On September 28th a small audience gathered at Miami Dade College’s Chapman Theatre for Wyclef Jean’s interview presented by Books and Books, they were lucky ones. Wyclef Jean, singer, songwriter, musician, producer, actor, former member of the urban, hip hop band, The Fugees, presidential candidate for his home country of Haiti; can now add author to his long list of accomplishments. Wyclef Jean’s book, Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story is a powerful story about a life rife with the sometimes painful, often humorous, melding of two cultures laying the foundation for this deeply connected and well spoken artist.
Wyclef Jean was introduced by fellow Haitian author, hugely successful by her own rights, Edwidge Danticat. Celeste Fraser Delgado, an associate professor of English and Humanities at Barry University, interviewed him and lead him through stories of his childhood to the behind the scenes from the humble beginnings to the rise to the top of the music industry, which included an intimate relationship with band member Lauren Hill. Wyclef Jean, born in Haiti, is the son of a paster and grandson of a Voodoo priest, who at the age of nine, moved with his family to New York and eventually New Jersey. He talked about surviving as an urban teen whose home, as well as his father’s church, was a former funeral home in Newark. Unable to speak English, Jean’s early lessons came from watching Sesame Street, however, by high school he found that rapping was his favorite way to perfect it. His father’s church choir was where he began to sing and learn to play the guitar, piano and cello. His stories bridge how his family, tightly knit and deeply connected to Haiti, carried him through the days as an impressionable urban youth in a lackluster community. He served his parents as a literal and cultural translator. His words were pregnant with emotion from his early memories, with many that included his brother who he felt the need to protect, and the mother and father who helped to create the mold for his rebel youth in spite of their strong Christian beliefs.
The interview continued with questions and answers from the audience, only to be interrupted by a phone call from the President of Senegal. It was obviously an unplanned interruption by what the, very silent and respectful, audience heard from the one-sided conversation, where Wyclef Jean asked the president to help the students who came there after the Haitian earthquake, “…a lot of them are doing pretty bad right now you know, and if you can help and extend a hand in helping us…I look forward to coming to your country and sitting and playing guitar for you and having a great time.”
Wyclef Jean followed the interview with a solo performance with his electric guitar and singing what he is best known for, lengthy rap songs of social weight and significance, often with spontaneous audience outburst of appreciation, including, Gone Till November.
Wyclef Jean is a seasoned raconteur with an affable, witty and intelligent way of captivating his audience imparting intertwining story after story, always returning to his point in full circle, however, it is clear, with books to be written and music to be made, his full circle is far from being completed.
During his interview, as well as the questions and answers, Jean often referred to the usefulness of social media, encouraging the youth to use it to their advantage. Obviously it is one of the many pulpits he chooses to extend his various and poignant messages, with over 2.5 million followers on Twitter: www.twitter.com/wyclef and half a million followers on his Facebook Fan Page: