His brother-in-law Supreme wanted to know if Jean, who’s been busy promoting a new album J’ouvert, could squeeze Miami in his schedule for a Little Haiti event promoting Haitian culture, heritage and pride.
The answer was a no-brainer, said Jean about his upcoming May 19 performance in Little Haiti at the monthly Sounds of Little Haiti music series.
“I told my agent, ‘Move everything in the world. I don’t care. Do what we need to do so we can make this happen.’”
And that is how Sounds of Little Haiti at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex in Miami, scored the biggest international superstar to come out of Haiti. This month, it is not just celebrating Haitian Heritage Cultural Month but the one-year anniversary of Miami commissioners designating Little Haiti an official city neighborhood and the birth of its free monthly musical showcase.
“For me, this isn’t a gig; it’s like coming home,” Jean told Miami.com Thursday as he prepared to board a flight to Germany for a performance. “Little Haiti is a personal thing for me.”
Wyclef Jean celebrates 20th anniversary since release of his solo Carnival album and release of new album J’Ouvert in New York.
Jean and Haiti have always been synonymous. Even before the release of his 1997 solo album The Carnival, Jean was dropping Creole narrations in his rap lyrics, embracing Haitian culture and changing the dynamics of what it meant to be Haitian and how to represent the country and culture. He even ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Haitian presidency in 2010 and established Yéle Haiti, a now defunct charity to help victims of the 2010 earthquake.
His split second decision in 1997 while a member of The Fugees — as in refugees —to tie a Haitian flag around his neck before walking onto the stage at the Grammys at the crest of an anti-immigrant wave, gave a whole generation that had been battling stereotypes, an identity.
“Once Wyclef put the flag on his back, it was more digestible,” Mecca Grimo Marcelin, a spoken word artist and the host of Sounds of Little Haiti, said about being Haitian before it was cool to be so. “For him to be in Little Haiti celebrating Haitian Flag Day is so pinnacle.”
Haiti, Marcelin says, is on the map not just because of the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake, but because of the movement of its culture that has inspired rappers like Young Thug, who dropped an ode to Jean called “Wyclef Jean” on his “Jeffrey” mixtape, and up-and-coming Haitian American artists like Zoey Dollaz.
“Wyclef is the epitome of Haitian pride; he was throwing up his flag before it was cool, so how timely is it that he would choose to celebrate the anniversary of the only neighborhood in the country with the word Haiti in it,” said Wanda Tima, founder of the popular Haitian-American social media blog L’Union Suite.
Tima said what Jean symbolizes aligns with the whole #Teamhaiti direction L’Union and millennials like herself are promoting.
“Back in the day he was the only one throwing up the Haitian flag. But today, we are all about making sure everyone knows we’re Haitian, we’re proud of our history and we’re here,” she said.
“This is going to be monumental for Mr. Jean – Mr. Haiti himself – to come back and put the stamp on it,” Marcelin said about the cultural movement. “Maybe what he did for me, he can do it for a younger generation of Haitians.”
And this, says Jean, who will be inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame this month, is among the reasons why he’s looking forward to returning to Miami after recently appearing at Kaya Fest in April in downtown Miami.
“When I look at Instagram and Twitter and I see kids in Little Haiti post, ‘Wyclef Jean is our Michael Jackson,’ and some don’t even know my music…I just want to keep inspiring,” he said. “When people say to me what is your greatest success… it’s instilling a bit of pride in kids to make them want to say they are Haitian, and not Jamaican or Canadian.”
Sandy Dorsainvil, who is producing the Sounds of Little Haiti anniversary showcase, and reached out to Jean’s people said it makes sense to celebrate the double-anniversary and Haitian Heritage Month with one of the biggest Haitian celebrities to have graced the streets of Little Haiti.
“We’re celebrating Haitian culture but we’re also celebrating the growth of the Haitian-American community in Miami,” said Dorsainvil, who also has konpa bands, Kreyol La and Dat7 as part of the line up as well as the infectious carnival band, Rara Lakay, among others.
The event, which is on May 19, is taking place during the biggest Haitian culture week in the community. There is Haitian Flag Day on May 18, when Haitians celebrate the establishment of the country’s flag, and Miami’s 19th annual Haitian Compas Festival on May 20-21 at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami. The festival attracts all of the top names in Haitian music, from racine to konpa acts.
“Because of Compas Fest weekend, we’re going to have an influx of 60,000 Haitians who will be visiting Miami, and we want to make sure that they have an opportunity to come and visit Little Haiti and see what we’re all about,” Dorsainvil said.
“The biggest thing we want for the community to understand,” she added, “is the value of what we have; we have our own community, our own neighborhood that reflects our culture and our art, and we want the community to support the event this month.”
Dorsainvil said while the Sounds of Little Haiti is normally free, this particular showcase will come with a request for a $15 donation so that “we can continue to offer free events for the rest of the year.”
Last May after an emotional debate at Miami City Hall, and after years of delay, Miami City Commissioners finally agreed on the creation of legal boundaries for Little Haiti. That same month, Sounds of Little Haiti was launched to replace a similar event, Big Night in Little Haiti, which was force to end its five year run after the nonprofit that produced it, The Rhythm Foundation, ran out of funding. Similar to Big Night, the concept remains the same: to bring the community together through Haitian food, arts, entertainment and activities for kids.
Jean said the event’s mission, especially the introduction of Haitian culture and music to a younger generation, is what appealed to him and encouraged him to take a detour from his busy promotion schedule.
“We had people die over the flag, so when I said we were going to be called The Fugees for Refugees, it wasn’t just a word, it was blunted on reality,” Jean reflects. “The same way Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre set out to put the West Coast on the map, we were going to put Haiti on the map. It’s about ‘La Union Fait la Force’ (Unity Makes Strength); It’s not about me, but about the future generation.”