In the wake of the earthquake that hit Haiti, many Americans are learn more about the country that has benefited little from its wealthy neighbor. During the Hope for Haiti Now telethon, in addition to Wyclef Jean and other well-know performers, many heard the voice of Emily Michelle, a Haitian singer, for the first time. The musical introductions have not ceased since the telethon ended.
The other day, NPR ran a story about the famous Haitian singer, Manno Charlemagne. He is a singer who has always stood up to power and has paid the price in several ways. As an old article in the Miami New Times stated, Charlemagne’s music is about “Raking tyrants over his jagged lyrics. Shoving dignity down the throats of a vast underclass. Inciting the people to justice.” He has been called the Bob Marley/Dylan of Haiti.
He has been on both sides of the political spectrum serving time as a political prisoner and being elected mayor of Port-au-Prince. During one of his troubled times, musicians such as Bob Dylan, Bono, Jerry Garcia, and David Byrne petitioned on his behalf.
Often times, we think of singers and artists as having little to lose other than a couple of album sales; however, Manno Charlemagne shows that some artists must face life or death decisions in order to have their message heard. His music, sung in French and Creole, recalls passion of the great French chansons George Brassens and Leo Ferré. Although Charlemagne now sings to a few dozen people at a time in a restaurant in Miami, his voice, and the message that it carries, should be heard by all.