By Rebecca Bulnes
By Lee Zimmerman
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On September 5 Emilio Estefan, Jr., and his niece, Univision host Lili "La Flaca" Estefan, made the short list of guests at the Bush administration's first White House gala, boosting the Latin factor at the dinner honoring Mexican President Vicente Fox. Cowboy to cowboy, the Mexican leader was pushing the president for favorable changes in the immigration status of south-of-the-border workers currently undocumented in the United States. The link between Mexican immigrants and the U.S. workforce became tragically clear less than a week later, when an estimated 500 Mexicans perished in the World Trade Center -- leaving a network of dependent relatives back home destitute.
On October 12 a host of Latin stars gathered at the White House to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and commemorate all the victims of the September 11 attacks with a performance of "El Ultimo Adios," credited to Estefan, Peruvian singer/composer Gian Marco, and, in English translation, Jon Secada. "The Last Goodbye" had been recorded by more than 120 Latin musicians of all national origins -- including Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, Chayanne, Shakira, Juan Luis Guerra, and Los Tigres del Norte -- in ten different cities: Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Corpus Christi, San Juan, Mexico City, Frankfurt, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, and Milan. Don Francisco (Mario Kreutzberger), who proposed the project to Estefan, premiered the video on his Saturday variety marathon Sábado Gigante. A CD with four versions of the song goes on sale in mid-November.
The sentimiento typical of the Latin pop ballad is particularly suited for the "We Are the World" format. In the wake of September 11, however, the message is inverted: With all roads in the music industry leading to or through this nation, artists the world over are singing "We Are the United States."
That message was not lost on Jean R. Philippeaux, executive producer of the Haitian music-television enterprise Island Magazine T.V. From the parking lot of his North Miami office on September 27, he saw a parade of stars arriving at the Hit Factory two blocks away. Television crews caught the Miami contingent making their way into the building to record "El Ultimo Adios" -- as though the red carpet that remained rolled up on September 11, the day scheduled for the Latin Grammys, had finally been unfurled.
The following day Philippeaux received a call from Emeline Alexis, protocol and community liaison officer for Mayor Alex Penelas. "Haitians are always asking for help," said Alexis. "Now we have the chance to give something back." Alexis also contacted Philippeaux's competitor Claude Mancuso at the Haitian Television Network as well as Haitian station Radio Carnivale (1020-AM) to launch a fundraising effort called Haitian Kombit USA, using the Kreyol word for working together. Haitian Kombit defines the victims of the attack broadly, with 25 percent of the funds going to those who lost loved ones and the other 75 percent going to those now out of work in South Florida's hard-hit tourism sector.
The combined Haitian media forces recruited beloved television personality Elizabeth Guerin, who flew up from the island to host a two-hour telethon broadcast on cable October 11. Sandra Philippeaux, the producer of Island T.V.'s popular compas/reggae/hip-hop program The Zone, enlisted 40 musicians to record "Lavi Telman Kout" ("Life Is Short"), a song written by venerable compas composer Assad Francouer. Francouer and his daughters Sabine, Yves, and Martine of Saimaare among the 28 singers on the track, as is Paris-based superstar balladeer Luc Mervil. The seven-minute ballad opens with disbelief and rises to the rousing conclusion "Hand in hand/We move on."
As a followup to the telethon, Haitian Kombit plans a "Thank You" party where the participating artists will perform along with a gospel choir. Haitian Kombit USA marks the first time South Florida's Haitian community has mobilized for a larger U.S. cause, and Alexis hopes initiatives like these might convince the White House to grant Haitians better status along with Mexican immigrants. "The notion behind all this," she explains, "is not to be forgotten politically; that although we don't have the proper papers to work, we will still help."
Songwriters in the Round proved they can help as well, raising roughly $2000 for the Red Cross relief effort last October 9 with the possibility of a compilation minidisc under discussion at Warner/Chappell. Before a standing-room-only crowd at Café Nostalgia, organizer Elsten Torres opened the show, followed by a host of Miami-based singer-songwriters including a number by Willy Chirino and his daughters. The concert ended with a performance by Raul Midon, the jazz singer who recently released his solo CD Blind to Reality independently. Amid the flurry of celebrity tributes, Midon hailed ordinary heroes with his postattack composition "Everybody," a pleasant pop anthem with a heavy bass beat and flourish of Spanish guitar. "Everybody can be somebody," he exhorts in the chorus. "Everybody is free to make a difference."