As the door to a new decade was opened, it was not to hope and optimism but to images of the Haitian natural disaster replayed and printed on TV screens and newspaper covers world wide. A country synonymous with belief and overcoming, it was brought to its knees in an unimaginable way. All would agree that a decrepit nation needs a leader to act as a tough fig-leaf covering the horror that lies beneath and extracting what little positivity may lie on the crumbling streets.
But who should act as this man/woman of force and in more general terms does your chosen profession affect your ability to be this catalyst for change? Wyclef Jean doesn’t think so. At the wake of the disaster he assumed the role as the voice for the gutter peoples of Haiti. For a moment he was the embodiment with Max Weber’s Leader Principle: hooting and howling on the streets of his motherland, abandoning his American tongue for the slave warrior language of Haitian Creole. In need, he was with his people, he was a hero.
But he’s also a very rich musician. This is what he does well, and he has fans to please using this vocation. So what makes a man think that his primary profession can aid his plausibility as a leader of a country with the worst economy in the entire western hemisphere? He never studied economics or politics and thus realisation sets in that though music is a passion driven art, politics and leadership need aptitude in conjunction with this passion. One must know their limits.
I’d never criticise politically driven music. It is fantastic. Like a welcome punch in the gut, Rage Against the Machine are the ultimate riot starters, Billy Bragg is the voice of the idealistic people, Bob and Joan were the poli-folk tones of the 60s. I’ve never bought this argument that ‘the listener does not want to be lectured to’. Political music delivers a dynamism that a song about love and loss doesn’t always provide. It seems that the generic listener only wants to hear music conveying the popular ‘yin’ of these abstract realities, but veer away from the unpopular ‘yang’ of concrete reality such as politics and poverty. But, as Chinese philosophy states, these two forces should never be divorced from one another. Lectures are important in influencing those who have the knowledge to change society.
Political music has merit that is undeniable. But should you ever hear of Zach De La Rocha running for president his credentials will rightly be brought into question. He represents that set of strong unshakable teenage belief that morality is a monochromous dualism of right and wrong and this should be the foundation of politics. But in a pit of black and white, politics is riddled with greys, teals, and yellows: it’s a complicated rainbow that one must clued-up to understand. You can’t waltz up to the doors of the white house and expect that your passion and conviction is what is best for the millions of people you are responsible for.
Wyclef has now withdrawn his application of Haitian presidency and has decided to release an album entitled If I Were President: The Haitian Experience with the most important word being ‘if’.
Musicians, unless qualified and then democratically elected, should not be on the front line of politics: a profession that requires knowledge, experience and strong shoulders to carry the weight of an expansive and needy population.
From Michelle Kambasha.