Artist: Wyclef JeanTitle: Sak Pasé Presents: Welcome to Haiti Creole 101Rating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Jacob Mustafa
America is a melting pot; at least, that’s what the cliché says. American art, especially music, is an excellent example of how cultures are blended and meshed in this nation. While Hip-Hop was an explicitly New York experience at first, it soon spread over the nation and later all over the world. So when a ethnically proud Hip-Hop star like Wyclef Jean makes an album that is made in both English and his native tongue, a Haitian dialect of French, it is not a mind blowing concept. While it may be harder to follow for American listeners, Jean tries his hand at this idea of Hip-Hop crossing language and cultural barriers with his new album, Sak Pasé Presents: Welcome to Haiti Creole 101 (Koch).
Starting with an introduction about Haitian pride, the album soon shows Jean’s roots in its opening song, “24 é Tan Pou Viv”. The song is completely in French, yet despite the jarring and out of place gunshot effects, the song’s musical qualities make it very accessible. “President” is a song where Clef uses his best Bob Marley impression, which sadly, isn’t very good. The song still survives on the power of it’s resonate lyrics and the pure emotion he gives it.
This is the very moment where the album transforms into a collection of French-spoken party anthems, with a few standouts. “Party by the Sea” is a collaboration with dancehall stars Buju Banton and T-Vice, which becomes bland after a few minutes. “Haitian Mafia” is one of the strangest tracks, as Foxy Brown joins Clef in speaking an amalgam of English and the patois/creole language they speak themselves. The dual language threats sound utterly strange, and they don’t inspire much fear either.
His cover of the classic “La Bamba” actually works though, and the reggaeton-esque drums help this track become its own song, instead of being just another reworking of a classic by Wyclef. “Bay Micro’m Volume” and “Lavi New York” are of the same veins, working with sinister beats which don’t mix well with Wyclef’s less-than-intimidating voice. He finishes the album on a more somber note, as the song “Nou Va River” sounds perfectly reflective in it’s context. His trademark guitar playing actually stands out and he sounds comfortable in his own skin, unlike former musical bouts with his own abilities on albums like The Preacher’s Son and Masquerade.
While it is normal for a veteran artist (10 years is as veteran as it gets for most Hip-Hop acts) to try new things, Haiti was a bold new move in a direction not traveled many times before in his genre. While it may have helped that most of the album was not necessarily in that genre, Jean’s courageous attempt at reaching out and, at the same time, reaching home is a good bridge from Haiti to America.