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Wyclef Jean completes his Carnival trilogy 

click to enlarge Wyclef: “This will be it. There will be no more Carnivals in this life.”
  • Wyclef: “This will be it. There will be no more Carnivals in this life.”
Hip-hop luminary Wyclef Jean has reached the point where he’s just as comfortable performing with a symphony orchestra as he is leading his own band.

As a producer, songwriter, singer and bandleader, the former Fugee takes his inspiration from the career of Quincy Jones, who started out with Ray Charles before going on to produce Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson. “I’m like a DNA [clone] of Quincy Jones,” says Wyclef. “He’s who I look up to.”

These days, he says, “you’re getting to hear the catalog from Wyclef the composer at all the performances,” says the artist, who’s been known to refer to himself in the third person from time to time. “The crowd gets the juxtaposition of material they might not have even known I wrote, from ‘Maria, Maria,’ which I wrote for Santana, to ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ with Shakira.”

While Wyclef’s classic work is a considerable part of his live sets, he’ll also be incorporating material from last September’s Carnival III. His first studio album in six years, it’s filled with songs that Jean dubs a “global gumbo,” touching on everything from African-tinged jazz to gospel, R&B and hip-hop. It’s also the third record in a series that began with The Carnival, his debut solo record from 1997.

“The Carnival III completes the trilogy,” he says. “We’re always doing music, music don’t stop. This material felt like it fit into the Carnivals. But this will be it. There will be no more Carnivals in this life. I wanted to close it.”
The full title of the album, Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee, alludes to the Haitian-born artist immigrating to the United States at the age of 9. Now, at 48, Jean says he’s reached a point where he can tell a refugee story that, at its heart, is also the story of the United States.

“It’s ‘Once Upon a Time in America,’ isn’t it?” he says. “Whether you’re from Italy or Haiti, it’s that immigrant story. It’s the story of the country. This is why the food tastes the way it does. It’s why the music sounds the way it does. That’s where everything comes from. We’re all immigrants.”

Jean, who maintains a close relationship with Haiti — he made an unsuccessful run for president there in 2010 — feels that message needs to be driven home even more in the wake of vulgar comments from President Trump about Haiti and African nations.

Meanwhile, the artist will be augmenting his tour in support of Carnival III with five orchestral dates he’s dubbed “A Night of Symphonic Hip-Hop.” Those shows will feature a stage set that’s meant to resemble Wyclef’s studio, where he’s been crafting hits ever since he began working on recordings by the Fugees back in the ’90s.

But hits, he emphasizes, aren’t the main point.

“I don’t know what’s going to be a hit,” he says. “Anything I write, I get from an emotion. I can make music and make you feel like dancing. I can make music and make you feel love. I can make music and make you feel afraid. It’s all about the emotion.”

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