Politics And Music In Wyclef Jean's Haitian Experience Following the 7.0 earthquake in Haiti, the Haitian-American singer ramped up his charitable efforts for the country and tried to run for president. He was disqualified, but the experience inspired him to record a new EP, titled If I Were President: My Haitian Experience.

Politics And Music In Wyclef Jean's Haitian Experience

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(Soundbite of song, "Earthquake")

Mr. WYCLEF JEAN (Singer): (Singing) Earthquake down there in Haiti. Earthquake...


On January 12th of this year, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake leveled Haiti. The day after, Haitian-American singer Wyclef Jean arrived to find the country of his birth in ruins. The experience led him to ramp up his charitable efforts and eventually to throw his hat in the ring to become the country's president.

Now, Haitian elections are tomorrow, but the name Wyclef Jean won't appear on the ballot. Jean was disqualified. His permanent residence in New Jersey made him ineligible to run, a position he disputes. In any case, it's been a whirlwind year for Wyclef Jean and he's put it all down in song.

His latest record will be released in a couple of weeks. A five-song concept album called "If I Were President: My Haitian Experience."

Wyclef Jean says he writes a song a day but it took him awhile to begin writing about the carnage he witnesses in Haiti.

Mr. JEAN: After the quake, picking up bodies on the ground, seeing children being brought to morgues, I came back to the States, it really was post-trauma stress. I really didn't feel it until, like, weeks later. And my only therapy was like just getting a pen and a paper and just expressing what I felt.

(Soundbite of song, "Earthquake")

Mr. JEAN: (Singing) And as much as we take it for granted, we might not have no bed to lie in tonight.

CORNISH: How does music help you make sense of what is happening to your country?

Mr. JEAN: I think the same way that music helped Bob Marley make sense of what was happening in his country at the time. You know, it's just that the way that I can get people to pay attention is through these real melodic tones and hope once I hypnotize them inside of the tone, they could start paying attention to what's going on.

CORNISH: And this is a five-song EP called "If I Were President: My Haitian Experience." And there's one song I actually want to play from the album because it has a lot of really interesting production and engineering and it's called "Election Time."

(Soundbite of song, "Election Time")

Mr. JEAN: (Singing) Come on, immigration, socialism, capitalism, racism, health care, welfare, seems that nobody cares. E-business, corporation, small business, taxation, unemployment, education, my generation.

I would say this one, I was definitely inspired by the Pink Floyd, we don't need no education, you know.

CORNISH: This is "Brick in the Wall."

Mr. JEAN: Yeah, "Brick in the Wall," one of my favorite albums. And as the hook comes in, you can hear, the kids are singing.

(Soundbite of song, "Election Time")

Mr. JEAN: (Singing) We're okay. As long as we got music we can dance all day. (Unintelligible). Election time is coming.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) We're okay. As long as we got music we can dance all day. (Unintelligible). Election time is coming.

Mr. JEAN: And they're saying, you know, we would rather vote for Kanye or Taylor Swift, like the modern-day politicians are like the musicians, you know?

CORNISH: Another influence I heard, was it "Zombie," I think?

Mr. JEAN: Yeah, Fela Kuti, "Zombie."

CORNISH: That is an odd mix - Pink Floyd and Fela Kuti.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JEAN: Well, you know, with my brain, you know, the Wyclef Jean brain, they call me Mr. Eclectic, you know what I mean? But they meet somewhere. Let me tell you where they meet. They meet in a political space, you see what I'm saying? Because Fela was very political in his country, you know? When Nigeria was going through a bad time, he used his music to transform his message.

(Soundbite of song, "Election Time")

Mr. JEAN: (Singing) ...Saint John with the info. Did you know that a Haitian founded Chicago? If I was President the first thing I would do is get my people out them tents.

CORNISH: Now, we talked about the way you were inspired musically, but also the earthquake and the things that have happened since have inspired you politically. And you did have an attempt to run for president. And in the end, the electoral council of Haiti determined that you were ineligible, it seems because of your official residence is here in the States, in New Jersey.

Mr. JEAN: Well, I think the first thing is the residency was not a problem because I have residency in Haiti too. I have homes in Haiti.

CORNISH: Well, just - and I want our listeners to understand - in the Haitian constitution, it says that you have to have lived in the country for a certain amount of years consecutively prior to the election in question, right? It was about five years?

Mr. JEAN: In the Haitian constitution, right, it says that you have to have had residence in the country in the course of five years, meaning a piece of property that you're paying taxes on to show that you have business which is active and you're coming in the country back and forth. If this was not the case, right, the parliament, the entire parliament, you know, they couldn't run for office because half of the years they're in Miami. The law has to apply for everyone, not just a group of people.

CORNISH: The interesting thing about your music is you kind of put it all out there lyrically. So I'm trying to come up with a question about how you felt but actually you write about that very specifically. I'd like you to play something from the album that you think best represents what that process was like for you of trying to lead your nation.

Mr. JEAN: Okay. No problem.

(Soundbite of song, "Haitian Experience")

Mr. JEAN: (Singing) Electoral council says I didn't pass on residency. That's propaganda, 'cause I got a crib in Haiti. I guess they think I'm a Haitian in America, where papa first got his green card, worked seven jobs in America. Then he came and got me from Haiti, so me, I had one chance to make it in America. An illegal alien looking for work in Manhattan in America. I'm a Haitian, Haitian. I got to America, America, only six months visa, visa. When the visa expired, I went underground like rats in the sewer. This is my Haitian experience. First tour out in England, England, immigration sent me back to Washington, Washington, should I need a visa if I wanted to enter the United, you know. I pray that the queen of Buckingham is listening. Your Highness, I got a palace out in Port-au-Prince. I got 100 acres and a whole lot of land, but I can't go back and see my people in the tent. Look in their eyes, she won't survive. She smiles like she's in love. She's 21. She lost her feet and arms but she ain't lose her soul that's in and out of control, like Angelina, ballerina, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na. I'm a Haitian in America, where papa first got his green card, worked seven jobs in America. Then he came and got me from Haiti, told me I had one chance to make it in America. An illegal alien looking for work in Manhattan in America.

CORNISH: That was outstanding. Thank you.

Mr. JEAN: All right. Cool.

CORNISH: I'm speaking with singer and songwriter Wyclef Jean. His new EP is titled "If I Were President: My Haitian Experience," and that song was called "Haitian Experience."

And right now Haiti's dealing with cholera crisis. And I'm wondering if you've been back since that outbreak and how that's affecting you now.

Mr. JEAN: Yes, I've been back once we heard of the news. Yele Haiti, even though we're not...

CORNISH: Yeah, and Yele Haiti is your charity, started back in 2005, I think.

Mr. JEAN: Yes. Even though we're not a Water Charity, we was the one responsible on the ground once the cholera broke out, working with Partners with Health to start bringing water through the entire country, the need for an ambulance, which we're working on getting down there, IV, which could stay cold, and also awareness, letting people known what cholera is.

So working on (unintelligible). And outside of Port-au-Prince, keep in mind there is not that many radio stations, so you have to find a way to get the information to the people.

CORNISH: It sounds like your work in Haiti isn't done, regardless of this experience.

Mr. JEAN: No. My work in Haiti has not even started.

CORNISH: That's Wyclef Jean. His new EP is called "If I Were President: My Haitian Experience." It's released digitally on December 7th.

Wyclef, thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr. JEAN: Thank you. And make sure you all catch the tour next summer, "The Haitian Experience."

CORNISH: We will. We will.

Mr. JEAN: All right.

(Soundbite of song, "Haitian Experience")

Mr. JEAN: (Singing) Now, put the (unintelligible)...

CORNISH: For Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish. You can hear the best of this program on our new podcast, Weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Subscribe or listen at npr.org/weekendatc. Thanks for listening and have a great night.

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