‘Sweet Micky' turns down volume

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‘Sweet Micky' turns down volume

Post by Tidodo » Thu Mar 01, 2007 6:08 pm


[quote]Haiti's Michel 'Sweet Micky' Martelly heads into retirement after nearly 20 years of performing as perhaps the troubled country's first popular entertainer.


Hidden behind a towering stack of keyboards, Michel ''Sweet Micky'' Martelly fiddled with the keys, producing a rapid rat-tat-tat, bearing an eerie resemblance to gunfire.

Then Martelly -- dressed in drag and fueled by Barbancourt rum -- erupted into a cackle and screamed into the mic a Creole slang term whose rough translation is something obscene involving one's mother.

The well-heeled crowd populating the dimly lit, upscale club high above the slums of Port-au-Prince loved it.

That was a few years ago, when Sweet Micky, a popular singer and keyboardist in the Haitian compas music tradition, was still on the Haiti nightclub circuit, and taking his unapologetically raunchy, over-the-top act on the road to Paris and New York, Boston and South Florida.

But after almost 20 years of playing Haiti's signature musical style, Sweet Micky has cut back. Retired from his stage act, he still has a hand in the business, working with another popular Haitian act, hip-hop star Wyclef Jean, on a record label and hosting the occasional show.

''It's not retirement for good,'' said Martelly, 46. ``I'm still active. But I don't have to play every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.''

Martelly, who calls himself ''the Bad Boy of Compas,'' says he was exhausted by the constant traveling and is a family man now.


This from a performer who once mooned his audience, and who counted Haitian paramilitary leaders, military strongmen and gang members among fans.

He now shares a roomy suburban home with his wife Sophia and their four children in Wellington, an upscale Palm Beach County community replete with man-made ponds, verdant lawns and security booths. ''Things were impossible for me in Haiti,'' Martelly said. ``Because my whole family moved, I decided to join them.''

Martelly wasn't always destined to be a entertainer.

Born in 1961 to a Shell Oil executive and a homemaker, he grew up middle-class in Carrefour, a seaside suburb of Port-au-Prince known for its red-light district and impenetrable traffic.

He went to private schools then migrated to South Florida, studying engineering at Miami Dade College for a while. He dropped out, tried construction, but that didn't hold his interest either.

He returned to Haiti in the late 1980s and started a band. The musical style: compas, Haiti's slowed-down version of merengue that saxophonists Nemours Jean-Baptiste and Wébert Sicot created in the 1950s.

While Sicot, Jean-Baptiste and other compas bands had their friends crowd the stage, Martelly did something different. He downsized, ditching the brass and skins for an electronic sound.

At the time, Haitian youngsters listened to zouk, a style of music from the island of Martinique, as well as American rock and hip-hop.

Martelly changed that: His 1988 debut album, Ou La La, was a hit.

''I came in with flavor -- a lot of energy, crazy, cursing, young and with my gang following,'' he recalled over a glass of red wine one recent evening in his Wellington home. 'When I say `gang,' I say all the young guys looking good, the ones who have money, the ones who want to party. The energy I brought in with me captured the people's attention.''

So much so that his Sunday night shows at the Le Florville revived Haitian nightlife, particularly among the well-to-do.

At one show, in introducing him, a friend said: ``This is a sweet Micky for a sweet people.''

The name stuck.

Michael Emeran, then a teenager, was among the revelers at Le Florville that night. While a student in Miami, Emeran recalled, his brother in Haiti told him about the Sweet Micky sensation.

''He's the only reason I listen to compas music now,'' said Emeran, owner of sakapfet.com, a Miami website that promotes Haitian culture and music. ``He paved the way for all the bands that came after.''

Marc Lubin remembers hosting Martelly on a call-in show on private Radio Métropole in 1989. Among the topics: the singer's vocabulary.

'They will ask you, `How far will you go? Will you use profanity?' '' said Lubin, now a songwriter living in North Miami Beach. 'He said, `Everybody does it. They do it at home, behind closed doors.' But he doesn't say [the word]. He starts something and people will respond. You will never hear Micky say it.''

That sort of call-and-response gimmick became a staple of Martelly's raucous, all-night shows.

Concert after concert, Martelly continued to cement his reputation as the ''Bad Boy of Compas.'' At a carnival celebration in downtown Port-au-Prince in 1995, to the crowd's delight, he showed up in a tight-fitting pink dress and matching bra.


In one of Haitian music's most famous rifts, Martelly battled musical rival T-Vice, trading pwen -- or sly, metaphoric insults -- over the airwaves of Haitian radio much like hip-hop artists do. He also sparred with King Keno and Mizik Mizik.

''Micky maybe felt in a way that he was being disrespected,'' said Roberto Martino, 31, of Kendall, lead singer and guitarist of T-Vice. ``But we felt we were being disrespected.''

In 2002, the band leaders reconciled.


Now, Martino and others credit Martelly for raising the price for touring compas musicians. Martelly would tell promoters he wouldn't play unless they gave him the salary he wanted.

After 14 studio albums and a number of live CDs, Martelly now spends his retirement managing a flamenco-style band called Strings and makes appearances at suburban restaurants.

This past New Year's Eve, he and a guitarist and bassist played the Sheraton Miami Mart Hotel near the airport.

Two weeks later, the trio performed at S.O.B.'s in downtown Manhattan.

His first trip back to play in Haiti in two years was a Carnival gig in Port-au-Prince.

He also is a pitchman for a South Florida/Haiti cellphone company.

Sophia Martelly, Martelly's wife of 19 years, views his retirement with mixed feelings. ''It was so abrupt,'' she said. ``But I think he had been thinking about it.''

Many say she was instrumental in building his career. She notes how Martelly -- never one to hold back on stage -- no longer indulges himself. In many of his performances, Martelly sipped rum from a bottle and smoked.

``Now he spends time with the kids. But he's still the Bad Boy of Compas.''[/quote]

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