Country music isn't the first thing that springs to mind when you hear the name Wyclef Jean, whose work with the Fugees as well as numerous remixes for others has left an ubiquitous stamp on pop music. Still there he was, performing alongside the Mavericks, Brooks and Dunn, and Trisha Yearwood at New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom this past week as part of an all-star tribute to Johnny Cash. "His humor and his storytelling are so crazy," Wyclef says, explaining Cash's crosscultural appeal. "Is this guy really singing country music? Cash was from a poor farmer family. Everyone can relate to the oppressed, whether they're black or white." So is Cash about to see a revival of his career via the inner cities? "Are they pumping him in Brooklyn at the projects?" Wyclef ponders with a laugh. "No. But was I listening to him in college when I had no money for beer or to pay tuition? Yeah! I feel like I'm a farmer, too."
Wyclef is preparing to make his way down to Miami for this Saturday's Carnival 1999 concert at Bayfront Park. A daylong festival, Carnival is a celebration of Haitian and Haitian-American culture. Although this year's lineup is predominantly hip-hop oriented, Wyclef hopes to add several more Haitian bands in addition to the confirmed Sweet Mickey. "Sweet Mickey and I are going to close out the concert with a jam on some traditional, back-home compas," he says.
Proceeds from this year's Carnival (the third, and the second held here after disputes with Port-au-Prince government officials) will go toward building two Wyclef Jean civic centers, one in Brooklyn, and one in Miami. "They'll be like YMCAs," Wyclef explains. "When the kids get out of school, instead of standing on the corner getting in trouble, they can go to the center, play ball, swim. They can be part of something, rather than part of nothing."
This center's location may not necessarily be in Little Haiti, though. "When you hear Wyclef, you don't hear a separation of white, black, and Latino. I want to put the center somewhere that kids from Little Haiti can feel good right alongside kids from Little Havana. Even those weirdoes from Miami Beach will feel comfortable coming down."
Weirdoes? "Man, every time I go to Miami Beach, it's just tourist hell. I've seen some crazy stuff there," he continues, growing animated. "One night I saw this chick Rollerblading -- and I kid you not -- it was a ghost. I saw the Rollerblades, but there were no feet, no legs! I saw her body, and it was bangin', but there were no legs. It was a Rollerblading ghost. I wasn't smoking weed, and I wasn't hallucinating. This was the ghost of a dead Rollerblader."
Miami's own Baboons have just released their debut CD, Evolution, and the self-produced effort easily establishes them as one of the city's most promising acts. A literal melting pot of influences, Evolution displays Brazilian percussion dueling with Latin grooves, a thick reggae skank, and Jose Elias's snaky guitar lines. "Most of us come from Cuban-American backgrounds," says Mano Pila, one of the Baboons' percussionists. "But we grew up watching Fat Albert, drinking Coca-Cola, seeing Star Wars, just absorbing the [English] language without even thinking about it. As kids we listened to Led Zeppelin and the Who. Then, as we got older, we started to make cultural connections. Wow! That Bo Diddley beat is the same rhythm as this Cuban beat, just played on a different instrument. And that same rhythm exists in Brazil too, just in a different style. Once you make those connections, you want to mix them up and play around with them -- create something new."
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The band is making plans to travel to New Orleans later this month, opening for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Closer to home, the Baboons celebrate the unveiling of their new CD with a live performance this Saturday at 10:00 p.m. at Tobacco Road.
PBS affiliate WLRN-TV (Channel 17) has returned Sessions at West 54th (one of the best hours of music television out there) to its regular lineup, Saturdays at 11:00 p.m. Set your VCR accordingly for May 1 when Lou Reed holds court, and again on May 8, when Brazilian chanteuse Virginia Rodrigues performs. Summer highlights include Rufus Wainwright, Phish, the Afro-Cuban All Stars, and Los Amigos Invisibles.
-- Brett Sokol
Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org