Wyclef Jean At The Factory

Posted: October 04, 1997

Wyclef Jean is rapper as action hero. Reprising a role from his ``We Trying To Stay Alive'' video Thursday night at the Electric Factory, he demonstrated gymnastic and martial moves onstage just to disprove the rumors of stuntman involvement in the flick.

He is also rapper as mad scientist or absent-minded professor, coming up with surprising concepts one after another but often truncating them before their full impact can be realized.

The Haitian-born musician, who put together a quick-moving but aurally filling set with his Refugee All-Stars, did the music a service by performing with an energetic live band, which helped set up an ambience that turned the multiracial house into a melanin-tinged mosh pit.

And he has a knack for really knowing how to mine the diverse music of the African diaspora for links. What Jean did with his hip-hop adaptation of Cuba's ``Guantanamera'' is a brilliant concept: He managed to combine epochs and cultures without trivializing one tradition or bastardizing the other. Impulsively, he broke up the carnivalesque motion of the song and had female vocalist belt it out in Spanish.

And his toothy Hendrixian approach to ``Lift Every Voice And Sing,'' considered the African American national anthem, was done with fire and sprinkled with Jean's ubiquitous sense of humor - a sense of humor infused with irony.

Despite a substantial Haitian and Haitian American presence at the show, Jean felt the need to explain the anti-gun messages contained in his Creole-language ``Sang Fezi'' (Gun Blood), rapping in fluid fashion over a loping, obstinate zouk-funk backing, but again failing to mesmerize because he let go of it too soon.

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