The next episode of WHYY’s Emmy Award-winning music series “On Tour,” airing Thursday, Aug. 2, at 9 p.m., will feature three-time Grammy winner Wyclef Jean performing live at the Ardmore Music Hall in Ardmore.
Loaded with awesome footage of ‘Clef performing such hits as “President” and “We Trying to Stay Alive,” the program shows him joyously interacting with the sold-out audience, which sang along with him throughout his diverse and soul-satisfying set. On several occasions, he showed his skills as a guitarist, which I personally tend to forget about.
There are also interesting and insightful interviews, one in which he hearkens back to his musical beginnings at Vailsburg High School in Newark, N.J., where a special teacher named Valerie Price literally forced him to use his diverse musical gifts by making the aspiring “battle rapper” study jazz and classical music and putting him in the chorus. He was also introduced to the acoustic bass.
“At the end of the day, you do have the teachers that care in the schools,” he asserted. “And when you find the teachers that care, this is the results of what they create.”
The result, in part, was the formation and spectacular success of the Fugees, comprising Jean, Lauryn Hill and Prakazrel “Pras” Michél.
“It’s like a Cinderella story, ‘cause we come up last year in high school, and like, the Fugees was grindin’ for like three or four years, and everyone felt like they didn’t know what to do with us,” said Jean. “You had a girl who was comin’ out singin’ a lot of soul, then some guy from Haiti holding a guitar, riffing and he sound like Bob Marley, and you had Pras, who was like a Rock-head, and after people passed on us so many times. I’ll never forget the day — a small showcase for a small label called Ruff House — Chris Schwartz and Joe Nicolo. ‘Two nerds,’ I call them. They were schemers, and they looked, straight up, like rock stars. I was like, ‘Are these guys the artists?’
“They’re sitting there, and we’re doing our whole thing, and I was like, ‘Man, another record company is going to pass on us.’ It’s like that Berry Gordy story. ‘We don’t like it ... We love it!’ And that really was the start. Columbia would pick it up after. Signing us was one thing, but knowing what to do with us was a different thing, and I think those guys should get so much more credit in having a vision. Like, they saw me before I saw me. It’s very cool.”
Jean also shares memories of writing the mega-hits “Hips Don’t Lie” for Shakira and “Maria, Maria” for Carlos Santana, and how blending cultures can create music that is a “global phenomenon.”