Haiti-born Grammy winner Wyclef Jean is always looking for ways to bring a new narrative of his Caribbean homeland and its rich culture to music. Now he is back at it again —and he’s chosen Haitian Flag Day, May 18, to do it. The artist was in Little Haiti earlier this month filming a video for the first song off his project, Vodou Drill.
The first song is called “Voye Dlo” (Throw Water). It features Miami-raised singer and “Love & Hip Hop Miami” star Jessie Woo, and was released earlier this week while the video debuted Wednesday. Also featured is Haitian musician Eddy Francois of Boukman Eksperyans, who took Haitian rasin (roots) music to the world stage and earned a Grammy nomination. Making a cameo in the video is Wanda Tima, founder of the Haitian-American social media site L’Union Suite, which gets a shout-out in the song.
This year marks the 25th year since Jean released his groundbreaking album “Wyclef Jean Presents The Carnival.” It featured lyrics in Haitian Creole also known as Kreyòl, English and Spanish along with African rhythms and reggae beats.
“When we say we are pressing the re-set button in order to celebrate ‘The Carnival,’ I wanted to go back to what was the essence,” he told Miami.com. “For me, when we say the essence, it’s going back to our Pan Africanism, and starting out with Chapter 2, Kreyòl. My daughter is 17 and she wants to speak Kreyòl; all my little nephews want to learn Kreyòl, which is becoming an amazing language in pushing the culture forward.”
He wants to do for Haitian beats and Kreyòl what Latin artists have done for Spanish-language music.
Why Vodou Drill? Jean says he wants to remove the negative stereotype associated with the Vodou religion and culture that is known for its rhythmical drum beats and what Haitians refer to as “rara.”
“I need people to understand that our culture is very beautiful; and we have a lot of hymns in our culture, a lot of old school hymns that were around before we were around....and mixing it with the cadence of a drill allows it to have a new sound.”
As for Jessie Woo, the two met on Nick Cannon’s comedy sketch “Wild ‘N Out.” Her personality appealed to Jean and he later did his research on the Canadian-American artist who grew up in Miami and started off as a social media star.
Though Woo has had her share of controversy, Jean said he was drawn to her rhymes, ability to rap in Krenglish, the mixing of English and Creole, and her activism. He’s calling this latest release “a letter to Haiti,” which is seeing an escalation in gang-related violence and kidnappings. The community where Jean grew up , Croix-des-Bouquets, has been at the center of the recent gang violence that has led to at least 148 deaths, according to a local human rights group, and the displacement of thousands, according to the United Nations. None of that is lost on Jean, who references the gang violence in his new single.
“My letter to Haiti is I put myself as the problem,” he said, adding that his message is that “maybe we all want to look in the mirror and see collectively where the problem is coming from.”
“The country has not heard me speak in a very long time, so it was important,” Jean said, for him to say something. As for what’s next from the hip hop star, more songs as part of his Vodou Drill project and a new album called “1997” inspired “by the nostalgic years,” in celebration of ‘The Carnival.’