Start the Party with Wyclef Jean’s ‘Carnival’ Playlist
After dropping his first full-length album in eight years, Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee, Wyclef Jean gets the party started (again) with his Carnival-ready playlist featuring Kassav, Alison Hinds, Beenie Man and a few hits from Clef himself.
The Haiti-bred Carnival man also discusses representing refugees throughout his career, predicting trends before they pop, and the key to preventing a creative rut.
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On maintaining the refugee theme in his work… It’s my DNA, coming from Haiti at 10 years old. Landing in America, but having family members that I personally know that tried to make it through the shores of Cuba in a time of a dictatorship in Haiti who did not make it through.
A cousin of mine who did make it through actually built his own boat. I was always fascinated with him, like ‘Yo, bro, it’s dark, you’re in the middle of the water, like how do you know [where to go]? You have a compass? What’s your direction?’ And he was just explaining to me how the boat flows in the direction of the moon and wind, just the natural science of it. He wasn’t even thinking about, ‘I could be dead.’ It was more like, ‘I’m going to get there.’ That idea, that sense of refuge, that’s that immigrant story and that’s why we’re here.
On Dreaming under Trump… The idea of 800,000 people… That could have been me, for sure, because your parents bring you over and you don’t choose to come, they bring you. Now that you’re here, you decide, ‘I ain’t gon’ break the law, I’m gon’ give my service, I’m gonna do my duties,’ and you do so good and now, someone’s like, ‘Thank you and we have to send you back [to your native country].’ I mean this is so wrong, because think about it: if this is what our Constitution was built on then we wouldn’t be America.
On his work resurfacing… I don’t really have those ‘I told you so’ moments, but it’s like I just know I’m different. It’s almost like when your job is to do music and you’re a creator, you just gotta keep creating.
Me and [DJ] Khaled had a conversation when he sampled ‘Maria Maria’ [on 'Wild Thoughts'] and now this thing become a No. 1 hit again. It’s great for me, but what it just shows people is they go, ‘Yo, this kid don’t really live in a time or space, he’s just him.’
Santana [and I] was having this conversation and he’s like, ‘Man, you know we don’t do music, we just do vibrations. What we create could never leave.’ We was having this conversation before Khaled called for ‘Wild Thoughts’ and it was amazing. It just reminded me of when [the Fugees] was doing The Score and we was doing ‘Killing Me Softly with His Song’ and the record blew up, but somebody else was the publisher. That was my first time realizing like, ‘Yo, I just made somebody 30, 40 million dollars.’ It was like, ‘Hold up, I’m on the wrong side of the fence.’
On preventing a creative rut… We’re constantly doing music. What happens when you sit on the piano and you have no idea? Just sit on the piano. Eventually, chords will bring a vibe. I always tell everybody I been writing 16 bars a day. If you call yourself an MC, then it means it’s a love of the sport.
When you listen to the Carnival III or Carnival I, you’re like, ‘OK, Clef is a musician, he’s a singer, he’s a rapper,’ but you pay attention and [you say], ‘He really got bars.’ I always tell kids [to write] 16 bars a clip a day. This is also good for the mind ‘cause it exercises your neural, constantly has you thinking about words you necessarily wouldn’t think about. So every day, pick a different pattern, pick a different topic and rhyme about it.
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Kassav, “Zouk La Se Sel Medikaman Nou Ni”
Zouk-la is equivalent to us saying Afrobeat. So Zouk is a form of calypso from the Caribbean, Guadeloupe, Martinique, which you will hear the influences of Soca, the Africana. I don’t care what party you at because Carnival records translate and make people dance without them even knowing what the language is saying. This record is saying, ‘At the end of the day, all I need is this music right here and this is my escape ‘cause the idea of the Carnival is we escape, we drink white rum, we catch a vibe, we’re naked, everyone’s free.’
Boukman Eksperyans, “Ke M Pa Sote”
Then I want to take you to a classic Carnival song in Haiti and this is deep. This band is called Boukman Eksperyans so Boukman is the experience of Boukman. The name is actually one of the fathers of the Haitian Revolution so this band named themselves after one of the fathers. Now, this is a very important moment for Haitian carnival because this was when the government was going through some craziness in Haiti. And this band rises in the late ‘80s and ‘90s until today. I would say a great Carnival song don’t matter if you can’t play it right now in 2017; that means it’s not a classic Carnival song. You should be able to play it all the time. So Boukman Eksperyans is saying, ‘We’re not afraid.’ Because the thing about Carnival is sometimes, people don’t understand that the idea of the Carnival is a way for you to get your message out in a non-political way but in a political and social undertone. That’s why one of the records could be like, ‘Yo, the price of the rum is too high this year.’
Cloud 5, “No Behavior Shell Down”
Trinidad has one of the best Carnivals in the entire world. This joint, when you play it, if you don’t break your back, then you’re not playing it. What makes this incredible to me is like Trinidad has a history for having some of the best Carnivals and best rhythm, like Machel Montano, who’s the king of the Carnival. It’s so unpredictable which record is gonna win this year at the Carnival, so the idea of this ‘No Behavior’ record is that it just makes you want to act bad. It makes you want to drink ’til you pass out, makes you want to find a little shorty if you connect, make out ’til the next day and when your girl ask you what happen, you’re like, ‘I don’t know, babe, I was on the white rum.’ This is facts. This is what ‘No Behavior’ does. It gives you some of the best music, some of the rhythm; a lot of the Soca and Calypso rhythms they’re using is mind-blowing to me.
Wyclef Jean, “Carnival”
This one’s called ‘Carnival’ from the first Carnival album. This record is deep, because, now, remember the first record that I told you, which is Kassav ‘Zouk-la’? This is what’s gonna make this dope. I was a fan of that band from when I was watching them as a kid. So when I was doing the Carnival, that’s the same band that I brought on when I was doing the record ‘Carnival.’ So that record is no joke. What makes it unique is Kassav, the president of Haiti who’s not even president yet, his name is Sweet Micky who’s a badass singer in Haiti. I put all three frequencies — I put my generation, Micky generation, Kassav. This record celebrated a form of culture. It was like this is who we are. This is Caribbean. Let’s not let people divide us.
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