EMELINE MICHEL & WYCLEF JEAN / “Hope For Haiti Mixtape”
One of the line producers sent me an email the day before, requesting permission to quote from one of my poems. I immediately messaged back my agreement to help in the fundraising effort.
On the night of the program, less than five minutes after the “voice of God,” aka Morgan Freeman, finished reciting the third stanza my phone started chimming—my ring tone sounds like vibraphone notes.
I had visited Haiti back in 1979, stayed a week, traveled all over the country, from Cap Hatien in the north where the historic Citadel Fortress sits majestically atop a mountain overlooking the bay, to Jacmel in the south with it’s pristine, literally unbelievable, black sand beaches—I was told the black sand was residue from a long, long ago volcano eruption. I met people from all stations of life: government officials, workers, artists, activists, unemployed and official public relations operatives. I don’t remember talking with any police or military but the deadly enforcers were in evidence everywhere: moving shadows most people tried to avoid like stepping around dog-shit on the sidewalk.
On the first day, I immediately put my bags down and walked out of the hotel, and kept walking, and looking, and walking, and listening. When I came to a white wall, my New Orleans sensibility immediately said cemetery. And it was. Except, inside the walls where the graves and crypts were, there were no flowers. Only pieces of metal painted like flowers.
That became the title of my book of poetry. By the time I left Haiti, most of Iron Flowers was written. In all my travels (Africa, South America, the Caribbean, Europe, the Far East Asia), neither before nor since have I been as moved by any one place as did Haiti scramble my consciousness. A lot of Haiti was beautiful, beautiful as only the black poor beautifying the meagerness of life can be but poverty itself, especially poverty at the level Haiti daily deals with, that kind of poverty is unbelievably ugly.
And that’s what you see in Haiti: poverty trying to paint everything ugly and the beauty pressing back trying to transform their hard lives into a tough beauty.
* * *
This is the poem Morgan Freeman read from on the Hope for Haiti Now telethon.
By Kalamu ya Salaam
this is Haiti, a state
slaves snatched from surprised masters,
its high lands, home of this
world's sole successful
slave revolt, Haiti, where
freedom has flowered and flown
fascinating like long necked
flamingoes gracefully feeding
on snails in small pinkish
sunset colored sequestered ponds
despite the meanness
and meagerness of life
eked out of eroding soil
and from exploited urban toil, there
is still so much beauty here in this
land where the sea sings roaring a shore
and fecund fertile hills lull and roll
quasi human in form
there is beauty here
in the unyielding way
colored charcoal, and
banana beige, and
shifting subtle shades
of ripe mango, or strongly
as the suck from
sun scorched staffs
of sugar cane,
we shall survive
we will live on
a peasant pauses
clear black eyes
searching far out over the horizon
the hoe motionless, suspended
in the midst
of all this shit and suffering
forced to bend low
still we stop and stand
and dream and believe
we shall be released
we shall be released
for what slaves
slaves can do
and that begets
slaves can do
* * *
Believe it or not, I didn’t watch the telethon. Even if I had known that Morgan Freeman was going to read from my poem, I may not have watched. I hate television. When I’m teaching in school and the topic of television comes up, sooner or later somebody will ask me—once—about watching the idiot box. I tell them I don’t look at television except occasionally to see a special event.
“Well, how you know what’s going on?”
I smile. “There are lots of ways. The internet. Reading. Traveling.
“So, you don’t watch no television.”
“Because it fucks with your mind.”
And when I don’t smile or laugh, they know I’m deadly serious and sometimes we engage in conversation not just about content but also about the medium itself, the cool end of the light spectrum, the power of taking in repetitive negative imagery and other issues.
Nevertheless, later I saw Mr. Freeman do his thing (should I say “our” thing?). But before peeping the video feeds, I purchased the telethon soundtrack on iTunes. I didn’t expect anything major; I wanted to support the effort.
I won’t go into my opinions of the music. Buy the soundtrack and support the cause. I will say I was disappointed that there were only two Haitian artists: Wyclef and Emeline Michel, who we had featured last week.
Emeline sang “Many Rivers To Cross”
in English. I wish she had sung in Kreyol.
Wyclef sang the reggae classic “Rivers of Babylon”
in both English and Kreyol, and finished off the song in the Haitian “rara” style with the single note trumpets and jump up snare drum rhythms. To me that was the musical high point.
I’m not going to make any assumptions or speculations about why there were not more Haitian artists on the program—after all they telethon raised over 50 million last I heard, so obviously the telethon was an effective fundraiser. Moreover, some of the major Haitian artists may not have been available—they might not have been able to fly out of Haiti, they might have been injured in the earthquake, or…
Anyway, there is still a major need for funds. So here is a second request. If you’ve already given, give again. If nothing else buy the telethon soundtrack.
This week’s short Mixtape features Emeline Michel and Wyclef from the Hope for Haiti Now telethon soundtrack available on iTunes
. That’s it. If you don’t have it—GET IT!
Give. Please. Give.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
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on Monday, January 25th, 2010 at 7:50 am and is filed under Contemporary.
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