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#2352: Sweet Micky article (part 1) (fwd)

From: Charles Arthur <charlesarthur@hotmail.com>

Keywords: music, Sweet Micky, Michel Martelly

Re: betiz

While surfing, I came across this article from the Miami New Times 1997. It 
can be found at <http://www.miaminewtimes.com/1997/052997/feature1-1.html>

Warning it is very long, and I am posting it in two parts

Charles Arthur

His music rules in Haiti
by Elise Ackerman

Two years ago, when a Haitian magazine identified entertainer Michel
Martelly as one of the most popular men in Haiti along with
then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Martelly responded by unveiling
his political platform. "If I am elected president, I will perform nude on 
top of the National Palace," he jested in an interview in Haiti Demain, a 
monthly published in Port-au-Prince.

At the time, Martelly was living in a condo on Miami Beach, a long way
from the snow-white National Palace and its Dante-esque history. He had a 
regular gig at the Promenade on Ocean Drive, where his band Sweet Micky 
performed compas, rhythmic Haitian dance music. He was 34 years old and 
could pack the house, converting the dance floor into a hypnotic whirl of 
bodies responding to his groove. In between songs, Martelly bantered with 
the audience. He delighted in shocking his fans -- mostly conservative 
Haitian émigrés -- with crude comments about women or provocative remarks 
about politics. He made no secret of his support for the Haitian military, 
which had overthrown Aristide in a bloody coup in 1991.

By the time the article was published in April 1995, Aristide had been
reinstated by U.S. forces and plans were being laid for a democratic
transition. Martelly released a new song, "Prezidan," an exuberant ditty 
that called for a president who played compas. "Let's talk about this," the 
song begins. "Everybody thinks we're joking.... Some friends say that Micky 
is losing his head."

The lyrics refer to Martelly's mock candidacy, an idea that most
Haitians find outrageous not only because of the entertainer's
reputation as a hedonist playboy, but also because of his well-known
enthusiasm for the military coup. "This is Sweet Micky at the army
headquarters," Martelly raps in the song. "This is the president at the 
National Palace."

The tune caught on. Haitians who opposed Aristide delighted in its
cheerful nihilism. Others dismissed the song's political overtones and
focused on its infectious beat. Whenever Martelly spent time in Haiti,
he was hailed on the street as "prezidan-mwen!" (my president). The
greeting was a joke, but as it was repeated by thousands of people,
Martelly started to enjoy the sound. That summer Manno Charlemagne, a
fellow musician and a long-time friend, was elected mayor of
Port-au-Prince. Clark Parent, a senator and a folksinger, was running to 
succeed Aristide. Why not Martelly?

In Miami, Martelly changed the message on his answering machine. "This
is the president," he blustered. "I'm not here right now. Leave your
name. I'll get back to you."

It is 40 minutes shy of midnight on a recent Sunday night, and cars have 
just begun to pull into the parking lot of the Days Inn near Miami 
International Airport. Martelly is relaxing in the cool night air, waiting 
for his guitar player, Alex Tropnas, who is late for their show at the 
motel's Spirit lounge. There are three people in Sweet Micky. The third, 
Carrie Legaganeur, is substituting for bass player Welton Desire, who 
remained in Haiti for want of a U.S. visa.

Martelly has wrapped a scarf around his head Arab-style and is wearing a 
college T-shirt and jeans. A parade of arriving fans vies for his
attention. Pausing, he greets each person individually. He claps the men on 
the back and beams at the females, touching arms, waists, shoulders, 
allowing his hand to linger long enough for the women to know the contact is 
not accidental.

Off-stage flirtation is as much a part of the Sweet Micky experience as is 
on-stage obscenity. Martelly makes sure his fans feel appreciated as well as 
entertained. "People come here and pay their money, and they want to have 
fun," Martelly explains. "You'll see. Once we get on-stage, we are going to 
be going crazy. People will be going crazy. It's our way of doing things, 
because we believe that after a week of stress, especially in the Haitian 
community, where everything is trouble, everything is problem, you need to 
give them the most you can so they can be happy and forget."

Martelly's voice is low and relaxed, like a cat's purr. He communicates in 
an improvised English that is enriched by the rhythms of his mother 
languages, Haitian Creole and French. When he performs he usually mixes the 
slang of all three languages, producing an upbeat babel of vulgarity.

Tonight's show starts clean. The crowd is made up of middle- and
upper-middle-class professionals. The women are in tight cocktail
shifts, flowing Indian prints, oversize polo shirts. The men sport
oxford cloth, tight T-shirts, cotton blends. They are business people
specializing in import-export, health-care workers, teachers, police
officers on their night off, secretaries. They wait easily as Martelly
moves behind his electronic keyboard, on which he plays a compas that
sounds like a slowed-down Dominican merengue. With each song, the energy 
level rises. Soon nearly everyone is dancing. Couples rock closely together, 
umbilically bound to the beat. He delighted in shocking his fans -- mostly 
conservative Haitian émigrés -- with crude comments or provocative remarks 
about politics.

"Sweet Micky is a very good entertainer," comments Mushy Wiedmaier, an
ethnomusicologist and a member of the group Zékle. "If you ask the
typical person who goes to hear Sweet Micky what they are doing, they'll 
say, 'Well, I'm going to have fun at a Sweet Micky bal [party],' because he 
doesn't want to hear about politics, he doesn't want to hear about social 
problems, he just wants to dance and jump."

Patrick Juste, owner of Les Cousins, a Miami boutique specializing in
Haitian art, literature, and music, says that Martelly is the
top-selling Haitian artist in South Florida. "His music moves," Juste
observes. Sweet Micky's CDs also do well in other cities of the Haitian 
diaspora, and Martelly was a nominee for outstanding male artist at this 
year's Haitian Music Awards, held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New 
York. Last year he won best album of the year.

For those who hold fast to ideological verities, Sweet Micky's success
is now bitterly ironic. Unlike other Haitian musicians, including those in 
the internationally known band Boukman Eksperyans and singer Manno 
Charlemagne, who risked their lives to criticize the de facto military 
government, Martelly spent the coup years entertaining leaders and their 
factotums. While Charlemagne and others were living in exile, Martelly 
operated a nightclub called the Garage, which was patronized by the military 
and other members of the ruling elite.

Martelly openly acknowledges his friendship with Lt. Col. Michel
François, the former Port-au-Prince police chief who along with Cedras
helped orchestrate the coup against Aristide. François was recently
indicted for drug trafficking by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami. An 
avid Sweet Micky fan, François adopted that moniker as his nickname.

>From cab drivers in Miami to slum dwellers in Port-au-Prince, Sweet
Micky enthusiasts say they are withholding judgment on his politics.
Martelly's supporters point out he is also close to members of the
current government, U.S. diplomats, and progressive rappers like the
Fugees. (Group members Wyclef Jean, Prakazrel Michel, and Lauryn Hill
stop by Martelly's home in Port-au-Prince when they are in Haiti, and
Jean and Martelly perform a compas song together on Jean's new solo

"You have to take [the friendship with Michel François] out of the
political context," says Gesner Champagne, a childhood buddy who married 
Martelly's wife's sister. "You might like the conversation you have with 
that person. You might like the good time you have with that person. It 
doesn't have to be political. You just like the guy."

Sitting at the bar at the Spirit, Champagne emphasizes Martelly's
ability to attract fans across the political and social spectrum. "Sweet 
Micky is the only one who brings everyone together," he claims. "I don't 
care if you are from the slums of Cité Soleil or from Pétionville [a city 
built in the hills above Port-au-Prince where most wealthy Haitians live]; 
Sweet Micky brings everyone together in peace and they enjoy his music."

Stanley Schrager, the former spokesman of the U.S. Embassy in Haiti,
acknowledges Martelly's reputation as a supporter of the military but
concedes that he too views the entertainer as a friend. "Our
relationship has been nonpolitical," Schrager says. "I admire him very
much as a performer. He can generate tremendous passion, intensity, and 

During Schrager's tour of duty in Port-au-Prince he spent a few months
as Martelly's neighbor. Since Schrager returned to the States last year, the 
two men have remained in touch. "He's a sincere family man who pays a lot of 
attention to his kids," Schrager asserts. "He's kind of a quiet, thoughtful 
guy, a genuinely likable type." Schrager adds that Martelly has not 
discussed his political ambitions with him. "He
certainly is well-known, so he has a lot of name recognition," Schrager 
muses. "Any candidacy he would undertake would clearly generate a lot of 
attention, though he would obviously have to deal with the allegations of 
his closeness to the former military regime."

Martelly was born in 1961. Haiti was securely in the thrall of François 
("Papa Doc") Duvalier, a country doctor who would subsequently declare 
himself "an immaterial being," "the personification of the Haitian 
fatherland," and "president for life." There was civic order, as nostalgic 
Duvalierists are quick to point out, enforced by Duvalier's civilian 
militia, better known as the Tonton Macoutes or the Volunteers for National 
Security. The Macoutes outnumbered the Haitian Army by at least two to one 
and functioned as a secret-police force preventing Duvalier's overthrow. 
Their methods were brutal and their power virtually unchecked. Off-stage 
flirtation is as much a part of the Sweet Micky experience as on-stage 

When Martelly was ten, Papa Doc died and governing authority was
transferred to his nineteen-year-old son, Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc")
Duvalier. François Duvalier had espoused Noirisme, a political
philosophy advocating the transfer of power from the affluent mulatto
minority to the mostly impoverished black majority. Duvalier attempted
to accomplish this by confiscating property and suppressing his
opposition. But under Jean-Claude the relationship between the
government and the small mulatto elite, to which the Martelly family
belonged, improved.

Gerard Martelly, Michel's father, supervised the Shell petroleum plant, 
located in Carrefour. The family lived near the plant, in that rundown part 
of the city that today is the red-light district. The Martellys were 
traditionally middle-class, observing strict rules of comportment: They went 
to church. They did not curse. They ate meals together.

But rebellion ran in Martelly's blood. His maternal grandfather was a
troubadour who had penned protest songs against the 1915-34 U.S.
occupation. Martelly hung out with the poor kids from Carrefour and
taught himself to play piano by ear. Though his parents sent him to the
best schools, he was repeatedly expelled for poor behavior. Once
Martelly organized his fellow students into a mock orchestra,
improvising tiny instruments from his mother's hairpins. Another time he hid 
a frog in a matchbox, carefully positioned so the liberated
amphibian would jump straight up his teacher's dress.

After graduating from high school and unsuccessfully attempting to study 
engineering, Martelly enlisted in the Haitian Military Academy. After 
impregnating a general's goddaughter, he says, he was forced to drop out. He 
spent a semester lying low in Lakewood, Colorado, studying at Red Rocks 
Community College and working in a grocery store. He returned to Haiti in 
1986, just as Jean-Claude Duvalier was heading into exile.

"When I married Michel he was basically a bum," his wife Sophia says
affectionately. The world of the Haitian elite is small, and the couple had 
been friends for years before they decided to marry. Were it not for 
Martelly's lack of direction, it would have been an acceptable match. 
Sophia, who is four years younger than Martelly, comes from a respectable 
family in the city of Gonaïves, a hundred miles north of Port-au-Prince. But 
both mothers objected to the union on the ground of skin color: Sophia and 
Martelly have light, golden-hued skin and vaguely Negroid features. In their 
mothers' eyes, the marriage would not improve the race, achieved by blending 
light and dark). "It's stupid, but that's Haiti," Sophia sighs.

Evading parental disapproval, the couple moved to Miami in 1987. "We
really started from scratch," Sophia remembers. They furnished their
apartment with discards they dug out of Dumpsters. For the first few
months, until they could afford a second car, Martelly would drop Sophia off 
at her job as a word processor at 5:30 in the morning while he went off to 
work on a construction site. She had to wait for three hours until the 
office opened.

Sophia offers up these memories of hard times the way a doctor might
hang a diploma on the wall. She wants you to know that she and her
husband have earned their middle-class comforts. Martelly may be wild
on-stage, but in his personal life he is strait-laced and conventional. 
Sophia, for example, has a curfew. Martelly does not allow her to chew gum 
or leave the house without a bra. He complains if she sits with her legs 

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