“You’re not in New York City!” Wyclef Jean shouted to the crowd. “You’re in Haiti right now!”
Actually, they were in New York City, at the GLO nightclub in Chelsea for the official launch of Jean’s Yele Haiti foundation Thursday night. But with Wyclef pumping out Caribbean beats, urging on the crowd of several hundred to wave their shoes in the air, they might as well have been at a Port-au-Prince dance club.
MC’d and headlined by Jean, and featuring performances by Roberta Flack, Cassandra Wilson, Ben Jelen, Bilal and Nellie McKay, the private concert was staged to raise awareness for Yele Haiti, an organization Jean started to aid the beleaguered island nation where he was born.
“I want to be the hope for Haitian kids,” Jean said. “Eighty percent of the population can’t read, can’t write. My job is to get it down to ten percent.”
Jean’s two-hour performance included a medley from his new album, Creole 101: Welcome to Haiti, and songs from throughout his career, including “Guantanamera,” “911,” “Diallo,” “Yele,” “Million Voices” and the Bob Marley cover “No Woman No Cry.” Another cover, “Killing Me Softly,” featured a duet with its originator, Flack, whom Jean introduced as “someone who made [his former group] the Fugees very famous.”
The showstopper was an improvisational riff on Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” that broke out into an electric gospel battle between Jean, Bilal, Wilson and Jean’s soulful sister Melky. “Why you got to steal the show from me, little sister?” Jean asked.
But the spotlight remained on Haiti. Actress Susan Sarandon delivered a speech encouraging the VIPs in the audience to pledge money to Jean’s initiative. “We’re all here tonight because of this man, who loves Haiti and is loved by Haiti,” she said. “We want you to open your pocketbooks as well as your hearts.”
Jean also offered another sort of hope — one to fans of the long-estranged Fugees (Wyclef, Lauryn Hill and Pras), who got together in September for a one-off show in Brooklyn. “Everybody wants to know if there’s going to be a Fugees reunion,” he sighed. “I hope so.”