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Emeline Michel is diminutive, but her presence is grand. A recent performance at New York’s Symphony Space attested to that it was compelling and memorable. With her richly-timbred, seductive voice, she commanded the show of mostly traditional Haitian choreography and drumming, moving seamlessly from the dances and chants of the loas, or traditional Haitian spirits, to luscious contemporary movement and melodies. Michel has become Haiti’s signature female artist and a mainstay of the Francophone music world, billed as Haiti’s everything under the sun. She is a remarkable talent who takes charge of her own composition, production and dance. She’s an activist humanitarianism she even makes her own costumes.
It was the artistic and critical success of her last album, Rasin Kreyol (Times Square), that brought her to new places, raising her profile worldwide, while allowing her to “put a female face on Haitian music” and take it beyond the Francophone world. Michel, with her funky chanteuse style she calls chanson creole, is committed to feminizing the accepted image of Haitian music, long dominated by boy-bands like Tabu Combo, Coupe Cloué and Sweet Micky. Haiti boasts, in fact, a rich and varied bevy of women artists, multi-talented and often politically engaged. Standouts include the late Toto Bissanthe and Marthe Jean-Claude, the new face of Marlene Dorcena, and the traditionalist, SòAnn.
In speaking of things recently accomplished and on the horizon, Michel was typically ebullient, not so much over her recent personal strides, although she recognizes her talent and thrives on her ability to stir people with her music, but for the message that she carries with her in all that she does, haloing her like a mandala on stage, and tagging along with her through the mundane-ness of life. Distilled, that message is, be aware that it’s hard knocks out there the world is crumbling from negative physical, psychic and human forces, and we have to all come together in tolerance and appreciation of our differences to work for balance and peace.
Affected but undaunted by the current “negative global energy,” Michel is a missionary of peace armed with healing powers granted her by her Haitian culture and her art. It seems remarkable that one so buoyant could consistently confront the withering reality of perpetual suffering, and “those foolish people in power.”
She will be taking her message to Carnegie Hall’s newest venue, Zankel Hall, and to the youth of New York City this month when, as the keynote of the august hall’s Global Encounters series, she will coordinate and headline a performance of Haitian music and culture.
Global Encounters, in existence since the 2001-2002 season, seeks to “enrich students’ understanding of human concerns, historical perspectives and fundamental social questions” through workshops, presentations and performances by representative artists from a different world setting each year. Two regions already spotlighted have been Brazil and India. This year, Global Encounters will encounter the Caribbean, with the question of identity in the vast Caribbean diaspora a subtext.
Carnegie Hall representative Mark Burford said Michel was asked to participate because of her magnetic performances and because her music, in its influences and text, witnesses those issues of identity. Michel has lived in a number of locales since her childhood in Haiti and said once in an interview, poignantly yet understandably, “Livi
||Emeline Michel Selected Discography
A winning culmination of the various genres at the core of Emeline Michel’s musical heart. The punch of vodou rhythms meshes seamlessly with the seductive power-vulnerability of her voice and tight jazzy arrangements.
Cordes & Ame
Her douceur is at its most complex here, whether taming traditional Haitian rhythms with the help of a sweet lyrical guitar, or slipping into the hip-swaying lilt of “twubadou,” or stating her case in a plaintive ballad.
The Very Best Of Emeline Michel
A young Emeline, with sure promise of things to come, plays with “rasin” (brought to the fore by Boukman Eksperyans), other Antillean forms, even a little soukous, always in the service of her searching, sincere supple voice.