Wyclef Jean: after a 10-year hiatus, Haiti’s hero returns for the Carnival III Tour
By Michael Chary
When the Fugees released their seminal album, The Score, in 1996, hip-hop was well into its stride, but it was still a relatively new genre in the chronicles of pop culture history. Today, rap has matured quite a bit but is still burgeoning at the age of 45. While some might say the genre is in the midst of a midlife crisis, Wyclef Jean, who as Billboard recently put it, made “a formidable return to music in 2017,” has embraced its myriad of changes, pushing its boundaries every step of the way by incorporating new elements, artists and now… planets.
When Wyclef got a call from NASA, he probably answered the phone and said, “Yo yo, dis is Wyclef! What up?! — at least that’s how he answered the phone in a recent interview with The Marquee. But chances are he may have been a bit more formal when the space agency asked if he’d like to use sound frequencies from Jupiter beamed back to Earth by NASA’s Juno space probe in some of his music. Naturally, Wyclef obliged and created the track “Borrowed Time” for his first LP in eight years, Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee.
“I was approached on what would happen if I take the sounds of space and combine it with earthly music. I think in time it might be one of my most studied tracks,” Wyclef said. It’s undoubtedly clear how special the track is to him as he notes that the sounds had never been heard by humans before he was asked to incorporate them into his album.
“I’ve always been interested in space and for me, as a producer and conductor I’m constantly looking for sonics — that’s why everything on my albums is played on native instruments,” Wyclef said. “You know I’m constantly exploring the fusion of sonics. That’s what we do as producers. So, for me, it was just amazing to understand that a lot of that frequency is up ‘there.’ And that track was to show how much we have in common with nature, like at the end of the day we [are]really one.”
That existentialist sentiment can be felt in the track’s lyrics, but true to his nature, the rest of Wyclef’s album is eclectic (read: Ecleftic), lively, and full of Caribbean rhythm and tempo. Living up to its name Carnival III takes listeners back to the islands, and Wyclef promises to bring this vibe to each city on his current U.S. jaunt — the first major tour he’s done in a decade.
“My show is like jumping in a time machine. We’re starting in 1996 and we finish in 2018,” Wyclef said. “This show is from the eye of the producer and conductor, so when I’m recording in my studio this is how the stage is set up. We do classics, whether its Fugees, Carnival classics, or songs that I wrote for different people. You get to see the creation of it happening in real time. The show finishes, of course, with the last 20 to 25 minutes taking you back to the Caribbean where we come from, Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo and giving you that experience of what Carnival feels like.”
This latest installment in Clef’s Carnival series includes appearances from a number of diverse artists ranging from German rapper Cro, to Scottish chanteuse Emeli Sandé, and even a brief cameo from D.L. Hughley. When it comes to the upbeat Caribbean influences Wyclef is known for, tracks like “Trapicabana” blend subtle high-hat shuffles with trap bass, and hip-shaking salsa/merengue rhythms.
One of the album’s most upbeat and noteworthy tracks is an ode to the late, great Fela Kuti, one of Wyclef’s musical heroes. The track is produced by up-and-coming producer Supah Mario who produced Young Thug’s ode to one of his musical heroes, a track called “Wyclef Jean.”
Young Thug expressed his infatuation to Wyclef, telling him how big of an influence he’s been on his music and Wyclef has acknowledged the fact that he feels like he has an avuncular relationship with many younger artists in hip-hop. One might even draw the connection between Thugger’s obsessive use of autotune in his style and that wavering reggae vibrato “ayyyyy,” that is Wyclef’s trademark.
“For me the way that I see this generation using autotune it sounds to me like blues,” Wyclef said. “You know how when you’re playing blues guitar there’s a certain way that you bend the chord? The way that the kids use the tuner it bends the note in a soulful way and this new generation the way they’ve adopted it, literally to me, it sounds like they’re using autotune as a new instrument and people just have to accept it as a new instrument.”
Wyclef’s take on what the younger generation is doing with the genre is progressive and all-inclusive as he welcomes the new trends that have often scared off older hip-hop purists. But it comes as no surprise from someone whose career has embraced the fact that he is a refugee (Fugees is short for refugees). And though his presidential bid in Haiti never came to fruition, Wyclef’s political conviction is as strong as ever in an era of adversity for people who are facing the same struggle he once did.
“I think now when people look back, when I put myself in the fire and stopped being a rockstar for a minute, it was like ‘I’m gonna try to go help my people,’ I mean it’s a dirty shithole game,” Wyclef said. “But for the record, just to be clear, Haiti is not a shithole — first black republic of the world, Haiti is part of the Americas. In the end, what you don’t want to do is get caught up in the emotional task with politics, because politicians use your emotion against you. Past the emotion, we should be working on legislation and when you put somebody in office you wanna put them in office to help people, not take away from you.”
Go If You Dig:
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