After a night of stirring performances, it was only right that Wyclef Jean closed out “Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief.”
With the Haitian flag twisted around his neck, Wyclef — who immediately traveled to his homeland in the aftermath of last week’s earthquake and subsequently raised millions of dollars for relief efforts — opened the evening’s final live performance with a snippet of the reggae classic “Rivers of Babylon.” Wyclef’s performance also included a Creole version of his song “Yele,” and a raucous track, written in the style of the Haitian folkloric music called racine, that had lyrics about the aftermath of the quake.
The biblically inspired “Rivers” was written and performed by Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton of the Jamaican trio the Melodians in 1972, and it was included on the soundtrack to the classic Jamaican crime film “The Harder They Come.” Its lyrics are based largely on Psalm 137, which details the Jewish people’s despair after being exiled from Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
The song opens with a mournful remembrance of what once was: “By the rivers of Babylon where we sat down / There, we wept when we remembered Zion.”
A 1978 cover version of “Rivers of Babylon” by the disco group Boney M hit #1 in the United Kingdom and stayed there for five weeks; it peaked on the U.S. pop charts at #30. Sublime’s 1992 debut 40 Oz. to Freedom featured a live version of the track, which has also been covered by Paul Simon and Sinead O’Connor.
Beginning Friday, iTunes customers can exclusively pre-order the “Hope for Haiti Now” full-performance album ($7.99) and the full two-hour video telecast ($1.99). Pre-orders will be delivered in the days following the telethon. Individual audio performances will also be available for purchase and download for 99 cents each in the days following the telethon. Apple, the record labels and the artists will donate their share of the proceeds to Haiti relief funds managed by “Hope for Haiti Now” charities, including the Red Cross and Wyclef’s Yele Haiti foundation. Performances will also be available for purchase in the days following the event through Amazon’s MP3 service and Rhapsody, through distribution provided by INgrooves.