A cool RefugeeWyclef Jean performing at Reggae on the Hill in the rain to the eagerly awaiting fans.
By Luigi Marshall | Fri, May 06, 2011 - 12:00 AM
He’s early. And he’s ready. He’s here to perform, but right now he’s just comfortably sitting back in a tent on Farley Hill, St Peter, ready to interact with people.
It is Monday, May 2, and Wyclef Jean is in Barbados as the headline act for the Digicel Reggae On The Hill show. But due to heavy rains and a flood warning, he’s here a day longer than planned.
“Man, yesterday we were just idle, so I’m glad we could get this thing going today and give the people what they want,” he says.
And indeed, a lot of people want to see Wyclef, even though some question why he was selected to close the show, saying he’s not a genuine reggae artist.
“What those people don’t understand is that I’m a son of the Caribbean, so reggae music is in my blood,” he tells WE Magazine. “Some people want to say I’m hip hop, but it’s all related. Every island’s got their own flavour of reggae.
“I grew up listening to Bob Marley,” he adds with his familiar New York inner city-Caribbean drawl. “You don’t know how many times people thought I was Jamaican. I’m Haitian, but it’s cool, we all related.”
On this wet Monday, few people know he’s already on The Hill, but for those who do come in and out of his tent he makes himself accessible, pausing for every picture and every question.
“Relax, have some food and some drinks,” he offers a young man who gladly obliges.
Wyclef speaks with pride about his roots, emphasizing that he’s no different from anyone else. He says that’s why he likes to go out into the audience during his shows.
But he is different. He’s best known as one-third of the now disbanded 1990s Grammy Award-winning group The Fugees. And he went on to boost his show business profile with hit albums of his own including The Carnival, The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II A Book, The Masquerade and The Preacher’s Son. And right now he’s working on some “feel good music” which he hopes to release on an album this year.
Still, despite his individual success, Wyclef says he’s often asked whether The Fugees will ever work together again.
“I think we will,” he says. “We’re more mature now,” he adds, referring to the conflict between him and ex-bandmate, Lauryn Hill.
However, despite the fame and fortune, he says he never forgets where he came from.
“I was born in a hut,” says the Haitian-born artiste and producer. “I understand what people in my country are going through.” He says that’s why he created his Yele Haiti Foundation which works to give children in his homeland better opportunities.
It’s difficult to discern his faults but it’s easy to see that one of Wyclef’s qualities is that he’s a people’s person. A thirty-something-year-old man walks by and, at a loss for words, he says: “I’ve met a lot of stars, but Wyclef you’re the most . . ., the most, the coolest I’ve ever come across.”
The man gives a short spiel about how Wyclef is down-to-earth and accessible to ordinary folk.
To help his people is also why Wyclef stepped forward as a Haiti presidential candidate hopeful. However, notwithstanding his status as Haiti’s most famous son, Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council ruled Wyclef ineligible to run as a candidate because he had not satisfied residency requirements.
Nevertheless, Wyclef says he has worked with Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly, the recently elected President – who, incidentally, is also an entertainer – and continues to give him his support.
“Right now, we’re all about education and job creation,” he says about the rebuilding efforts in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.
Perhaps it’s best that his bid for presidency failed. Better for Haiti and better for Wyclef. Many suggested that he wasn’t qualified to hold such an important post in a country that, as the poorest state in the hemisphere, faces almost-insurmountable challenges.
And in a country where many don’t know where they’ll get their next meal, frustrations are easily directed at those who are more fortunate.
After recently having a bullet graze his hand, Wyclef knows this all too well. He downplays the incident, but jokingly says: “It’s better now, but when it happened my hand was the most famous hand since Jesus Christ.”
But his diplomatic tact cannot be questioned. He goes at length off-the-record with questions regarding recent events in the Middle East. He says his views could raise unnecessary controversy at home and abroad, especially as he prepares to soon visit Qatar.
What he does openly say is that even his young daughter could see that there’s a lot not being said.
And then he starts to hum “If I was president . . . .”
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