Haitian Musician Caught In Earthquake Shares His Story

Karl Vieux of CaRiMi talks about the devastation inflicted upon Haiti and what it means for him and the country.

Erik Parker is a freelance writer who was in Haiti when the earthquake struck last week. This interview took place on Friday.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Karl Vieux, one-third of the Haitian music group, CaRiMi, rocks back and forth with his 7-month-old son strapped to his chest. They are waiting to be evacuated by helicopter, which will land in the middle of a field at the Petionville Golf & Country Club, high up in the mountains. From there, it will take them to the Dominican Republic — and later to America where he, his son and wife now live. As a member of one of Haiti's more popular Kompa bands, like many other musicians in Haiti, Carimi (pronounced "carry me") were preparing for the country's annual Carnival (or Kanaval) festival when the earthquake rattled the region. In the aftermath, Vieux explained the country's love for music, Haiti's rocky past, and recalls the day that his country was turned upside down.

MTV: Carnival seemed to be on everyone's mind around the time of the earthquake. What was the mood of the country as you saw it?

Karl Vieux: We finished our tour on January 3, and we started it on December 27. We started working on our Carnival [song] and we finished it two days before the quake hit. The studio we recorded at was hit pretty bad. The bands that were scheduled during the earthquake are still under the rubble. They were mostly roots band. In Haiti we have different types of music: Roots, rap, folklore, and Kompa, which is what we make. The ones that got caught in there were roots bands. One was Reve, which means dreams. The singer Ti Paille, was a friend of mine.

MTV: How will their deaths impact the country?

Vieux: We know them and their death will have a big impact. A few months ago there was a rap group Barikad Crew, they lost three members in a car crash. It was a tragedy. And now the fourth one died in the earthquake. Haitians are very into our music and our culture. The president will sometimes give a national day and people come out in the streets to pay tribute.

MTV: What is the chance of rebuilding Haiti?

Vieux: Slim chances. We lacked a lot of infrastructure prior to the earthquake. This is going to bring us back 30, 40 years.

MTV: Where were you when the earthquake struck?

Vieux: I was in a building for Digicel, a big phone company in Hiati. This is where the tower was. It's in Turgeau, 15 minutes from downtown Port-au-Prince. We just finished a sponsorship deal with them for Carnival. So we were going floor to floor to sign autographs and meet with the employees. When we got on the third floor the earthquake happened: People running, chairs flying, windows breaking. The building was shaking pretty badly. We had to take the stairs. A couple of people died as some parts of the building fell down. The minute after that happened, the lines were out.

MTV: What did you do afterwards?

Vieux: I walked to Morne Calvaire. It took about three hours, and normally it would be a 15-minute car ride. I saw people praying in the streets — and dead. Cars were smashed with electric poles. There were big rocks in the middle of the street. Bodies, a lot of bodies. I didn't even recognize the streets anymore. I knew where I was at because I was familiar with it. But if you didn't really know, you would be lost.

MTV: How is this different than the flood that took place in 2007?

Vieux: The floods happened pretty far away from Port-au-Prince. I wasn't in Haiti at the time. But I have experienced coup attempts in the '80s and in the '90s. I was a kid back then. But it was chaos. And lots of people died then as well.

MTV: What kind of affect does that have on a kid?

Vieux: It traumatized me. At a point for me to sleep at night I had to have the radio on so I didn't hear gunshots. There was a lot of that. People would just get killed randomly, and people would take advantage of that to kill their enemies.

MTV: How was this tragedy different from a military coup?

Vieux: This was a more macro event, as opposed to the pockets [of areas affected by] the coup. The whole capital was shook. You didn't have buildings falling down like that.

MTV: In what ways will this affect your music?

Vieux: It will affect my business. We just released an album two months ago. We basically lost the Haitian market. People are not thinking about partying now. And in the States people send money home. Our sales will be affected by that as well. As for music, we always have a social or political song on our albums. A lot of it has to do with lack of government that could not respond to a disaster like that. But we still have to be careful about what we say. It's not the U.S.

MTV: Do you think the conditions are going to get better anytime soon?

Vieux: I think it will get worst before it gets better. You have to distribute food and water. People are going to fight to get the food. It will be survival of the fittest. The strong will get the food. When people get hungry they tend to do bad stuff to get the food. People escaped from the prison. That will exacerbate the situation. It's complicated. Haiti was complicated before this.

Head here to learn more about what you can do to help with earthquake-relief efforts in Haiti, and for more information, see Think MTV. Join George Clooney and Wyclef Jean for MTV's "Hope for Haiti" telethon, airing commercial-free Friday, January 22, at 8 p.m. ET.