When it comes to contemporary Haitian female singers, none are hotter than Misty Jean. Says Boston-based disc jockey DJ Super Duke of BelMizik FM, “Before Misty Jean, the market wasn’t as well-balanced. There were other female singers but not an official diva like Misty.”
The petite and curvy singer with the astounding voice started singing when she was just 3, for candy and cookies in her hometown of Port-au-Prince Haiti.
Her mother, an actress in the theatrical troupe of famed comedian Fernel “Jesifra” Valcourt, became her connection to the show business world in Haiti, and little Misty Jean often performed on stage during play intermissions or as a warm-up act. Her childhood years were spent hobnobbing with the greatest of the greatest in the entertainment world in Haiti: recitals with Lyn Williams Rouzier, a famed dance instructor, at the legendary Triumph Ciné at age 7, and singing alongside the legendary singer Yole Derose in grand spectacles, and singing with veteran pianist Raoul Denis Jr, and performing at a music special with the Widmaiers, a musical family that included members of the Haitian folk/jazz/konpa group Zekle.
All of this stardom practice was just a prelude to what came up next: Jean’s move to New York and subsequently to Miami, followed by the release of her debut album in 2004 entitled Plus Près de Toi, after being signed by superproducer and Kreyol Music label owner Jeff Wainwright. As a producer, Wainwright had brought together the first Haitian woman konpa band Riské, but the short-lived, but impactful Riské itself had often been pointed out by musical historians and Haitian music pundits as the poster band for the oft-repeated saying that the Haitian music industry and Haitian women didn’t mix.
The question was on the floor: could super producer Wainwright make a star out of Misty? After all, he had worked with many other female groups, who often did not make it past the second album. Did Misty have what it took to conquer the Haitian musical market, which by many accounts, was not exactly a welcoming place to little Haitian girls? As background singers or background dancers, yes, but as a solo star, don’t wager your life on it, was the adage. Very few Haitian female singers had penetrated, and their numbers could be counted on one hand, to the point where some contented themselves with just being invisible backup singers for bands, regardless of the potential they possessed as solo acts. Stories had been circulating for years and continue to circulate about amoral male producers in the Haitian music sector demanding sexual favors in return for stardom, and blocking the way for them if certain, er, demands weren’t met.
Clearly unfazed, little Misty was ready for her debutante ball in the male-ran and dominated Haitian music industry. Then begun a marketing blitz for the singer, posters at Haitian stores, heavy airplay on Haitian radio stations on all the major markets, magazine stories, television interviews, performances at popular musical festivals, and shows at packed venues. But none of these efforts would have much effect, had Misty Jean herself had not had what it took. The singer with her three octave voice sung “Se ou Mwen Vle” with passion. Female listeners could identify with songs like “Padone’m” (Forgive Me), “Maladie D’Amour” (Love Sick), that spoke of heartbreak and serial infidelity, while general konpa fans could boogie along to “Ti Bway” (Little Fella). The singer’s stunning looks didn’t exactly hurt her marketing. Jean’s shapely body, and flawless complexion were much-discussed, and many regarded her as the essence of charisma, talent, and sex appeal, hence the total package.
To anyone watching the musical scene closely then, it was obvious that a new diva had come to announce to a new era in the Haitian musical scene. Some said that not since the days of Emeline Michel, had a solo female singer commanded—and got—as much attention as Jean did. Misty Jean served audiences a scrumptious musical plate in which her songbird of a voice, her alluring body and persona, were cooked to utter perfection, and fans ate it up, and asked for seconds, and thirds.
Marie-Christine Jeanty of CPAM 1610 Radio in Montreal, and a moderator for the Haitian music site HaitiNetRadio remembers Misty as being a virtual novelty when the singer arrived on the market: “In the konpa scene,” she recalls, “there was a void in term of females, especially in the category of solo artists. Emeline Michel is not categorized as konpa. I mean she came on the scene, decades after Georgy, Shirley Desgrottes and others. Also, those female artists were first introduced as part of a band, where she came solo and formed her own band.”
Plus Près de Toi did more than introduce Jean as a solo artist, it made her a sex symbol. On the cover of the disc, Jean, starring defiantly, with a teasing updo, dangling earrings, and her hand carelessly placed underneath her chin, heralding a new era where young Haitian females were again claiming their own in the market.
That year, and in the years following, Jean snatched every Best Female Artist accolade that was given out by the Haitian music industry, and was among the co-headliners of all the major Haitian musical festivals, shaking it up with her band, in addition to performing outside the United States, the French Caribbean, France, and in Haiti.
But no sooner than she made a splash than controversies started to swirl around her. On the personal front, she and her onstage partner rapper Jean-Adler “Top Adlerman” Gaston had a fallout that played ugly in the Haitian media with Gaston claiming that she and Wainwright were involved in an abusive relationship, a claim both Wainwright and Misty vehemently refuted. Adds Jeanty: “Misty Jean was never really associated with drama besides [the] rumor of abuse from her manager and husband. This was never confirmed and domestic violence is a taboo subject [in Haitian culture].”
Her second album Konpa A Gogo renewed accusations among her Haitian fans that she cared more about catering to the French Caribbean markets than her Haitian brethren in Haiti and the USA. “Many criticized her for not making enough promotion towards the Haitian Market”, observes Jeanty, “but who can blame her? We always see and here the same bands on the market and the market has no real structure. I believe she made more of an impact at first in the French Antilles Market and Haitians jumped on the wagon after. She had a new flavor to offer and great stage presence.” What’s more, in spite of being popular in Martinique, Guadeloupe and France, and containing “Camionette”, a remake by the legendary Haitian musical duo Claudette et Ti Pierre, the record didn’t have the artistic integrity that Plus Près de Toi had, and was not as warmly received among her Haitian fans.
Misty quickly regrouped. The album Li Pa Twò Ta (ironically translated as It’s Not Too Late) was everything Plus Près de Toi was and more, and everything Konpa a Gogo had failed to be. Misty Jean was clearly back in business. Whereas Plus Près de Toi had given listeners the impression that she was some musical marionette, and Konpa a Gogo didn’t give much reason to feel differently, Li Pa Twò Ta introduced a Misty Jean that was participating fully in the creative process, and who had reached another level artistically. The quality of the songs were upgraded, too, showing a Misty that had matured intellectually as well, and one who had much more on her mind than heartbreaks and love songs. There were ballads to showcase the songstress’s voice, midtempo songs, and dance floor-driven tracks, while retaining the zouk/konpa flavor that had brought her fame in the first place. Her lush soprano carried songs like “Ne Touche pa a Mon Homme” (Don’t Touch My Man), “Tu Pleures” (You Weep), beautifully. Other standout tracks included “Valè Fanm” (Women’s Worth), a female power uptempo song that had her collaborating with vocalist Martine Marseille. That song in itself was a big departure for Misty, who practically had made a career out of singing victim-of-love type of songs.
Rumors still came and went. When tongue waggers and busybodies weren’t romantically linking her to Athlet “Flav” St Fleur of the group Gabel, they were pointing out at a wedding band that appeared on Misty’s hand in a performance photograph. Misty has denied ever dating the singer, and denied being a married woman, a denial that brought great relief to male fans who practically had gone into cardiac arrest at the very idea of their diva being attached.
Her highly anticipated fourth studio album Just Like That on the way, Misty Jean is in full diva mode again. To launch off the 14-track disc, the singer-songwriter has released a single “Nou Kwè”, a duet with French Caribbean diva Tanya St Val—which already has at least DJ Super Duke’s approval. “It is making its impact pretty well,” he observes. “My Antilles DJ friends are playing it on heavy rotation already. As for the States, I don’t see any other female act that can compete.”
Indeed, Misty Jean is the undisputed successor to Emeline Michel. Aside from Tifane Sejour, there’s isn’t much competition, no serious competition. Not that the sparse competition has made Misty an artistic sloth. After 3 award-winning studio albums, and 2 live albums, the singer is working as hard as if she still had something to prove. Convinced more than ever that Misty still has it, DJ Super Duke nonetheless has some advice for the singer: “She needs to be as determined and aggressive like she [was] on her first album,” he counsels. “Since she took a break and didn’t keep the momentum she needs to work twice as much. Travel and do meet and greet everywhere.”
Her career-o-meter pointing to ‘high’, Misty discussed her life, her music, among other things with Kreyolicious.com.
For some, getting in the English-language market is a show of success.
I couldn’t agree more. The English language market offers much greater possibilities in terms of financial opportunities and exposure. It is very difficult to break because for example in the American market, music is very segmented meaning that you have to fit in a category either Pop, Country, Rap, Hip Hop, Rock or Jazz. However, I believe that you can also make decent money into our own market or even in the French and Creole market but our music industry lacks the basic infrastructure. No authorship and publishing rights, no national registry of song copyrights.
All these things work in our disadvantage in the Haitian music industry. You can have a mega hit and you don’t see a penny in terms of publishing royalties. The radio and TV stations are not part of a system that make them pay when they play your song or use it for commercial purposes such as radio ads and else. The only way to make money in the Haitian music industry is to play as many live venues as possible. So by doing this, you exhaust yourself as an artist and you become part of a vicious circle that is even harder for Haitian woman artists.
Our mentality also needs to change. The public needs to be more supportive of our female artists. The music fan must discourage bootlegs. Our men need to believe that we women can succeed in other areas besides only being a good stay home wife raising children. Also, most of us women don’t believe in ourselves and our capabilities. We very often are jealous of one another and we sometimes have low self-esteem and are viewed mostly as sex objects by Haitian men. Finally, we as a nation only have a handful of career female artists out there and that needs to change.
Most people would like to see you do a duet with a Haitian male singer. Why hasn’t that happened?
The attempt was made on many occasions, but due to the fact that most of these artists are controlled by their own record label, producer and, or promoter, reaching an agreement that works for the benefits of both parties is sometimes hard to reach and to come by. If these producers or promoters don’t have a working relation with and, or a vested interest in working with you and your producer and promoter you are screwed, you will not get a chance at all. In the Haitian music industry, very often personal agendas and emotions come before business sense.
In one of your songs ”Maladie D’Amour”, you sing about a woman who’s been cheated on by her man, but gladly takes him back. If you were in a position like that, would that be your reaction as well or not?
I think that almost every Haitian woman has been in this kind of unfortunate situation at one point in their life. You might be in love with someone and know that he is cheating on you. Even though what he is doing is wrong and hurts you deeply, you might not necessarily be ready to break up and move on yet. You have “Maladie D’amour”! My song simply talks about true love, forgiveness, and if the case applies, to wait until you are sure and ready to leave—if ever.
Do you feel that looks, good looks are important to stardom?
I think it helps but it is not the only and main thing. Stardom is money, wisdom, loyalty, talent and patience. Stardom is how you see yourself inside and out. Stardom defines who you really are, what you want to become, who you want to be and how bad you want it.
In the past, you’ve expressed your admiration for singers like Yanick Etienne and Emeline Michel. Will you ever get together with either of them for a duet?
I would love to. Actually, not too long ago I had the chance to sing with Yanick Etienne live. It was such a wonderful experience. I have also performed at events with Emeline. I have so much respect for both of them: their talents and their accomplishments.
Do you have a favorite song from your repertoire?
I personally love all my songs but in each album I have a few that always capture me every time I hear them play and lately “Li Pa Two Ta” has been my favorite.
You have often been accused of catering to the French-speaking Caribbean market and France as opposed to the fans in the United States and Canada.
Yes. I heard this so many times, but I don’t personally agree with it. First, let me start by saying that I am a professional singer who does music for a living. So, I have to look out for my own best interests. Let’s face it, the Haitian music industry in its current stage does not offer any opportunities to our female artists.
I can safely say that in the past eight years, I have produced at an equal pace than most of our top male konpa bands, but our promoters would rather support or promote a foreign female artist than give a chance to their own. For the past four years, I have been the only female that has a band singing the Konpa genre, but our promoters don’t offer us female any opportunities in venues like festivals, big concerts, etc. I can perform with no fear with any of our top male bands or artists. I have paid my dues and earned the hard way my place in the Haitian music industry. Now, when I go overseas, I get treated with a lot of respect and most important of all when I go to places in the Caribbean and the French market, I represent Haiti.
Last year, I was the guest of France Television for the filming of the ninety minutes show entitled “2 Mo 4 Not” representing Haiti together with guitar legend Robert Martino who has backed me up since the beginning in 2004 and who is currently the maestro of my band. People should know that I am a proud Haitian representing our culture, our music konpa and our country throughout the world.
You remade the song “Ti Bway” by the Haitian pop group Skandal and the song “Koupe Dekale” by the Antillean artist Kaysha, I believe who was the original artist. What pushes you to do remakes?
“Ti Bway” was originaly produced by Jeff Wainwright and John Doane of Skandal back in 1989. Since it was a hit at that time we thought it was going to be a great thing to do a remake with Patrick Handal the original singer. “Koupe Dekale” was a collaboration with African born singer Teeyah who I met in France on a tour for Section Zouk back in 2004. I was amazed with the Koupe Dekale dance and Jeff suggested that we both do a collabo kompa style.
You and the rapper Top Adlerman had a feud at the beginning of your career. Have you guys made peace since then?
What we had musically was very artistic. We were doing true music and we both had put our hearts into it. There is not really peace to be made. We were just two artists signed with the same label Kreyol Music and that have tried to make a big impact at one point of time. Things happened, we learned from it and we moved on.
Would you say you’ve had some great regrets in life, so far?
No, I don’t have any regrets so far in life because whatever things that could be considered as such, I learned from them and used them in my advantage.
You are working on a new album.
My new album entitled Just Like That will be out later on this year and will reveal the new me. In this business, you always have to re-invent yourself and even though I am still very young, I have been at it for a good while now. I believe in this new album because I wrote together with Jeff most of the songs. This album will reflect more musical maturity and profound ideological and personal experiences. We spent a lot of times working with other producers on the little details that will make all the songs great and catchy. It will be in my view the new fresh sound and sensation of the year. This album will explain and reveal to women in general that we are not what they say we are but what we say we are.
You will find a couple of Reggae tunes such as “Peyizan” featuring Alaye and “Sa Red”, a couple of Salsa and merengue songs—one of them being a remake of Lumane Casimir’s “Lakansyèl”. Of course plenty of Konpa and Zouk songs among them the duet with diva Tanya St Val and also a couple of crossover songs in the mold of “Tam Tam” from the Li Pa Twò Ta album.
My fans should expect an even more mature, versatile, international and commercial approach to my music.
You made your debut as an actress not too long ago.
Yes, I did with director Mora Etienne Jr. in the movie The Price to Pay where I played the lead acting role of Zoulmie. Mora is known as one the best film producer in the Haitian market and he sure did a wonderful job with this movie. It was a tremendous and challenging experience for me. Having been around acting all my life, it was like a dream come true for me. I had to do some scenes that I didn’t think I was going to be able to do like having a baby and being married.
Who is the first love of the life of Misty Jean?
My first love of my life is God because without him I wouldn’t be on earth doing what I love so much which is music.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Yes I do and as a human being, I believe in equal opportunity for both male and female. I believe in human rights for children. That is why on my new album, we wrote a song “Sa Red” that describes child abuse in general and the conditions of the restavèk in our country. I did it in two versions: Creole and English. I would love for our Haitian community to give us females a chance to spread our wings.
Have any of your male fans gotten out of control over the course of your career?
I wouldn’t say out of control but I would say trying to…(laughter) but on stage while performing, I’m always in control and my staff always keeps a good eye [out] for me.
Besides releasing your new album, what are your immediate plans for your career?
My immediate plan will be to establish a great marketing strategy mostly based in Haiti for this new album so it can go even further than the previous ones. I also want to be all over the place performing. During the month of June, I will also take a very important step in my career. We will release our first pop single entitled “I Want You Back” together with a music video that has already been produced. I can’t wait for that because it will show a completely different aspect of my voice and talent. Finally, I am also working in creating a foundation to help children in Haiti. I believe I can help raise awareness to the conditions of poor children and slowly help improve their living conditions through donations.
KREYOLICIOUS YOURS…MISTY JEAN
MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW THAT I…can watch the Martin Lawrence TV series [Martin] 2000000 times
a day and never get tired of it
I’D RATHER DIE THAN…hurt a child
THREE PEOPLE THAT I CAN’T GO A DAY WITHOUT TALKING TO…Nobody
WHAT ATTRACTS ME TO A GUY…That he is funny and clean
I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT…music and dance
BESIDES MYSELF, THE FEMALE ARTISTS I LISTEN TO…Sade
THE LAST TIME I CRIED WAS WHEN…the earthquake occurred
THREE WORDS THAT DESCRIBE YOU…loving and simply beautiful
WORST RUMOR I HEARD ABOUT MYSELF…that I was on drugs
INSTRUCTIONS TO MY FUTURE HUSBAND…treat me with respect