Haitian Singer Emeline Michel on Clooney’s Telethon, “Hope for Haiti Now”
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Everyone–Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder, John Legend, Justin Timberlake, The Roots, Madonna, Wyclef Jean–were in top form last night, but this girl’s voice was wondrous. She’s been called the “Joni Mitchell of Haiti,” possibly because of her songwriting skills, because Joni, bless her, never had a stirring voice like this.
Emeline Michel sang the old 1969 Jimmy Cliff song, “Many Rivers to Cross,” last night at the Hope for Haiti Now Telethon organized by George Clooney.
Born in Gonaïves, Haiti, Michel is affectionately known as the “Joni Mitchell of Haiti.” Beginning as a member of her local church choir, she blossomed in talent and traveled to America, where she studied her craft at the Detroit Jazz Center. Michel returned to her native country as an experienced singer. Soon, she recorded her first album, 1987’s Douvanjou ka leve (May the Sun Rise), which contained the popular track, “Plezi Mize” (“Pleasure in Misery”). The album’s “Tankou Melodie” (“Like a Melody”) and “Flanm” (“Flame”) followed, establishing Michel as a mainstay in the music scene of Haiti and the Antilles.
Then Michel moved to Paris to explore the opportunities of the French music scene and record her fourth album. Tout Mon Temps featured the single “A-K-I-K-O,” which encouraged her native country to quell its political unrest and reflect on happier times. The track became a global dance hit in countries including Belgium, Africa, French Guiana, Quebec, Chile and Japan.
Deciding to explore French Canada next, Michel signed with a Montreal record label and quickly became the “it” girl of the country’s scene. Her fifth LP, Ban’m Pase, blended her jazz, blues and samba roots. Several years later, Michel began her own production company, Production Cheval de Feu (Horse of Fire), and subsequently released Cordes et Ame (Strings and Soul), which garnered Haiti’s “Musique en Folie” award for Best Haitian Album and Best Production in 2000. Four years later, Michel released Rasin Kreyol (Creole Roots), and “Beni Yo” (“Bless Them”) became an encouraging anthem during the country’s political turmoil.
Last year, Michel released Reine de Coeur (Queen of Hearts), which was recorded in Haiti, New York, Montreal and Burkina Faso with a stable of 35 musicians.