By Jacob Katel
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Spearheading much of mainland Miami nightlife's response to the tragedy in Haiti is a man known as the Haitian Hillbilly. Not only did this proud hipster redneck — born Alain Maximilien — spend many of his formative years in the island nation, but also his father runs La Maison des Anges, a 120-child orphanage just outside Port-au-Prince. And while everyone on-site survived the quake, the structure itself did not fare as well. Children and staff are all living in tents set up on the orphanage's grounds. That's the good news. The bad news is that Maximilien lost a half-brother.
But, as one might suspect, this is not Maximilien's first rodeo in that perennially crippled country. He has been involved periodically with (and remains a staunch advocate of) Project Medishare, a University of Miami School of Medicine group that has provided health care to the Haitian hinterlands since 1994. And his persona was actually born on the island, after a chat in a Port-au-Prince bar led to a spot on Radio NBC.
Indeed, during that chat, Maximilien jokingly came up with the moniker Haitian Hillbilly, and that inner alter ego would go on to host The Haitian Hillbilly Happy Hour. For the first few months, the show ran on NBC. But when Radio 1 came about, Maximilien moved his patented brand of Americana to the station and became something of a sensation.
Unfortunately, being something of a sensation in Haiti sets one up as a target. And it wasn't long before Maximilien and a colleague from North Carolina were kidnapped and held for ransom in Port-au-Prince's notorious Cité Soleil slum. This being Haiti, the ransom was stolen a few times before any money actually made it back to the bad guys. And when it finally did, the hostage-holders decided the amount was insufficient. So they released the colleague and kept Maximilien until more loot could be raised. All in all, he spent five days in captivity.
Yet Maximilien, to his credit, is still out and about raising hell to help his former countryfolk. And it's also why he'll still play a track from Tabou Combo without getting a bad taste in his heart. That's about as far as it goes, though. When he spun on the island as the Haitian Hillbilly, he spun stuff from the likes of Mike Ness, Johnny Cash, AC/DC, and the Cold War Kids. "There was no point playing music everyone already knew," Maximilien says. "Besides, contemporary Haitian music is about as life-affirming as 'N Sync — it just has a different beat."
It's just that kind of contrary nature which has made Maximilien a go-to DJ at both Bardot and Electric Pickle. "I may never get a job on the Beach," he admits. "But I'm lucky to play in places where people get it."
And get it they do. At Vagabond's For the Love of Haiti benefit, no one minded a bit that the Hillbilly swilled from a trough that included '60s-era Italian and Turkish outtakes of America garage rock. Nor did they seem to miss the fact that Maximilien didn't bother playing Boukman Eksperyans or any other of the island's mizik rasin. Roots are all about where you dig them. And if you dig it for yourself first, there's a damn good chance everyone will dig right along with you. Even a Haitian Hillbilly knows that.