evolve from performing with “Exact Change” at Newark City Hall to being the first rapper to spit bars at Carnegie Hall.
His run for the presidency of his native land, brief controversy with the Yele foundation and former female bandmate, and his involvement in the epic lyrical joust between Ladies Love Cool James and Canibus are notable footnotes in his illustrious and somewhat controversial career. The “at-a-glance” highlights of his resume guarantees he will one day receive lifetime achievement awards, a star on the tourist filled Cali pavement and additional accolades from several music academies.
The signature moment of the preacher son’s career forever etched in my mind is one simple act that sent vibrations through the land also known as “Ayiti.” I am not referring to his White House performances for Bill Clinton, his well-deserved induction in the New Jersey Hall of Fame, his closing performance at the 2014 FIFA World Cup or his pop duet with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. This moment was much more powerful and significant.
It was 1996. The 39th Annual Grammys were on the tube and although Chuck D & Flavor Flav cautioned us to not watch, I was eager to see the “nappy headed” nominee take the stage.
Then it happened.
Not the win but the wardrobe. Wyclef Jean, the leader of the Fugees is in full color on my screen draped in the Haitian flag.
Everything changed. That intentional accent to his outfit was instrumental in pushing the Haitian culture onto the worldstage during a time when we were being called “African Booty Scratchers,” said to have had “HBO” (haitian body odor), and blamed as the originators and transmitters of the A.I.D.S. virus.
That night, the Haitian flag became a Caribbean cape and natives worldwide stood at attention. Wyclef’s prideful act led me to do the same at every graduation thereafter. Although enclaves such as Brooklyn and Miami were densely populated with Haitians, other more lightly populated areas were inhabited with Haitians who struggled for acceptance and respect. His simply gesture was a historical line of demarcation. Haitians across the globe stopped hiding their heritage and stood proud.
In 1804, Haitians revolutionaries overthrew the oppressive French army and established the first black free republic in the Western hemisphere. The Louisiana Purchase and several rebellions were the result of Africans on what Columbus named “Hispaniola” fighting for their freedom. Unfortunately, additional results of the freedom fighters victory included embargoes to starve Haiti and the French returning years later collecting unreasonable retribution which crippled the country and Haiti remains the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
Recent media coverage of Haiti highlights abject poverty and instability that has included over 33 coups in the countries young history. Nevertheless, the pride of our people has never wavered. We have impacted every aspect of world culture with notable Haitian figures including Toussaint L’Overture, Jean-Jacque Dessalines, Garcelles Beauvais, Edwidge Danticat, Andre Birotte Jr., Combat Jack, Andre Berto and less publicized Haitian icons/entertainers such as Ronald A. Brise, Plug 2 of De La Soul, Herby Love Bug of Salt and Pepa fame and soul singer Maxwell.
Nel Ust Wyclef Jean,
We thank you for being a global carribean ambassador. Thank you for being on the grounds picking up dead bodies and helping to restore our homeland during the aftermath of the earthquake of 2010. Thank you for going into the war zone of Cite De Soleil and working to broker peace between the gangs. Thank you for making the final tracks on your first solo album in Creole which served as the soundtrack of my post college years. Your international impact, your multi-lingual freestyles and your live shows that are instantly transformed into parties, or better yet Carnivals are all legendary.
From Croix-des-Bouquets to the Booga Basement we thank you and love you for all you have done for Haitians worldwide. You are to Haiti, what Marley is to Jamaica…what John Sullivan is to the Irish..Sinatra to Italians. Your spiritual musical gifts embody the biblical verse Ephesians 4:29 which in summary states one should ensure that their “wordstravel” to build and not to destroy.
Your contribution to Haitian pride cannot be measure and I salute you.
Originally published at medium.com