Interview by Rebecca J. Brock
Edited by Issey Swann
Wyclef Jean, Betty Wright, Dr. Shaquile O’neal and many more helped Barry University celebrate their 75th birthday in true 1940s style.
The evening gave L’Etage Magazine the chance to enjoy an intimate, open discussion with the legend Wyclef Jean.
Everyone knows something about Wyclef Jean, but for many no particular image comes to mind. Here’s a guy who has changes his personal style more than most people I know. So when I had a chance to speak with him at Barry University’s 75th birthday celebration, I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t recognize him at ﬁrst, though I’ve always been a huge fan of his music.
Wyclef’s musical genius has earned him three Grammys, and his philanthropic work to help the people of his homeland Haiti is legendary. By the time I caught up with Wyclef, he was enthusiastically ready to answer my questions.
RB: Your autobiography “Purpose” is mainly your personal story as an immigrant from Haiti. Your charitable efforts and attempt to become involved in politics has gained a lot of media attention. What are your present day efforts to help the people of Haiti (especially with regards to the issues with the Dominican Republic) and what changes would you like to see happen there?
WJ: One of the main issues is just the politics of the situation. You see, if we could get past the politics, we can really get down to the real issues. But when someone is born within the soil of a particular place, he automatically belongs to that place. We deﬁnitely want to hold on to our country, but if we dig a little deeper into history, we see that it’s really just one island that was called Hispaniola. Whether you like it or not, there are Dominicans with Haitian roots, and Haitians with Dominican roots. For example my uncle, Raymond Joseph, was born in the Dominican Republic. I think to really bring about real change the Haitians and the Dominicans living outside of these countries could work to change the policies much faster then someone living there a midst the turmoil. I would like to see more Haitian and Dominican coalitions outside of the country working together to try and change the policies of what’s going on there.
RB: Who are your favorite musical groups and how has this inspired your music?
WJ: I came up and left Haiti when I was ten years old and grew up in Marlboro projects in Brooklyn. I was a church boy like Marvin Gaye. So, R&B of course, Bob Marley, Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, and U2. I was always into bands that stood for social issues. You know, I was always into rock ’n rollers, but I liked the rockers that really were always saying something and had a message.
RB: You’ve won three Grammys in your life so far. What do you think was the critical factor which lead to this success?
WJ: I think success is measured by what an individual does to help move the human race forward. Beyond just winning a Grammy, I’ve travelled throughout the world and in some of the smallest remote villages I’ve heard the best musicians in my entire life. They don’t have a Grammy, but what they have is music that universities will be studying 50 years from now. The true success of self, I think, is when you understand that you’re not just doing it for yourself and you’re able to really channel emotions (like in my music for example) to the entire human race.
RB: There has been much controversy and many misconceptions about you since you’ve been in the public eye. What’s the one thing you wish everybody knew about you?
WJ: Understand, there’s called what’s popular and then there’s what’s right. And remember that no good deed goes unpunished. If I just chose to be an artist and just sing and dance then there probably wouldn’t be any controversy. Instead, I choose to take on topics and talk about social issues and I’d rather people have those opinions about me-right or wrong- at the end of the day. Like my father said, “as a man, my social obligation is public service.” That part of me will always continue and go on. If you don’t have haters, then you’re not popular. You only have 24 hours in a day…make every one of them count!
Photo Credit: Marcello Oliveira
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