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#2353: Sweet Micky article part 2 (fwd)
From: Charles Arthur <firstname.lastname@example.org>
After a year in Miami, they returned to Haiti. In 1988 Martelly was
asked to play at El Rancho casino, owned by Joe Namphy, the brother of
Gen. Henri Namphy, who served as president after Duvalier's departure.
Martelly's cousin Richard Morse, the leader of the Vodou jazz group RAM
and the proprietor of the Hotel Oloffson, a trendy watering hole for
foreign filmmakers and journalists, worked for Namphy. From El Rancho
Martelly moved to a hotel in the outlying suburb of Kenscoff. His
combination of dance tunes and irreverent patter began attracting
followers. In 1989 he cut his first album, Ou la la, an instant hit.
By the time Aristide was elected in 1990, the Martellys were doing well
enough to feel threatened by the former priest's fiery rhetoric.
Preaching that it was unfair for the wealth of the country to be
controlled by so few, Aristide sought to empower Haiti's destitute
majority. The Martellys still shudder when they recall one particular
speech in which Aristide reportedly predicted that the bourgeoisie would
know the pain of rocks under the sun -- meaning that they would start to
feel the economic hardship suffered by the majority of Haitians.
On January 6, 1991, a month before Aristide's scheduled inauguration,
Roger Lafontant, a former chief of the Tonton Macoutes, attempted to
overthrow the government. Haitians rioted in support of their newly
elected president, rampaging across the country. At least 50 people
As a horrified Sophia watched from her bathroom window, she says she
heard one of her employees tell an angry crowd, "No one needs to touch
Madam Michel, I will give her the necklace myself." The man, who worked as
an errand boy and roadie for the band, was referring to the practice of
tossing a burning tire over a victim's head, a favored mode of mob
execution. Sophia used to give the employee her husband's clothes after he
tired of wearing them. That day, she noted, he was wearing Martelly's shoes,
pants, and shirt. The crowd banged on her gate. But it was securely locked,
and eventually the throng dispersed. For those who hold fast to ideological
verities, Sweet Micky's success is now bitterly ironic.
Other incidents occurred that spring and summer. One day while Sophia
was driving through a crowded downtown market, she ran over two tubes of
toothpaste that had fallen from a stall. Sophia offered to pay for the
damage, but the stall owner walked over and slapped her. The woman's parting
comment still rings in Sophia's ears: "I just wanted the satisfaction of
having smacked a white woman."
Sophia was raised to hate Duvalier. Her grandmother had been detained by
Papa Doc, and two members of her family on her father's side had been
executed. But given the alternative of Aristide and his obstreperous
followers, the former dictatorship looked increasingly benign. Neither she
nor her husband lamented the coup when it came seven months later.
In fact, when Port-au-Prince police chief Lt. Col. Michel François asked
Martelly a year and a half later to perform at a demonstration
protesting the arrival of Dante Caputo, the U.N. special representative to
Haiti, Martelly agreed to play for free. Caputo was negotiating Aristide's
return; the purpose of his trip was to arrange for the deployment of a small
team of U.N. human rights observers. Once they were in place, talks between
Aristide and the military government were to begin.
Several hundred people showed up at the airport koudjay (jam session).
As they danced and cheered, Martelly rallied the crowd with a marching
cadence from the time of the Haitian revolution. "Grenadier! To the
attack!" he yelled. "If anyone dies, that's his business!"
Martelly says he would happily repeat his performance. "I didn't accept
[the request to play] because I was Michel François's friend," he
explains. "I did not accept because it was the army. I went because I
did not want Aristide back. I did not want the U.S. to invade. People
automatically associate me with the [military] regime. Well, I don't
have to defend myself. You want me to be a de facto [supporter of the
coup]. I'm a de facto. It's my right. It's my country. I can fight for
whatever I believe in."
>From a certain angle, Martelly's musical activism can almost be seen as
part of a long-standing political tradition in which Haitian musicians
have played key roles in social upheaval. In 1791, for example, the
pounding of Vodou drums rising from the northern plains signaled the
start of the slave revolt that led to Haiti's independence from the
Haitians are largely illiterate (fewer than 25 percent can read and
write); songs are one of the primary vehicles for ideas about politics,
society, religion, and culture to reach the masses. Musicians
consequently wield disproportionate influence over public opinion.
Unlike Martelly, however, most have tended to side with the powerless.
Among Haiti's legendary troubadours is Auguste de Pradine, Martelly's
grandfather. As described by musicologist Gage Averill in his new book A
Day for the Hunter, a Day for the Prey: Popular Music and Power in Haiti,
de Pradine was a Frenchman, crippled by polio and confined to a
wheelchair, who made a living in clubs around Port-au-Prince. In the
1920s he began to actively oppose the American presence, penning comic
Manno Charlemagne, the current mayor of Port-au-Prince, used folk music
to embolden his countrymen in their fight against the Duvaliers and the
military regime that followed. Like Martelly, Charlemagne grew up in
Carrefour, where he started documenting social injustice in song. By the
time he was eighteen, Haitians throughout the capital were humming his
tunes of resistance. Charlemagne was forced into exile. He came back to
Haiti after Duvalier left in 1986, and once again set about composing
melodies for the oppressed. "If Haiti is not a jungle, why then all
these beasts?" he asked in a song condemning U.S. complicity with
In 1988, as Martelly was launching his musical career, soldiers
ransacked Charlemagne's one-room house. He spent several years
underground, the target of death threats. After the September 1991 coup,
Charlemagne was arrested twice. He fled from Haiti with the help of the
Argentine ambassador, barely escaping another arrest. During the koudjay
against Caputo, Charlemagne was living in exile.
Nevertheless, Charlemagne is reluctant to criticize Martelly, whom he
has known for about twenty years and whom he describes as a friend. "We
don't have the same political vision," he points out. "But the guy has
the right to be a political conservative." Charlemagne notes that other
bands besides Sweet Micky were playing for the army and the political
elite at the time.
In fact, as Martelly's cousin Richard Morse discovered, it could be
dangerous to perform if you weren't in the military's good graces.
During 1993 one of RAM's songs, an allegorical ballad called "Fey"
("Leaf"), was embraced by the democracy movement. One night, when RAM
was performing the song at Martelly's club, the Garage, one of the
police officers in attendance pulled the plug and threatened to arrest
the band members. A similar incident occurred later at the Hotel
Morse declines to comment on his cousin's reputation except to note that
Martelly does have friends among the military and police. "He's a
hard-working musician," he adds. "He does what the public likes. He's
got personality on-stage. He creates fans, and he works and takes care
of his fans."
Martelly's political sympathies aside, his choice in music alone would
still make him a misfit among more socially aware Haitian musicians.
Unlike the roots music played by Morse and Charlemagne, which
incorporates African rhythms and elements of the Haitian folk and
peasant tradition, compas was born in the 1950s and 1960s in
middle-class dancehalls. Early compas lyrics occasionally dealt with
political and social issues. After Duvalier assumed power, however, any
critical musical commentary was stifled.
"Compas has the disadvantage of being linked to the ascendant middle
class under Duvalier," observes musicologist Gage Averill. "The lyrics
are largely apolitical, and they don't deal with the social realities
that the majority of Haitians face. A lot of people would say compas is
lighthearted party music that is played when you have dictators in
Martelly becomes visibly frustrated when confronted with the comment
that he is a Macoute entertainer. "I am a musician," he huffs. "I play
for people who pay to get in. I don't care if you are a Macoute, if you
are gay or lesbian, if you are a human rights abuser or if you believe
in human rights. As a matter of fact, I have been criticized for being a
Macoute. But do you know that all the Lavalas [Aristide supporters] are
my friends now? They are all begging me to play for them. They are all
begging me to write songs for them. Did you know that? So if I do that
are they going to start calling me a Lavalas? Am I going to change from
Macoute to Lavalas?"
Although Martelly claims politics is not a factor in his relationship
with his fans, his popularity with members of the Haitian army was
boosted by his willingness to give the military the benefit of the
doubt. Human rights abuses? Martelly claims the reports of thousands of
killings and other atrocities committed during and after the coup are
"To be honest, one thing I can tell you about the army [is that] if they
did kill people, if they did, it was during the coup d'état," Martelly
declares. "And I know that a coup d'état is not like a party. A coup
d'état is a coup d'état. You will definitely find people who went over
the limit. You will find people like that. Just like you find people now
doing things they shouldn't be doing. But don't make me say that Michel
François killed people or the Macoutes killed people, because I wasn't
there. Just like nowadays there are people being shot, and I can't tell
you who is pulling the trigger."
U.S. forces restored Aristide to the presidency on October 15, 1994.
Martelly says he was surprised to hear his music blaring from U.S. tanks
as they rumbled through the streets of Port-au-Prince. Even more surreal
was the fact that his older brother Gerard, a U.S. Army officer, was
part of the invading force. Resigned to the U.S. presence, Martelly and
Sophia eventually found themselves on friendly terms with high-ranking
U.S. officers. Martelly taped a public service announcement appealing to
the population to refrain from violence.
Martelly and Sophia decided to give the new government a chance, but
emotionally they remained on edge. Although the U.S. State Department
reported that "Haiti's human rights climate improved dramatically" after
Aristide's return, extrajudicial killings continued. In 1995 the human
rights monitors from the United Nations/ Organization of American States
International Civilian Mission reported twenty execution-style murders.
The victims were either former members of the Haitian army, attachés
(secret police controlled by Michel François), or members of the
Revolutionary Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), a
notorious paramilitary organization. (In comparison, human rights
observers counted 340 extrajudicial killings and 131 disappearances
during the first five months of 1994, when the military regime was still
In February 1995 purported hit lists started circulating in the capital,
anonymously threatening Aristide's opponents with assassination.
Martelly's name was on one of the lists. His wife received a copy.
Initially, Sophia says, the list did not alarm her. The band had concert
dates scheduled throughout the spring, and Martelly left on tour as
planned in mid-March. A few days later an outspoken right-wing leader,
whose name appeared on the same list, was murdered. Sophia began to
worry that perhaps the danger was real. She told her husband not to come
back; she remained in Port-au-Prince with their two young sons.
They waited almost a year for things to cool down before Martelly
returned to Haiti. While living in Miami, Martelly released two CDs. The
first, Pa Manyen (Don't Touch), contained the song "Prezidan." The
second, I Don't Care, I Don't Give a Shit, was an unsubtle retort to
Haitians who wanted to persecute him for having played for members of
In January 1996 Martelly received a letter bearing the elegant insignia
of the Port-au-Prince mayor's office. The letter was addressed to
"Maestro Sweet Micky" from Manno Charlemagne. "My dear Michel," the
mayor wrote, "I have the great pleasure of informing you that the city
of Port-au-Prince keenly desires your participation in the upcoming
The letter was only three sentences long, belying the extensive
controversy that accompanied the mayor's decision. "When Manno
Charlemagne invited Sweet Micky to come to the Carnival, there was a
very negative reaction from a number of people," recalls Michele Montas,
the head of the newsroom at Radio Haïti-Inter, an independent station
that was shut down by Duvalier. When it reopened in 1986, the station
was violently attacked by the military, and it was forced to close again
for the duration of the military government. "The reaction was that he
was a putschist," Montas remembers. "Why is he coming back? And why is
he being given the red carpet treatment?
Charlemagne says he invited Martelly because he was a popular
entertainer with a strong following among the population. Martelly
boasts that Charlemagne was forced to invite him "because they couldn't
have a Carnival without me!" The day of Martelly's arrival, thousands of
fans mobbed the airport, turning his homecoming into an impromptu street
party. Later that week Charlemagne and Martelly performed together at a
Buoyed by his boisterous reception, Martelly appeared in a skirt,
scandalizing his more conservative fans. The teledyol, the rumor mill
that is the Haitian community's unofficial news service, started up
overnight. Not only was Martelly a Macoute, he was also gay.
It was exactly the response Martelly had been waiting for. Dressing for
Carnival, he donned a shaggy pink wig and women's undergarments, amply
padded to produce the desired curvaceous effect. "The day he came out
with the wig and the bra, the country fell apart," Sophia laughs.
More important, Martelly got his point across: "You guys are saying I am
a Macoute. Well, if you want me to be a Macoute, I am a Macoute. Whoever
is saying I am a Macoute, I don't care. If you see me as a Macoute, then
I'm a Macoute. If you see me as gay, I'm gay. What you think of me is no
problem, as far as I am concerned. You have the right to think what you
want. I know who I am, and that's the main thing."
Martelly's parade float, piled high with speakers, approached the
reviewing stand in front of the National Palace. In past years, under
the military regime, Martelly had delighted the crowd by taunting
Cedras. He was said to be the only person who could publicly ridicule
the coup leaders and get away with it. The democratic government now
headed by Pres. René Préval would get off no easier.
"Préval!" Martelly called out. "This is the president talking to another
president. Don't forget, you're only there for five years. I'm here for
life. Because I am in the streets!" Even in Pétionville, they can't
escape the ubiquitous poverty or the sense that the country is heading
Martelly remembers the scene: "When I got on top of my float I told him,
'President, I want to see you dancing. I don't want to see you dancing
with your girlfriend; this would be too easy. I want you to get somebody
from the crowd.' And I said, 'Wait, wait, wait. I'm going to choose that
bitch,' and I went on top of the float, and I said, 'Hey you, go to the
president,' and I said [to Préval], 'Now wait for me. When I tell you to
move to the right, you move to the right.'"
To the delight of the crowd, Préval obeyed Martelly's instructions,
waggling his hips right and then left and thrusting his pelvis forward
and back. "I don't know if it's because I'm a star that the response was
always good," Martelly brags. "But Cedras was cool, and Préval was
That particular Carnival would prove to be the high point of Martelly's
relationship with the democratic government. This year, Martelly says,
the government refused to pay him for his performance at the February
Carnival, and he had to raise money from private investors to cover the
costs of participating in the three-day street party. On the first day
of the festivities, he claims, someone from the government confiscated
the key to the truck that was pulling his float, so he couldn't join in
the parade. The following day, when Martelly finally passed the
reviewing stand, he screamed insults. The government officials were a
bunch of thieves, he yelled. "I told the truck driver not to stay around
here," he remembers. "I wouldn't play music for these people. They
aren't doing anything for the country; they aren't doing anything for
Lounging on a platform bed that is the center of social activity in
their airy split-level home, Martelly and his wife tick off their
complaints, shared by many Haitians. There is no electricity. There is
no water. Common crime has exploded.
Ensconced in the Port-au-Prince hills, miles above the slums that ring
the harbor, the Martellys would appear to be sheltered from the chaos
below. Their neighbors are Western diplomats. On one side is the
Canadian ambassador. Down the road is Cedras's former home, which had
been leased by the U.S. government. The Martellys buy water by the
tankful. A private generator provides electricity. An armed security
guard watches the gate.
But even in Pétionville, they can't escape the ubiquitous poverty or the
sense that the country is heading toward anarchy. Even in this hillside
city the roads are unpaved. The streets that do have asphalt are in
shabby condition. The poor live side by side with the wealthy, crammed
into subdivided homes that have been converted into suburban
"A lot of people have kids that study under the light poles in the
streets," Sophia notes. "If there's no power they can't study. It's a
"We are going down the drain, and I don't know how far we have to get
before we start thinking straight," Martelly declares. "How far are we
going to go? There's no more forest in Haiti. It doesn't rain in Haiti
any more. Who is going to take care of that? Haiti doesn't produce
anything. We produce rocks. The good land is eroding. There is nothing
being done to keep it. So we only have rocks everywhere. No trees,
"People still believe in black magic here. They believe in Vodou and
stuff like that. This is all bullshit. It has to do with our culture. We
have to respect some stuff. There are vibes coming from these things,
okay. But if that was [effective], why didn't people use Vodou to find
water, food and stuff? You have to be real. You need to have power and
telephones. We don't even have that -- I can buy a generator. But you
need money for diesel to put in the generator. Which means the rich can
survive, but nothing is being done to help the country itself. I won't
say the poor, because everyone is going to die someday. It's not the
people, it's the country [that needs to be saved]. We may not be able to
save people who are sick and dying, but let's save their children. Let's
save the next generation."
Martelly and Sophia blame Aristide for inflaming the poor against the
rich and precariously dividing the country. "In the past ten years Haiti
has changed dramatically," Martelly says. "It used to be a country under
a strong regime. Now it's a jungle. It's like anyone can slap anyone
else anywhere, anytime. As a matter a fact, not anyone can slap anyone
else. The poor can slap the rich and the rich cannot even slap them
Last month Jean-Claude Duvalier gave an interview with a Miami radio
station, expressing his desire for a reconciliation with the people of
Haiti. His comments were rebroadcast in Port-au-Prince and immediately
provoked an uproar. "Everyone is asking for Duvalier," Sophia asserts,
vehemently contradicting the government's declarations to the contrary.
If Haitians are ready to accept a government led by Jean-Claude
Duvalier, the despised former dictator, why not one led by Michel
Martelly, a popular entertainer?
"I think Haiti would change under someone like me," Martelly muses. "You
have to believe in what you are doing. You need to know where you are
coming from and where you are going. You need to know the problems, and
I do. My message is simple. I just want the country to be prosperous. I
don't want the kids to beg in the street. I want people to care about
Martelly refrains from openly declaring his ambitions. "It's a joke," he
protests when pressed. "I am a target already, without doing anything,"
he says, noting that presidential candidates have a way of getting
assassinated in Haiti. "After this interview, they might kill me,
depending on what you say. You never know."
Still, Martelly is not afraid to reveal that he has given serious
thought to his philosophy of government. "First thing, after I establish my
power, which would be very strong and necessary, I would close that congress
thing. La chambre des députés. Le sénat." He claps his hands. "Out of my
way." For the first year he would outlaw all strikes and demonstrations.
"I want to show them I have something better inside," he says. "To most of
them I am more like a motherfucker. They don't think that I am the type of
person who would go to church, or who would pray. But I probably pray more
than they do. To be honest with you, this is probably the real Micky."
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