Wyclef Jean on Black History, Haiti, and His New Album

Recently, I sat down with Wyclef Jean to discuss his new EP (Extended Play), “J’Ouvert” and how it reflects his interest in black history. This new album takes its name from the official start of Carnival in the eastern Caribbean. This collection of songs will precede Wyclef’s forthcoming album, Carnival III: Road to Clefication. Wyclef is a well-known singer, musician, producer and songwriter. The music that he has written, performed, and produced—both as a solo superstar and as founder and guiding member of the Fugees—has been a consistently powerful, pop cultural force for over two decades. In 1996, the Fugees released their monumental album The Score, which inspired notoriously prickly rock critic Robert Christgau to write: “so beautiful and funny, its courage could make you weep.” The album, created in Wyclef’s studio in his uncle’s basement in New Jersey, hit No. 1 on the Billboard chart, spawned a trio of smash singles (including their indelible reinvention of Roberta Flack’s 1973 ballad “Killing Me Softly”), and is now certified six times platinum. Wyclef has launched himself as a producer and solo artist whose work drew from an innovative and eclectic palette that included elements of pop, country, folk, disco, Latin, and electronic music. He has received three Grammy Awards, a spot on the cover of Rolling Stone’s special “Top 50 Hip Hop Players,” and the opportunity to make music with such legends as Michael Jackson, Queen, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, Earth, Wind & Fire, Kenny Rogers, and Tom Jones. As a solo artist, he has released six albums that have sold nearly nine million copies worldwide, including his 1997 debut The Carnival and 2000’s aptly titled The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II a Book. Born in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti, before moving to New Jersey at age nine, Wyclef has always kept very close ties to the Haitian people and continues to provide aid and consultation.

Wyclef Jean offers a deluxe preview EP of what’s to come with the summer 2017 release of Carnival III: Road to Clefication. Where tracks like ‘Party Started’ and ‘Lady Haiti’ keep the sun-soaked Caribbean vibes flowing, the pensive ‘Life Matters’ and the incendiary ‘If I Was President 2016’ suggest that Carnival III won’t just be a return to form but a reckoning.” ~iTunes

Darryl Robertson: Tell us about your new album, J’Ouvert, and how it reflects your love for Haiti and its rich history.

Wyclef Jean: My new EP is about the celebration of culture, of family, and fun. There were times in Haiti when I was a kid in the village hungry, but I was still happy. I have memories of studying black history in school. But when I was going to school and they would say “black history,” I used to wonder, “how are you teaching me black history without mentioning that Haiti is the first black republic of the world?” “And how could you not tell me that we had a Haitian general?” Do you know what that means—to have a Haitian general in the 18th century? Many people attempted to minimize the role that revolution played in the U.S. because the Haitian Revolution directly affected the slave empire.

The Haitian Revolution birthed great leaders like Toussaint L’Ouverture. He was a well-liked general by black and whites. It takes genius for any general—black or white—to be well liked by the opposition as well as his army. There were several slave rebellions in the world, but the only slave rebellion that was successful is the one that went down in Haiti. Many slave owners in the U.S. sent funds and other help to Toussaint’s opponents trying to stop the revolt. However, John Adams—he was for the most part anti-slavery—saw the need to help L’Ouverture because he wanted to continue to trade with Haiti. The key here is that it’s important to know where you come from in order to know where you’re going. Haitians have a very important history. Haitian history is tied to all black history. Slaves like Nat Turner and others led revolts, but nothing compares to the Haitian Revolution. As I always tell people, we must all study the history of Haiti.

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Darryl Robertson

Darryl Robertson is a graduate student at Fordham University studying hip-hop and African American history. He is especially interested in understanding how the Black Panther Party serviced black communities during the late-1960s. Follow him on Twitter @darry_robertson.