From Emerantes de Pradine, Martha Jean-Claude, Farah Juste, to Emeline Michel, Yanick Étienne, Pauline Jean, Rutshelle Guillaume, Darline Desca, Princess Eud etc., to Mélanie Charles, Mélissa Dauphin, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Haitian and Haitian-American female singers have been steadily increasing their presence on the musical scene, both in and outside of Haiti. An article in the August 11, 2018 edition of “The Village Voice” magazine entitled : “How Jazz Outlaw Melanie Charles found Voodoo in Brooklyn”, describes her journey through the world of jazz and how she is connecting her Haitian roots to the music. Cecile McLorin Salvant has already achieved the greatest fame with her most recent album having won a grammy. She has received the warmest praise from renown trumpeter Winston Marsalis, the highly respected Director of the Lincoln Jazz Orchestra in New York. To this non-exhaustive list of Haitian female singers, we can now add the name of Sherlee Skai (pronounce Sky). Her place is right there among those who are destined to go far.
Sherlee Skai’s CD is entitled “Toutouni” (all naked in English). I can already “see” the eyebrows being raised when reading this title. Let me hasten to reproduce some parts of the lyrics of the title song of the same name, which will suffice to explain everything: “I do not have much money; I am no one important;…. I have made mistakes…Often I am impatient…Some people find me arrogant…Sometimes I act on impulse without thinking…I have a heart ready to love and to give all that it has…Here I am, with my faults, my qualities, my sincerity, my passion for life…Here I am with my past and all my scars..That is my life…..” In other words, Sherlee's life is an open book. The lyrics of the song she wrote reflect a disarming spontaneity and charm which will make you melt.. This is that same feeling of frankness and openness that permeates the whole album. Whether she sings about love like in Track No. 2, or about the problems plaguing Haitian society and the country in Track No. 4, you get the same vibes. Track No. 5 “Boutilye” is another perfect example among others. Sherlee Skai wrote six of the twelve 12 tracks on the CD and co-wrote another one. All twelve tracks are a real treat to listen to.
The music is greatly enhanced by a number of well-known musicians who are among my favorites: the excellent composer, arranger guitarist Dener Ceide, the wonderful bassist Bobby Raymond, the omnipresent keyboard player Jocel Almeus, the wonderful sax player Alex “Buyu”Ambroise and array of other musicians who contribute to giving to this CD such an agreeable sound. I usually like to say which track I like best on a CD, but this time, I will have to say that I like the whole album. For example, listen to the arrangements on such tracks like the title track “Toutouni”; track No. 3, 4 and 5, or Track No. 9 and 11.
I will not attempt to define Sherlee Skai”s style. She is not limited to any one genre in particular. She sounds at ease whatever the beat. The musical arrangement of Track No. 4 “Prière du Monde” which integrates a Haitian Rara beat is most creative, while Track No. 5 “Boutilye” is a beautifully nostalgic melody arranged by keyboardist Jocel Almeus. Track No. 6 “Ou manke m” is also a nice ballad translating the pain Sherlee feels at being away from her beloved Haiti. Listen to the haunting saxophone lines of Buyu Ambroise on Track No. 8 “ Lakansyèl apre lapli”.
As you can see, each song has a particular stimulating flavor and that is why I find the whole album highly entertaining. This is a tribute to the versatility of the singer.
In the liner notes, Sherlee Skai indicates that she dedicated this CD to her grand mother, “ a woman who was not afraid to dream big…This album is for you who always provided me with all your support” (my translation”. This is a fitting tribute to her indeed and she should be proud of her granddaughter. I hope you enjoy it too.
Serge Bellegarde for Windows on Haiti - August 2018
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