Jean, who left Haiti at age 9, began speaking out in early February, over the escalating violence there and called for then President Jean Bertrand Aristide to resign.
After Aristide fled in late February, Jean flew to Haiti and announced he would organize a concert on Dec. 5 to raise money and awareness of the situation in the Caribbean island.
As floods engulfed areas of Gonaives and other neighboring towns in Haiti in September, the preacher?s son again flew to Haiti, shedding his superstar image and shirt to unload food and donations at a United Nations World Food Program center. There he mingled with and brought cheer to Haitians who lost loved ones and everything in the floods caused by Tropical Storm Jeanne.
Later that month he released ?Sak Pas? Presents: Welcome To Haiti Creole 101,? a tribute album to Haiti, celebrating its 200th anniversary of independence. Jean says he created the album not just to celebrate his native land, but to make a difference to people going through the same afflictions.
“I want it to bring a sense of peace and calmness in Haiti and a sense of inspiration for all refugees,” he said. “Outside of Haiti, you have this big Refugee market and the story is the same; the story of struggle, and no matter what you go through, you can overcome it.”
As a resurgence of violence began again in the slums of Bel Air in late September, Jean choose to visit the slums in early November to urge for peace. He met with rebel gang leaders from both sides there and stated boldly that peace cannot come unless Aristide plays a role.
Then as the Dec. 5 deadline for his concert grew nearer and major sponsors refused to step forward, Jean refused to cancel the concert. Instead, he set up a new foundation specifically to help Haiti and announced a series of concerts, titled, ?Yele Haiti,? to raise awareness and money for thousands of Haitians, who have been left homeless following recent storms and conflict on the island.
He brought together friends from the music and movie world to help him fulfill part of his dream and the first concert was held at the GLO nightclub on Dec. 9, 4 days later than his originally planned concert.
?Yele Haiti? was hosted by actress Susan Sarandon and featured another reunion with the Refugee Allstars and Roberta Flack. Jean is set to also take ?Yele Haiti? to Los Angeles and then to Port-au-Prince next spring.
And on Dec. 15, Jean joined the United Nations WFP in releasing a video titled ?Gonaives,? from the name of the city that bore the brunt of the disaster.
The video, sung in Creole shows Jean chatting with ordinary Haitians, distributing relief food, and giving weakened people clean water to drink while he breaking into song with words that seek to inspire.
But Jean did not stop with Haiti, donating to MTV?s auction to help raise money for Caribbean victims of hurricanes, which battered the region this past summer, showing a deep consciousness that is rare in many super star performers of his stature.
MORE ABOUT JEAN ? HIS OFFICIAL BIO
His childhood back in Haiti was rich in spirit, if short on material luxuries. “I remember jumping around and dancing naked to the water, where I’d go for a swim,” he says. “Lightning and thunder outside. My aunt telling me to get my ass back in the house. It was happy. It felt free. African gods, you know what I’m saying? That’s the spirit I still travel with today.”
The view from his room changed when, at age nine, he and his family relocated to New York, first to the Marlborough projects in Brooklyn, later in New Jersey. Raised in a Creole community as, in fact, a preacher’s son, he spoke no English at first; his impressions of urban life took on poetic twists as he processed them in both his original and emerging languages. “I got thrown into a bilingual class,” he remembers. “I had twenty-four hours to learn English. Even now, my first language is Creole. That gives me a very weird style of writing.”
Two events made it possible for Wyclef to achieve this goal. One was his decision to affiliate with J Records, which gave him the opportunity to work directly with label president and executive producer Clive Davis. They had joined forces before, on the Santana single “Maria Maria,” and their paths had crossed as well when Wyclef wrote the title track for the Whitney Houston CD My Love Is Your Love, which Davis produced. But on The Preacher’s Son they were able to come together for the first time on a complete album project.
“I’d looked up to Clive for years,” Wyclef says. “I always wanted to do an album with him. So when we did The Preacher’s Son that was a great merge. It’s the first time in my life I’ve had someone monitor me through a whole album. We went back and forth. We talked on the phone every day. He kept pushing me to do my best.”
Davis concurs that The Preacher’s Son is a watershed recording. “It’s very special when an important artist tops anything he or she has ever creatively done,” he says. “It was thrilling to feel the impact that comes from hot, exciting, great music that is not only cutting edge but melodically memorable as well.”
With his history of working with great singers, Davis was a catalyst in bringing Wyclef’s vocal talents to the fore as never before. “I sang more on this album than I ever thought I would,” Wyclef says. “I paid more attention to the melodic structure. I approached each track like I was writing songs, as opposed to just writing a rhyme, so even when I’m rappin’ there’s a melody to it. It’s rhymin’ singing.”