The Caribbean island state of Haiti isn't often associated with success stories. Until recently, the country was a corrupt and bloody dictatorship. Now, propped up in part by U.S. oversight, Haiti is mostly noted in the international media for its crushing poverty and political violence, which is unfortunate. Haiti has a rich indigenous art tradition, too, and people like U.S. filmmaker Jonathan Demme have for years been championing Haitian music in this country and abroad. Given the bleak prospects in Haiti for all but the wealthy ruling elite, it was a major and emotional event when Wyclef Jean and his cousin Pras Michel, both members of the world-conquering hip-hop act the Fugees and both the sons of Haitian families, brought their hugely successful group to Haiti's capital city of Port-Au-Prince last week, to headline a benefit concert to raise money for repatriated refugees and orphans.
Some 75,000 hope-starved Haitians thronged the outdoor show. Tickets were three dollars,
but many fans managed to slip in for free. Among the out-of-towners on hand was our own John Norris.
WYCLEF: Well, it's basically my country, this is where I'm from. And me just landing, having my guitar and my bag in my hand, it was just like, ah, finally, arrival. I guess the feelings are like when U2 went back to Ireland or when the Beatles went back to England. The Fugees come back to Haiti, where I was born at.
JOHN NORRIS: Are there ever times when it gets really intense and really hectic that you're ever concerned for safety?
WYCLEF: I think the cool thing about it is you see everyone going crazy, but you see them laughing. It's not a violent, you know, welcome. So it's really nothing to be afraid about. Like on the other sense, if they came to airport with machetes and they was like, "Get out this country!" You know we would've been right back on that plane.
FAN: Wyclef! I love you! I love you Fugees!!!
wants to be able to shout out and feel pride about where they come from. And that's what this is all about, particularly a country like Haiti where there was so much derogatory news and negative type of stereotypes and stuff that came out of here.
FAN: I think all the Haitian people should be proud of ourselves. We're not afraid no more to say that we're Haitian, because of the Fugees.
PRAS: It's like Gloria Estefan, she went and did something for the Latinos. It made them feel good. It's the same thing over here, you know.
NORRIS: Someone standing up for them.
PRAS: Like what Bob Marley did in Jamaica, you know?
WYCLEF: The funny thing is I recorded a lot of music in Creole that I felt should just come to the island. And I didn't feel like I wanted to sell, I just felt like it should've been music for the people to hear. So, I put a lot of it on the radio, and they all became number one songs in this country. They speak of the political
awareness, of democracy, peace, love, the way the country needs to change...
MTV: With Haiti's political history in mind, Wyclef hand-picked supporting acts close to the crowd's populist heart, including the once-exiled mayor of Port-Au-Prince.
WYCLEF: "Boukman Eksperyans," you heard of them, right? We gonna do a surprise where they gonna come out in the middle of the set and people don't know, they not even expecting that.
LOLA, Boukman Eksperyans [QuickTime, 693K]: And I tell you that, some politicians didn't like we're here. That's why Wyclef said, "Boukman have to be here!"
WYCLEF: I think it's just important that the world know about my culture a little, 'cause they accept me for who I am. And all I'm saying is, "Hey, look, this is where I'm from. Do you all wanna learn a little something about it?" and somehow it works out.
KURT: We'll have more from John Norris