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Monday Music: Rouge et Bleu

25 Jan 10 | Re: New music bit

Haitian flag

To replace the quiz questions for a bit, I’m starting a new weekly feature, Monday Music. I’m going to write about a different song every Monday. With Haiti in the news at the moment, for the most terrible reasons, my first choice is Rouge et Bleu by Wyclef Jean. If you haven’t heard it, please take the time to listen. Several versions are on Youtube; one is here.

Rouge et Bleu means red and blue, a reference to the Haitian flag. The Haitian flag is a flag of defiance - during the slave revolt that led to the country’s founding, rebels ripped up the French Tricolore and sewed the red and blue stripes together to make their own flag (with no white). Remember that the Tricolore itself was then only two decades old, itself supposed to represent a bright new future. Well, not for the Haitians.

So that sets the tone for this song. The song is in Creole, the language of Haiti. If you speak French you might get a bit of it; I don’t so I don’t know how much. If you don’t speak French or Creole, all you get is a few place names, a lot of emotion, and the red and blue, repeated again and again, as if to say that whatever happens in history everything comes back to this flag and what it represents, a struggle and an idea.

In style, the song is best described as a lament or an elegy to the singer’s country. There’s a slow, lazy guitar. The rhythm is restrained, like drums made for a Carnival caught in a moment of reflection. And the coda is a long, heartfelt guitar solo with little other backing that sounds like it could go on forever - Maggot Brain is probably the closest other example. You expect another verse to come in, but instead it just stretches out and fades away while you listen and reflect. (It leaves it up to you to write your own last verse.)

A word about this song’s placing on the album. It’s on Carnival II: Memoirs of an Immigrant (2007), but not on its own - it’s the final third of a 14-minute song, or triptych, called Carnival Jam. This tour de force ends the album: first comes Touch Your Button, a fun, upbeat innuendo featuring Will.I.Am and one Melisa Jimenez; then comes the carnival itself, a party bit featuring greats from all round the Caribbean; and then comes Rouge et Bleu. Putting it at the end of that somehow intensifies the emotion - it gives it a late-night feel, tired but focused and proud. By the time the guitar fades out, you’ve lost track of how long the song’s been going, accentuating the air of timeless spirituality.

At a time when a lot of artists are talking about Haiti, and quite commendably, it’s worth remembering that Wyclef is not only from there, but felt strongly enough to be able to write a song like this about it a couple of years ago. There isn’t much obvious commercial potential in singing in Creole either - this is a labour of love, an ambitious artistic statement, and in my opinion a very successful one. So whatever you think about Perfect Gentleman and It Doesn’t Matter and Hips Don’t Lie (biggest worldwide single of the 2000s I believe, by the way), this is a side of Wyclef that’s worth investigating.

Posted by SWEET MICKY at 21:00

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