MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to turn our attention now to Haiti, which has been living through a very difficult period marked by violence and political turmoil, all of which escalated after President Jovenel Moise was murdered just over two weeks ago. The events have been traumatic for the country and also for Haitian communities around the world. We wanted to hear more about, that, so we invited Mach-Hommy to the program. He is a Haitian American rapper from New Jersey. His latest album, "Pray For Haiti," was released earlier this year to much critical acclaim. And he is with us now.
Mach-Hommy, thank you so much for talking with us.
MACH-HOMMY: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: This must be a very strange period for you because you just released your latest project. It's gotten a huge response. It's already been considered one of the best rap albums of the year.
MARTIN: And yet so much going on in a place that you care so much about. Like, how are you holding both those thoughts in your head at the same time?
MACH-HOMMY: That's a good question. Well, for me, I've dealt with these kinds of issues insofar as political unrest and human rights violations and, you know, a whole other laundry list of other struggles that, you know, one just deals with, you know, as a member of the Haitian diaspora. And it's been like that. It's something that I inherited. It - you know, the people that came before me, my role models or whatever you want to call them, my predecessors, they kind of passed that concern down to me. So it never really came as a shock to me.
What's going on right now is kind of like the norm for us, especially abroad, where, most of us, we send more than our prayers back home. A lot of our psychological energy and makeup is kind of like split between two places because we have to be where we are. But we also - we can't leave where we come from. So I wasn't really shocked by the recent events. This kind of theme is a recurring theme with our nation and our history in the Western Hemisphere.
MARTIN: Haiti has always been so important to your art. And like all great art, it's universal, but it's also specific. So I just want to play a short track here from your latest album, "Pray For Haiti." It's "Kriminel." And in it, you talk about memories of hunger.
MACH-HOMMY: Oh, yes.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KRIMINEL")
MACH-HOMMY: (Rapping in Haitian Creole).
MARTIN: I'm wondering whether the centrality of Haiti to your art is something that you arrived at, or was it always there?
MACH-HOMMY: My personal mythology insofar is like the way I think about my origins and when I - when we all - we all ponder whether or not there are powers beyond our understanding and comprehension that, you know, influence what we do from day to day and where we go in life. And for me, that thing in the tangible form is Ayiti.
MARTIN: Mmm hmm.
MACH-HOMMY: It's Haiti for me.
MARTIN: Mmm hmm. So what is this like for you right now? I heard what you said earlier when you said, you know, maybe what's going on now is, like, news to other people. But this is, like, day to day. Like, you've - this has been what you've been living with. But still, you know, the president killed in his own bed, his wife wounded, the level of - the level - what people have been dealing with - right? - like, the kidnappings. I mean, the fact, like there was a couple of - was it just a couple of weeks ago or months ago that there was a church service livestreamed. It was, like, on Easter. Remember?
MACH-HOMMY: I saw that.
MARTIN: Was it Easter Sunday? Right. And people being...
MACH-HOMMY: I saw it.
MARTIN: ...Kidnapped in their own church on Easter. So what's that been like for you? Like, do you find yourself, like, calling relatives every day just to check on them? Like, what's that been like for you?
MACH-HOMMY: Well, what's going on right now reminds me of, you know, kind of what went on with Aristide in the early '90s and the whole exodus, the whole boat people, the whole - it's, I don't know, the political asylum. To me, it's a broken record that's on repeat. So when I call my family, it's, like, the same conversation. A lot of people are extremely depressed more than anything at the recent events. So, you know, I'm hearing a lot more of that kind of talk in terms of like, well, what will become of us as a nation? The dialogue is always like, you know, what atrocity occurred today, now, and how are we going to deal with it tomorrow? We just been consistently doing, like, this collective crisis management since 1804.
MARTIN: Can I ask you a personal question?
MACH-HOMMY: Of course. Yes.
MARTIN: Do you ever feel survivor's guilt?
MACH-HOMMY: Of course - a thousand percent. All the time. I think that's something that I live with, for sure.
MARTIN: There was an interview with you that I read where you said that you regret the fact that you don't want Haiti to be always seen in the context of this trauma loop - right? - what you - do you remember that?
MACH-HOMMY: Yes. Yes.
MARTIN: What would you like the conversation to be about?
MACH-HOMMY: I'd like the conversation to be about the resiliency of these people and the untapped wealth of skill, thought, language, art. I want people to know that that's there, even through all the trauma and assassination attempts and, you know, successful assassinations. And even through all of that, these people are still willing to share their culture. And they look to everyone else not for a handout but for recognition and acknowledgement for what they've contributed as a culture to just the book of humanity. And it's very valuable to me. It's a source of, like, a lot of my power.
MARTIN: Before I let you go, what is giving you hope for a better future for Haiti right now?
MACH-HOMMY: I hate to be cliche, but it's children. It's the children, like - because no matter what's going on in the country every day, there's constantly blank slates being produced, ready to be programmed for the future. There's this euphemism like every day, a sucker is born. And then, like, every day, everything else is born as well. Every day, a rocket scientist is born. Every day, a neurosurgeon is born. Every day, a holistic healer is born. Every day - a phenomenal musician is born every day, you know? So that's my thing. Like, that's what keeps me going. Like, I know that people are always making babies, and there's a little bit of hope wherever there are babies.
MARTIN: That was Haitian American rapper Mach-Hommy. His latest album, "Pray For Haiti," came out recently and is already being called one of the best rap albums of the year. Mach-Hommy, thank you so much for speaking with us.
MACH-HOMMY: Thank you so much.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.