His Music Rules in Haiti

Sweet Micky's provocative music moves Haitians with an infectious beat and political overtones

Although Martelly claims politics is not a factor in his relationship with his fans, his popularity with members of the Haitian army was boosted by his willingness to give the military the benefit of the doubt. Human rights abuses? Martelly claims the reports of thousands of killings and other atrocities committed during and after the coup are greatly exaggerated.

"To be honest, one thing I can tell you about the army [is that] if they did kill people, if they did, it was during the coup d'etat," Martelly declares. "And I know that a coup d'etat is not like a party. A coup d'etat is a coup d'etat. You will definitely find people who went over the limit. You will find people like that. Just like you find people now doing things they shouldn't be doing. But don't make me say that Michel Francois killed people or the Macoutes killed people, because I wasn't there. Just like nowadays there are people being shot, and I can't tell you who is pulling the trigger."

U.S. forces restored Aristide to the presidency on October 15, 1994. Martelly says he was surprised to hear his music blaring from U.S. tanks as they rumbled through the streets of Port-au-Prince. Even more surreal was the fact that his older brother Gerard, a U.S. Army officer, was part of the invading force. Resigned to the U.S. presence, Martelly and Sophia eventually found themselves on friendly terms with high-ranking U.S. officers. Martelly taped a public service announcement appealing to the population to refrain from violence.

Martelly and Sophia decided to give the new government a chance, but emotionally they remained on edge. Although the U.S. State Department reported that "Haiti's human rights climate improved dramatically" after Aristide's return, extrajudicial killings continued. In 1995 the human rights monitors from the United Nations/ Organization of American States International Civilian Mission reported twenty execution-style murders. The victims were either former members of the Haitian army, attaches (secret police controlled by Michel Francois), or members of the Revolutionary Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), a notorious paramilitary organization. (In comparison, human rights observers counted 340 extrajudicial killings and 131 disappearances during the first five months of 1994, when the military regime was still in power.)

In February 1995 purported hit lists started circulating in the capital, anonymously threatening Aristide's opponents with assassination. Martelly's name was on one of the lists. His wife received a copy.

Initially, Sophia says, the list did not alarm her. The band had concert dates scheduled throughout the spring, and Martelly left on tour as planned in mid-March. A few days later an outspoken right-wing leader, whose name appeared on the same list, was murdered. Sophia began to worry that perhaps the danger was real. She told her husband not to come back; she remained in Port-au-Prince with their two young sons.

They waited almost a year for things to cool down before Martelly returned to Haiti. While living in Miami, Martelly released two CDs. The first, Pa Manyen (Don't Touch), contained the song "Prezidan." The second, I Don't Care, I Don't Give a Shit, was an unsubtle retort to Haitians who wanted to persecute him for having played for members of the military.

In January 1996 Martelly received a letter bearing the elegant insignia of the Port-au-Prince mayor's office. The letter was addressed to "Maestro Sweet Micky" from Manno Charlemagne. "My dear Michel," the mayor wrote, "I have the great pleasure of informing you that the city of Port-au-Prince keenly desires your participation in the upcoming Carnival festivities."

The letter was only three sentences long, belying the extensive controversy that accompanied the mayor's decision. "When Manno Charlemagne invited Sweet Micky to come to the Carnival, there was a very negative reaction from a number of people," recalls Michele Montas, the head of the newsroom at Radio Haēti-Inter, an independent station that was shut down by Duvalier. When it reopened in 1986, the station was violently attacked by the military, and it was forced to close again for the duration of the military government. "The reaction was that he was a putschist," Montas remembers. "Why is he coming back? And why is he being given the red carpet treatment?"

Charlemagne says he invited Martelly because he was a popular entertainer with a strong following among the population. Martelly boasts that Charlemagne was forced to invite him "because they couldn't have a Carnival without me!" The day of Martelly's arrival, thousands of fans mobbed the airport, turning his homecoming into an impromptu street party. Later that week Charlemagne and Martelly performed together at a Petionville nightclub.

Buoyed by his boisterous reception, Martelly appeared in a skirt, scandalizing his more conservative fans. The teledyol, the rumor mill that is the Haitian community's unofficial news service, started up overnight. Not only was Martelly a Macoute, he was also gay.

It was exactly the response Martelly had been waiting for. Dressing for Carnival, he donned a shaggy pink wig and women's undergarments, amply padded to produce the desired curvaceous effect. "The day he came out with the wig and the bra, the country fell apart," Sophia laughs.

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