Wyclef Jean: “If I Was President (2016)”
Los Angeles (CNN) Wyclef Jean has long talked about presidents. In 2004, he sang:
If I was President
I’d get elected on Friday
Assassinated on Saturday
Buried on Sunday
They go back to work on Monday
He re-worked and re-released the song in 2009 after Barack Obama was elected to the White House.
A year later, Wyclef’s native Haiti was rocked by a catastrophic 7.0 earthquake. More than 100,000 people died. And Wyclef ran for president of Haiti until election officials disqualified him.
America has a new president now. And after a bitter campaign season, Wyclef is singing about presidents again.
A man says he gonna build a wall
And have Mexico pay for it all
And there’s a riot every week
Their uniforms are blue
And the people on the streets
And everyone’s living on their heels
Cause you could be the next one
Walking with the dead
It’s a sad commentary on a divided nation. Wyclef joined Isha Sesay on “CNN Newsroom L.A.” to talk about the song and his first album in seven years.
Sesay: “We appreciate the transition. This is your first album in seven years. Where have you been?”
Wyclef: “I had a reunion with The Fugees over seven years ago. We did Dave Chappelle Block Party. After that, I was in Paris, one night, and I was watching TV and I saw what was going on in Haiti. At the time they took Jean-Bertrand Aristide out the kids were speaking Creole. And they said, ‘Look, the only person who could make us put our guns down is Wyclef Jean.'”
“So I decided after 100 million records in — this is not the legacy I want to leave behind. I had to go down there and use myself as a vessel to try and help move my people forward. So I just dived into Haiti.”
Sesay: “But now you’re back. You’re back in the musical space.”
Wyclef: “Yes, we’re back into music. We have a new president in Haiti, and I’ll be working with everybody. I’m so happy to be back in this music space.”
Sesay: “We just played a clip of the remixed version of ‘If I Was President’ taking some serious jabs at Donald Trump.”
Wyclef: “Well, not really. Not at all. As an artist, it’s important that we understand that we don’t approach this on an emotional level but on a level of policy — where it’s gonna matter. In the video, I actually took a shot at everyone. I took a shot at Hillary, Bernie, Trump in a sense of humor. My concern is really just about partisanship. At the end of the day, if we don’t find a middle ground, then we’re gonna be in trouble. And that was the whole idea of doing this song and clowning everyone.”
Sesay: “Now there is a new president, Donald Trump. What do you make of the decisions he’s made in the last couple of days?”
Wyclef: “One of the things that’s personal to me is really gonna be the immigration issue — coming from Haiti, getting a chance to come to the United States. My parents came in. They were good people. They raised great kids. I understand the idea of immigration laws, but my concern is with the great citizens that are living here that face that subject. The other day I was watching (U.S. House) Speaker (Paul) Ryan and there was a woman who was with her child and she was like, ‘Are you gonna send me back or send my child back.’ That is definitely one of my forefront concerns as a child who came from Haiti. Before me, I had cousins who came over who were considered refugees… We have to find policies and legislation that’s gonna work.”
Sesay: “A couple of days ago, we saw tens of thousands of women and a lot of men take to the streets in Washington in protest and defiance, if you will, of the new administration. What’s the role of music at a time like this as we see a country quite divided?”
Wyclef: “I would tell the artists, ‘Really just express yourself — but at the same time, be careful — because they use our soundbytes as movies. So when you’re out there and you’re marching, remember what the cause is.’ I think that the women who organized this march were incredible and the idea of them saying, ‘This is what we want. This is what we’re gonna fight for.’ That’s the idea of what America is all about. We had an election and then the next day, all of these women hit the streets. Men hit the streets. What’s important is that ya’all stay on message. Do not get distracted. You are electing your senators, your mayors, your governors. The ‘We the People’ are very important and I want people to understand that.”
Sesay: “As we talk about messages, what’s the message behind the new album?”
Wyclef: “If you can’t make it to the Caribbean Islands, you just throw on that album and we’re gonna take you there. The whole album is about love.”
Written & Produced by: Ben Bamsey for “CNN Newsroom L.A.”